Carmen Sandiego is one of the “bad guys” — or “bad girls” you could say. She’s sneaky and deceptive. She has cronies with funny, no-good names like Ruth Less and M.T. Pockets. She has all the makings of a villain — or if not a villain then at least a pesky thorn in the side of the ACME Detective Agency.
That said she’s also an incredibly well traveled young woman, one who is a prime vehicle for teaching your kids not only geography but history and sometimes math and English as well given the show’s penchant for alliteration and rhymes. The Carmen Sandiego franchise launched in 1983 and has been translated into TV shows, board, card, and video games, books (comic and otherwise) and is used in many a classroom as a teaching tool.
For those who may not have spent countless hours as a wannabe gumshoe, the basic premise of the PBS show was this: “The Chief” played by Lynne Thigpen and Greg Lee as the special agent in charge of new recruits (i.e. you) helped their novice detectives in their quest to track down Carmen’s minions. These guys had usually committed some atrocity like stealing sacred deer from Nara Park in Japan with the intention of, as the Chief tells us: “selling them to Santa as a second-string team.”
After a Q&A round, contestants would search for the loot, the warrant and the cartoon thief in various locations around the globe, marking them as they went. In a final round, the last standing contestant tracks down Carmen herself and wins a trip to anywhere in the United States (only contiguous at first and then, presumably prompted by parents wanting a Hawaii vacation, to anywhere in North America).
So how can you get your child interested in geography and history?
Step 1: Planting the Wanderlust Bug
Sometimes it’s hard for kids to grasp the concept of the wide world around them. With the World Wide Web, the planet seems small and easily explored via Instagram and Tumblr.
I like the idea of navigating the world in unexpected places at unexpected times. At our house, much of our geographical knowledge is gleaned at dinnertime and in the bathroom. That sounds weird. What I mean is we have very geographically inclined placemats and a world map shower curtain. My grandmother insists that these are not proper things to put on a wedding registry list, but I heartily disagree. If I can learn about Eritrea while I pee, I consider that time in the bathroom well spent.
It doesn’t have to be placemats or shower curtains, just something interesting that might get your little ones asking just how far is Japan from me? What’s it like there? One of these might do the trick. Better still, give them their own version of ACME’s world map where they can track their imaginary adventures.
Step 2: Outfitting your Little World Traveler
Carmen’s telltale red trench comes in many kid versions. My favorite being this one.
Burberry can be an expensive way to Carmenize the kid though and this works pretty well too.
As is often the case, it’s all about the accessories. A good pair of black boots, a cute yellow scarf and of course, the hat. Carmen’s hat has been shown with a yellow or a black ribbon, so feel free to experiment with various fabrics. (I like this one.)It may be a little big on your little Carmen Sandiego, but they’ll want to be able to keep their mysterious allure and a hat pulled low does just that.
Step 3: Activities
Now that your children look the part, it’s time to introduce them to all the Carmen Sandiego books and games. You might even take a peak at YouTube to watch a few old episodes. After you’ve exhausted the original Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? move onto Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? After you’ve gotten through all her earthy adventures there’s also Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?
Feel free to go old school and play a good old -fashioned board game or take a peek at one of the comic books.
If you’re feeling like you’re really winning at parenting these days and want to do something extra fantastic, you could even set up your own Carmen Sandiego scavenger hunt.
However you choose to accept your mission, the goal is to get your pint-sized Carmen Sandiego learning about the world and having fun doing it.