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Children And Television: How To Ensure They Learn From It

Nothing causes debate amongst parents, quite like the topic of children and television. Your child watches it. They love it. As a parent or educator you either love it or loathe it. For those of you who love it, you also worry about whether it is ‘wasted’ time. For those of you who loathe it, more often than not it’s because you question its educational validity.


So is children’s television really a valid learning tool? Or is TV simply the digital baby-sitter?

I’m going to tell you one, simple way that you can increase the chances that your child will actually learn from TV. It’s time for you to ditch the guilt about children’s television. Grab the remote and flick on the TV without the guilt.


So What Do We Know About Children’s Television?

A study conducted at the Annenberg School of Communication* has revealed that young children (aged 3-5 years) with well-developed story understanding skills are better equipped to comprehend the content in children’s television programs and are subsequently more likely to learn from it.


Two key pieces of information from this study:

1. You need to pick ‘educational’ children’s television programs. Not all children’s television programs are created equal. I have previously shared some tips about educational TV programs for young children. Some common examples of educational programs include Dora the Explorer, Play School and Sesame Street. All of these shows are repetitive, slow-paced and linear.

2. Parents, teachers and carers need to build young children’s story understanding skills. And the good news is that this isn’t complicated. Check out my video for three simple tips on how you can develop a child’s story understanding skills.


So what are ‘story understanding skills’?

It is an understanding that stories have a typical structure. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Sometimes teachers refer to this as an ‘orientation’ (beginning), a ‘complication’ (problem) and a ‘resolution’ (problem solved). When young children have developed story understanding skills they can use this as a mental scaffold. This scaffold allows them to ‘hang’ new information and ideas on, when they are watching children’s television programs. It enables them to make sense of what they see on television screens.


How Can You Develop Your Child’s ‘Story Understanding Skills’?



So in summary here are three simple things you can do to build story understanding skills (which are needed for children to learn from TV).

1. Talk with your child before, during or after they have watched TV.

2. Read books with your child and talk about the problem and resolution in the story.

3. Relate what they see on TV to real-life situations.


Children and television are such a hot topic amongst parents and educators. Tell me in the comments below, do you think your child actually learns from educational TV? What programs does your child watch? Categories: TV, television, digital parenting, preschoolers, educational media


* Buijs, L. (2014). How preschoolers learn from educational TV. Journal of Children and Media, (ahead of print), pp.1-19.



I’m Dr. Kristy Goodwin

Researcher, speaker, author, and mum - and not only do I GET it, I’ve dedicated my entire career to helping my fellow professionals and parents explore this exact digital dilemma.

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