My favorite scene of that movie is when they're in the boardroom, and this adult man comes in and is showing what he says is going to be the next hot toy for Christmas season and Tom Hanks who is really only (a) 12(-year-old trapped in an adult’s body), looks at it starts to play with it and says "what's so fun about that" because he's 12 and he's got the kid's perspective and the older, the adults don't have it. So I wanted to be the adult in the room that thought like a kid and brought that back to the creators of whatever product it was …
I combined a psychology degree, I went to Skidmore College for undergrad and I had a mentor Mary-Ann Foley and she taught me how to go out and talk to kids. She brought me into elementary schools and taught me how to interview kids and get into their heads and how they were thinking what they were thinking.
And then that at the same time as seeing that movie, I was like “Oh my God okay, I want to do that I want to think like a kid and give that perspective to people as they make stuff for kids whether it be toys or it ended up being tv shows,” but how do I do that?
Then when I went to teacher's college for grad school that's when I learned the education side. and I was like “I want to do that I want to be the kid perspective and also bring the learning theory and approach”...
This is all sort of inspired by the fact that I was not a very good student growing up. So when I was in high school and younger I was sort of a straight C student and I didn't ever think I could do any better and it wasn't until I found this...this mentor at Skidmore who lit my—you know lit the fire under me...it was right at freshman year of college that I became what I consider now a lifelong learner 11:06 and prior to that I had not much interest in school or learning so it's kind of my mission or goal in life to be sure that all kids have a love of learning and that we find experiences for kids that spark them in the way that my mentor did.
DTH: It sounds like a lot of that is about taking kids seriously
AW: I just think kids are the most underrepresented and undervalued resource that's the beauty of today and technology and like even the way you and I met...as someone who has gone past those years my favorite thing is to listen to kids of all ages. I mostly do it with preschoolers but I also have a financial literacy series in Asia and I talk to 8 to 12 year olds to help them understand money, how to handle money so that when they get older...they get themselves in a little bit less trouble...all the concepts around money...are all abstract for a little kid, all we ever see is spending.
So we're trying to make these other aspects of financial literacy visible and technology just allows for all of this stuff. And I always go to the kids first like even with the financial literacy stuff I went to the kids and asked them, “what are your questions about money? What do you understand? What don't you understand?” I showed them credit cards and I was like “where's the money?” We looked at an ATM machine and we're like, “How does this work? Where does the money come from?” And the kids are like ”well yeah just press the biggest number because then you'll get get all this cash,” They had no idea that it's linked to a savings account or a checking account like how would they know?
DTH: I think as a college student I might still need that kind of education
AW: I'll give you the link. But it's really, my inspiration always, as you've said, comes from let's go to the kids first...that stems from nobody finding my interests for so long...I was a struggling reader as a kid and reading didn't become something that I enjoyed until I finally...finally, my poor parents...showed me a book that I was interested in and then I started reading.
DTH: Really? I was a bad reader at first too until I found a book that I liked
AW: What was yours?
DTH: Harry Potter!
AW: I still wasn't a huge reader, I'm much more now mostly because now I get that I can pick things that I like, that I'm interested in and then that gets me reading.
DTH: I remember when I was in middle school there was sort of this hand wringing going around about Twilight and like, “what does it mean for young girls to be reading this?” and I just remember even though I didn't like it very much, I don't really agree with the politics of it, but it's like, well if kids are waiting in line until midnight to get a 500 page book, I mean...who cares? Is it literary? Not really but if they're enjoying reading they might go and read "Romeo and Juliet" or something that's referenced in that book.
AW: Yep. What's the other book that's sort of controversial, they call it a boys book …"Diary of a Wimpy Kid."
DTH: Yes I remember people saying "this is trash."
AW: Whatever works, whatever lights you up, we're all different and who knows what that will lead to.
DTH: Totally, I had teachers who wrote on my report card like, "Alice will only read the same five books," which were five Harry Potter books, and they probably wanted me to read the classics and historical fiction, but I mean, Harry Potter just opened up — made me love reading so you know, who cares?
DTH: I'm wondering if kids are surprised that you take them seriously?
AW: Well, maybe the older ones. The thing is I still mostly work with preschoolers … so back when I started doing the work that I did for "Blue’s Clues," like the research work, we tested every episode three times … before we did that work, I will say that people felt you couldn't get opinions from young children, and so the interesting shift was when we created this sort of system or process where if you ask the right questions, you can get exactly what you need.
DTH: What are the right questions to ask to a little kid?
AW: Well, I think it has to be in context. I'm not a formulaic person like it's got to be in context of what you need to know … but little kids don't have any problem expressing themselves I think older kids might be more surprised by being heard. And I think that's true … when I run into kids that are thinking about their lives and their future and what have you, I find them very surprised because so few people take the time to respect their point of view or to value their point of view.
DTH: Yeah, you met me through a media literacy organization that I worked from I think when I was 14 to 18.
AW: Oh my god!
DTH: I know! Basically our focus was the sexualization of girls in the media and teaching girls media literacy skills so that they're able to have a better lens when they're looking at media.
One of the best things about that … was that my bosses Dana and Melissa, when something big would happen in the media an issue would come up, they would ask us what should happen. It was so self-directed, and now all of those girls now, we're doing really independent things, and we're really driven because there was no question of if we were experts on our own experiences.
AW: Absolutely, that's amazing, and it's those special people that you meet in your lifetime that change you. And I wish everyone had that.
DTH: Are you a mentor to anyone right now?
AW: I’m not part of an official program or anything but … I have a lot of my friends' kids, like I try to spend a lot of time with them giving them things to think about and ways to think or not think about their future, do you know what I mean? Like I don't care for the, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” question so much as I really love the, "Hey, what's your passion? What are you interested in?"
DTH: I'm hearing the “what are you going to do?” a lot right now.
AW: I bet you are! It's a terrible question.
DTH: I just tell them I’m going to graduate college. That's my plan.
AW: I love to hire really ambitious driving type people … when I hire them they feel so “have to know what I'm going to do, I have to know where I'm going to be and get the perfect job and blah blah blah," and I'm like, "No you don't!”
DTH: What advice would you have for another Alice Wilder, a younger Alice Wilder?
AW: Well I think the biggest thing that changed me is don't compare yourself to anyone else … if you follow your passion and interest and story, it just doesn't matter what anyone else is doing because you'll find meaning and happiness in your own life because you're following your North Star. We do a lot of comparing.
Especially at your age, I did it, I'll tell you, my first few years when I was at PBS were hell for me. Friends were all getting promotions and salary increases and job changes, and I was so stagnant and I was depressed for like two years because I wasn't getting anywhere. And now in my life like, I'm the only one of those people who found their passion and a career is so meaningful.
DTH: A lot of my friends already have jobs for post graduate, and it gets under your skin pretty quickly.
AW: Of course it does! But if you celebrate, if we all celebrated each other a little bit more rather than comparing ourselves— listen I'm I don't know how many years older than you, and I'm just getting there … but if (we) celebrated each other's successes rather than compared and thought that it took away from us, our society would be a lot better and we would help each other a lot more because everyone can win, everyone can.
DTH: I think a lot of kids my age, we grew up in the 2008 crash, and so there was sort of this feeling very early on like starting in middle school and high school that like, the economy is terrible, you'll never get a job, you have to compete with kids in different countries and you have to be better than everyone. It kind of instilled this fear in all of us. Or maybe it's just me, but —
AW: No, you're not alone. But that's why I'm saying to my younger self, that fear is a wasted emotion if you just, if you just focus on yourself, celebrate others. Honestly celebrate others, and at the same time focus on yourself and staying true to you and who you want to be and the kinds of directions you want to move in. You'll be happier in this process, and you'll find your true meaning. And that's all that counts.
@alice_wilder (and @alicewilder)