Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Educational TV: Does it exist?

Many children’s TV shows claim they are “educational.” A show can claim it is educational, but what is it teaching? A large percentage of children’s shows (and apps) claim they are educational yet have no reason to back that claim. It is normal to worry that watching TV will harm your child. On the other hand, many parents use the TV as an “electronic babysitter.” I am going to present research about shows that have shown to be educational to help parents make decisions about TV use.

Sesame Street
Sesame Street is the longest running children’s show on TV today; it started airing in 1969 and is still going strong. It has lasted longer than Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which ran from 1969-2001. Sesame Street was created to help children from low income families increase their school readiness and close the gap between these children and other children in their academic success. Sesame Street was also designed to address issues children face. Many countries have adjusted and added puppets to Sesame Street to address the issues and needs of children in that particular county. For example, South Africa introduced a new character who is HIV Positive. HIV is rampant in Africa and many children themselves are HIV positive. Another example is a new puppet recently added with autism spectrum disorder.

Sesame Street has been very successful in their aims! One study showed that children who viewed at age 5 had better grades in high school, read more book for pleasure, and had high levels of achievement motivation. These children also expressed less aggressive attitudes (Anderson et al., 2001). Viewing at age 5 affected children all the way into high school! Another study looked at 24 studies that included over 10,000 children in 15 different countries. Over all these children had better cognitive outcomes, learning about the world, and social reasoning and attitudes toward out-groups.

Blue’s Clues
The creators of Blue’s Clues used research about children development and young children’s viewing habits to form the show. They structured each episode with repetition to reinforce its curriculum. As I discussed in an earlier blog post, children learn through repetition!

The creators’ research of child development paid off, one study showed that preschoolers who watch Blue’s Clues showed higher information acquisition, vocabulary, intelligence, problem solving skills, and more prosocial behavior two years later (Anderson et al., 2000).

Super Why!
Super Why! is another show that has proven to be educational. The show takes place in Storybook Village where four friends are consistently faced with a “super big problem.” One study found that children who watched Super Why had increased language development, phonemic awareness and letter knowledge two months later (Linebarger et al., 2009).

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
PBS’s description of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is “through imagination, creativity and music, Daniel and his friends learn the key social skills necessary for school and for life.” Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is targeted at preschool children and is based on the Neighborhood of Make-Believe from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. The aim of the show was to teach emotional intelligence and human respect.

Research has shown that children who watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood have higher levels of empathy, self-efficacy, and emotion recognition. These findings were especially strong when parents talk with their children about what they viewed. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has also shown to help children with autism spectrum disorder. Daniel Tiger sings song to help him cope with situations. One mom with a 4 year old with autism shared that her son sang one of these songs to help him cope with his disappointment. These songs help children regulate their emotions and cope with their feelings. There has been a positive feedback from other moms who have children with autism. 

Watching TV can have both negative and positive affects on children, this depends on the content they are viewing!

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