Dora the Explorer is an iconic show in many households. Kids and parents love her. And my family is no exception. (Yes, I know it sometimes surprises people to discover that as a children’s technology expert I do allow my eldest child to watch TV. And no, I don’t feel guilty or concerned about this. Whatsoever.)
Kids love watching Dora and interacting with her on screen. And parents often love Dora too… because their kids love Dora.
Last Saturday Taj (4) and I were invited to the Dora and Friends: Into the City launch at Fox Studios. We went along with my sister and her (excited) son too. And it was a great morning (Dora, popcorn and face-painting at 10:30am- what’s not to like?).
At the launch I realised that like my son, I adore Dora too.
When I mentioned my “Dora adoration” to my sister after the launch, she asked me if it was because Dora kept my son entertained on a weekend morning, so my husband and I could sleep in. Umm. No. Sleep-ins just don’t happen in anymore in our house (5:30am is considered a BIG sleep in these days). Crazy, I know!
Taj enjoys watching Dora the Explorer and I’ve found myself watching quite a few episodes lately too. I justify this time watching TV as “research” since I’m now a Nick Jr Parents’ Resident Expert. And I promise, it really is “research”.
Getting to test, play and explore children’s media is one of the perks of my “job” (except when Taj recently described his Mummy’s work at pre-school as, “She plays apps and video games and looks at brains.” Thank goodness he added the later part to the sentence!)
So why do I adore Dora?
Dora the Explorer and Dora and Friends is definitely what I’d call “educational media”. Now this term, “educational media” is thrown around a lot. Many children’s apps, TV programs and products are marketed as “educational”. But the reality is that they’re not.
I don’t feel guilty (at all) when my son watches a Dora episode or two. No “techno-guilt” whatsoever because I know he’s benefiting from it.
Dora is educational and that’s why I love her.
What makes Dora “educational”?
I’ve come up with some criteria about what makes TV programs “educational”. Click on the audio recording below (or read the checklist below).
- Slow-paced– Dora episodes are very slow-paced and that’s exactly what young children need. Their developing brains are not adept at processing rapid-fire, fast-paced screen action. Slow-paced TV shows allow young children to process what’s happening on the screen, without placing additional demands on their attention.
- Predictable– The structure in each Dora episode is very predictable, meaning that young children know exactly what to expect in each episode. This familiarity with the format allows them to focus their attention on comprehending the episode (and not anticipating what might happen next in the episode).
- Repetitive– Dora repeats concepts and new language throughout each episode to give young children the opportunity to comprehend the storyline. For example, Dora will repeat the problem she’s encountering and her solution, several times in each episode. Developing brains hanker repetition (that’s why your little one wants you to read the same story every single night).
- Language– Dora focuses on explicitly teaching and exposing young children to new vocabulary. New vocabulary is introduced and used repeatedly throughout each episode to allow children to develop familiarity with new words and understand their meaning in an authentic context. It’s critical that developing brains hear and use as much language as possible. The latest neuroscience research confirms that developing brains need language exposure, for optimal development.
- Interactive– Dora elicits responses from children at particular points throughout each episode. This forces children to engage with what they’re watching on the TV (and thus, reduces the “digital zombie” effect) and it encourages children to respond and in doing so, they use language.
- Relationships– As a character, Dora develops what we call “para-social relationships” with children. These are pseudo-relationships that children develop over time with characters. Children form “para-social relationships” with Dora and this enables them to learn the concepts and vocabulary that Dora explicitly teaches in each episode. They like her and want to learn along side her.
Now these features aren’t unique to Dora episodes. There are other TV programs that offer some of these benefits too, but Dora certainly is the top of her class when it comes to “ticking the boxes” of educational TV. So use this list as a checklist for what qualities you should be looking for in quality, educational TV for children.
In the comments below, I’d love for you to tell me what do you look for in educational TV programs for your child? What are some of your child’s favourite educational TV programs?