Literacy Online Project - Serving
Educators Around The World
Media Literacy Review
Center For Advanced Technology
in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene
TV: Simple techniques parents can use to make TV time with kids almost
as beneficial as story time
Sally snuggles into her Mom's lap as Mom begins to read her a story.
It's a moment of togetherness that parent and child both cherish. But
while Sally may be sitting quietly, her brain is very busy--sorting,
categorizing, guessing, analyzing and synthesizing, exploring, and assessing
a wide range of information, character traits, and emotions. In fact,
Sally's brain is getting a good workout, although she never even notices
the mental sweat.
can seem like magic, especially as children get older and parents begin
to see the profound effects of such a humble activity. Three decades
of scientific research confirm the benefits of this family habit. Children
up to fourteen years old who regularly listen to stories for 20-30 minutes
as a time are more likely to be successful in school. They are also
more likely to be creative problem solvers, self-confident writers and
speakers, and lifelong readers themselves.
The benefits of
reading to children are well established, but did you know that with
a little guidance, children can get similar benefits from watching television?
That may seem like a lot to ask from TV viewing, but when children are
stimulated to think, as opposed to watching passively, their minds are
very busy. According to children's television researcher Dr. Edward
Palmer, watching television is "a remarkable intellectual act. All the
while kids are watching, they are making hypotheses, anticipating, generalizing,
remembering, and actively relating what they see to their own lives."
While TV viewing
should never replace reading to children, parents can make TV time more
productive and educational. By asking the same questions they ask when
reading aloud, parents can help children develop mental skills that
will help them in school and for the rest of their lives. Below are
seven simple techniques you can use as you watch TV with your family.
As you try out these
TV-viewing strategies adapted from reading aloud, think of television
as a "visual book." And like a good book, the home screen is rife with
possibilities for enriching your child's language and thinking abilities.
So snuggle up and...have fun!
- Make predictions.
How many times do we pick a book off the library shelf and ask our
child, "What do you think this will be about?" Kids love guessing
games and their brains are primed for the mental activity needed to
figure out possible answers. So before watching a movies, or as you
look through a program will be about. Over time, you will notice your
child's answers getting more sophisticated. Emphasize the fun of using
imagination rather than getting the right answers. For instance, after
reading the program description from the guide or actually watching
the show, confirm which parts of the prediction occurred and which
parts didn't but could have.
- Help children
concentrate and sustain attention. When we read to children, we often
help them focus on what's important. We'll say, "Now this is interesting."
"I didn't know that," or "Look at how the artist drew that." Helping
children pay closer attention while viewing TV can also build important
you could suggest looking for the arrival of a favorite character
or listening for a favorite song. "Do you think Tigger will "bounce'
Rabbit today?" "Let's cheer when Madeline spells her word in the
spelling bee." "If Barney sings "The Wheel on the Bus,' let's sing
children can focus on both the content of the show and how it is
made. You can help them along by asking, "Do think they'll tell
us what whales eat?" or saying, "I wonder if the person holding
the camera got wet when the whale jumped." When there is dramatic
background music or camera angles that indicate an upcoming significant
scene, cue your child by saying, "I think something important is
about to happen; let's pay close attention here." Later ask your
child to cue you when something important is about to happen.
- Retell the story.
If you child has heard a story in child care or your spouse has read
them a story, you've probably asked, "What was this story about?"
This simple question not only shows you are interested in what your
child does, it is also an extremely reliable way to help with many
thinking skills, including sequencing events and recalling details.
Ask the same question after your child has watched a favorite TV program.
It works best if you turn off the TV afterwards and ask them to tell
you what the show was about. Let your child say as much as he or she
remembers. With preschool children, you might want to interrupt to
asking, "Is there anything else?" until your child completes retelling
the story. You can also prompt children to explain who did what,
or how a character felt, or what color something was. If the answers
to your questions indicate that they are confused by something in
the story, explain it to them in a way they can understand.
- Discuss moods
and emotions. As we read aloud, we often discuss characters' feelings
to help children see the relationship between inner motives and outward
actions. This connection is not always obvious to preschoolers since
their ability to understand cause and effect is still very limited.
When a young child is watching, Babar, for instance, you can point
out how Babar might feel at a certain point in the story. Then you
can link actions with feelings by asking such questions as "When Babar
was upset, what did he do?"
watch a program, have kids in elementary or middle school list as
many emotions---love, anger, compassion, jealousy--as they can on
a sheet of paper. While watching they can write the name of a character
on the show who is expressing that particular emotion. When the
program ends, talk about the results. Did one character show more
emotions than another? What were the actions of the characters of
the character who o was jealous? The one who was kind?
- Point out context
clues. Context clues help children understand what they read. For
example, a child learning to read looks for context clues in the illustrations
to help understand the text. If the boy in the picture is frowning,
that shows what the word "scowl" means. As children gain reading experience,
they can spot context clues from key words, tone, or sentence structure.
Children can also find visual context clues in TV shows, which will
lead them to higher-level thinking as they watch. For children younger
than eight, point out: when a movie or TV program begins (with title
and theme music) when a movie of TV program ends (with credits) predictable
actions or mannerisms of favorite characters (Winnie the Pooh likes
elementary or middle-school children discuss: body language that
cues the viewer to anticipate identifiable behaviors (clenched fists
can indicate anger or frustration) basic cues in celebrity-endorsement
commercials (special effects that convey a celebrity's "star power")
news anchor's body language and mannerisms that bias reporting (facial
expressions, tone of voice, and comments which seem out of place
in relation to the topic at hand)
- Focus on personal
relevance. A good book hold a child's attention because it is personally
meaningful to them. Children have favorite programs for the same reason.
Does your daughter want to be smart and brave like Madeline? Does
your son like the music on Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every
Child because he wants to sing? Perhaps your daughter wants to be
an airplane pilot like Amelia Earhart or a scientist like Marie Curie.
By simply asking a child why they like a program, or what they liked
best about something they just watched, you can help children make
a personal connection to programs and develop interests.
- Lead from your
own curiosity. Reading aloud works best for children if you are interested
in and excited about the books you are reading. It's easier to spark
a child's curiosity when you're fired up, too. The joy for discovery
is contagious! When you choose television programs with educational
potential, it's easier for you to get excited and encourage your kids
with statements like: "I didn't know that, did you?" "What do you
think of that?" Programs that are book-based give parents ways to
tie in reading along with viewing. Also, for 7 to 12-year-olds, programs
featuring biographies or historical figures lead naturally to reading
about these individuals.
DeGaetano, 1998. All rights reserved. Gloria DeGaetano, a national speaker
and consultant on issues related to children and media, is the author
of Screen Smarts: A Family Guide to Media Literacy, Houghton Mifflin,
1996. For ways to raise children optimally in a media age, visit her
For reprint permissions
contact Gloria DeGaetano, phone: 425-883-1544
This article was
first published in Better Viewing Magazine, September/October, 1998.
Parents can subscribe to Better Viewing with a credit card by calling
1-800-216-2225 (Six issues per year, $9.97)