Monday 3rd February at 4.00 sees the return of CBeebies' very own numerical marsupials, The Numtums! There have been some big changes afoot since we last saw them so we caught up with the show's producer, Barry Quinn, to tell us all...
So the Numtums are back with a new series – what can we expect from this one?
Well you can expect a lot of singing, dancing, and talking - yes, the Numtums now talk! Some of them talk a lot, and they have names, not just numbers. They’ve also got a brand new home, Gumnut Gorge and a giant termite shaped café where they hang out and eat ‘Termite Treats’.
We also have some new characters, a rock and roll echidna called Billy the Kidna, Larry, a mimicking lyrebird and Super Numtum has a new show and a new foe – A numerically challenged koala called Fluffy McTuffy who wants to take over the world before bedtime – the scamp!
There are six young Numtums, Bendy Go, Dar Dar, Champer, Humpty Do, Little Sandy and Coogee, they are also known as the Numpups. Lots of the adventures revolve around them, then there’s Flinders, Gladdy, Hobart and Nimbin - they are the older Numtums but they're not much more sensible!
What are Numtums based on?
I get asked this a lot, are they squirrels, meerkats, raccoons? Well they are based on Numbat, the state mammal of Western Australia. In addition to having ‘num’ in their names, Numbats are very endearing and just a little bit rubbish: they are marsupials but have no pouches, they are slow moving, they get up late, they have more teeth than any other mammal but they can’t chew - which is a problem as they need to eat 20,000 termites a day. Sadly there are less than 1000 Numbats left in the wild as they are preyed upon by just about every other animal around them including something called a carpet python.
Why did you decide to change the show?
We really loved the characters and were interested in introducing slightly more complex mathematical concepts into the show. After lots of research with children, teachers and carers we decided the best way to appeal to this older audience was to weave the number learning into fun adventures.
To make sure we pitched our learning goals at just the right level we worked closely with Liz Jackson, an early years Numeracy specialist, who really encouraged us to incorporate as much humour, playful narratives, recurring number counting and songs as possible into the show.
What do you hope children will take from the series?
It is fun, fast paced comedy adventure and it certainly had us laughing when we were making it, so mostly we want children and adults to laugh as well, but on another level we want the Numtums' love of, and interest in, numbers to rub off on the audience too.
Are there going to be new games to go with the series?
The Numtums already has a big presence on the CBeebies website, and there will be some brilliant new games to accompany this series - children will be able to help Super Numtum thwart Fluffy McTuffy's attempts to take over the world - and believe me, Fluffy’s got some fiendish plans involving giant jelly wombats and moles of mischief, but luckily can always be defeated by the power of the number!
We'll also have longer radio versions of the Super Numtum Show, along the lines of the old Dick Tracy adventures from the 1950s, these offer lots of opportunities for the audience to brush up on their numbers skills as well as being very funny.
Which Numeracy skills are tackled in this series of Numtums?
Well, as I mentioned, this series is tackling slightly more complicated mathematical concepts than the first series and this doesn’t just involve numbers: there’s estimating quantities and distances, counting up and down from 1-10, subtraction, recognizing 2D and 3D shapes, number bonds, and the concept of first, second and third. We also had to ensure the language was consistent and that we had a fairly equal share of different learning goals throughout the series. The irony is that I am not very good at maths so I learned quite a lot while making the series - things like ordinal numbers meaning first, second, third…
Why use cute characters like the Numtums to teach maths?
What really stuck with me while making the series was when our education consultant told us that if children fall behind in maths it is very hard for them to catch up, and one way in which they can have the chance to catch up is by watching shows that they love again and again.
Why is maths teaching important?
Maths is key to so much and yet people freely admit to not being very good at it in a way that they may not say about, say, reading. I looked at the findings of an OECD report in 2013 which showed that standards of numeracy in England and Northern Ireland (It didn’t include Scotland or Wales) are declining, which has serious consequences for the country and for people's personal wellbeing - that makes it really important for CBeebies to look for ways to engage children with maths from an early age.
Did you learn a lot about maths from making the series? What advice would you give to parents about the best way to support their child’s Numeracy skills?
I have never been good at maths so I have learnt quite a lot! I'm always reluctant to offer anyone advice, however our user testing showed that songs, chants and humour really seemed to stick with children. The feedback we had from the first series of Numtums was also phenomenal, I mean, every time I hear that song, 1, 2, 3… I’m singing it for hours – that, I think is how you learn.
Favourite Numtum moment?
One episode I watched recently that had me laughing a lot was Hiccupping Bird in which Larry the Lyrebird gets the hiccups. Now, lyrebirds in the wild are famous for imitating all kinds of noises like cameras and mobile phones and jack hammers, and Larry creates so much chaos by hiccupping random sounds that he decides to leave Gumnut Gorge. The Numtums really don’t want this to happen so they have to cure his hiccups so that he can stay – it was very funny, but had real heart.
What’s been the best thing about working on Numtums?
Working at CBeebies is amazing, and this series has been especially fun. I get to work with so many talented people who help bring everything to life: the TV, interactive and radio teams CBeebies in Salford, BBC Worldwide, all the writers and A Productions in Bristol who design and animate the series.