Must-See TV for Preschoolers and Kindergarteners
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Whether it’s an impromptu game of freeze tag in the yard, or a free-form playdough sculpture contest, kids love to play. Parents of preschoolers and kindergarteners know that screen-free, battery-free play is best. But there are bound to be days when the TV beckons. Good news: with more and more quality television available, you don’t need to feel guilty about letting kids indulge every now and then. Should you choose Saturday cartoons or Sesame Street? We asked two experts, Deborah Linebarger, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and director of the Children’s Media Lab, and Betsy Bozdech, Executive Editor of Common Sense Media, which shows they thought were Must See TV for preschoolers and kindergarteners.
Best TV for Preschoolers: Preschool plants the seeds for kindergarten, and TV can help, says Linebarger. “Research suggests that preschoolers develop story skills (like the ability to accurately sequence a story and identify its central content) and narrative skills (including an ability to identify key story events and make inferences about those events) by watching narrative-style programs,” she says. They also learn the style elements that make up written text, like compare/contrast, cause and effect, and description. “It’s good to get this type of exposure,” she says, “Because when kids transition from learning to read, to reading to learn, they have to be able to glean information from texts that are expository-based.” Without experience, this is a tough leap. For preschoolers, “interactivity” is another key thing to look for in a TV program, Bozdech says. “Characters will engage young viewers by asking direct questions and enlisting their ‘help’ and asking them to think of solutions. The reason that factor is so important is that it's the closest thing to interacting with a real person (like Mom or Dad!) -- which is still the ideal whenever possible, of course,” she says.
- Super Why This show lays the groundwork for reading success, by teaching key early literacy skills like the alphabet and phonemic awareness. The characters in this program speak directly to the viewers: asking kids to help them, giving them an opportunity to respond, then providing feedback. This is a powerful way of actively involving kids in the learning process.
- WordWorld This colorful, delightful series literally brings words to life --every character, place, and object is formed out of the letters that make up its name. It helps preschoolers recognize letters and understand how they form words, starting them on the path to literacy.
- Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer (not the pre-teen version) Both of these programs use the same type of format as Super Why. They are narrative, with plots and characters to follow. Watching these shows helps kids learn to sequence and tell stories. Research into these programs has shown that kids not only learn the content from each episode, but that they also transfer that specific learning to their daily lives, once the tv is off.
- Zooboomafoo "I just love this program. I have found that kids’ vocabulary scores go up when watching programs like this," Linebarger says. The hosts, the Kratt brothers, speak directly to kids and make it really fun to learn about animals and model positive social behaviors. The education portion of the show is really focused on building kids’ conceptual knowledge…which is key for preschoolers.
- Sesame Street "There's a reason Sesame Street is a perennial favorite," Bozdech says. It teaches kids about a wide variety of subjects, from Spanish to sharing, and has some of the most appealing characters in kids' TV (who doesn't love Muppets?). And its dash of irreverence makes it fun for parents, too.
- Sid the Science Kid "What I like about the show is that it accurately portrays preschool, does a great job of breaking down the scientific method and explaining it, and focuses on writing and documenting what you observe daily. It also captures the enthusiasm for learning that is typical of this age group," Linebarger says. And, it's all done in a narrative context, which makes it easier for preschoolers to learn the science content, since it's embedded in a story.
- Reading Rainbow Reading Rainbow not only encourages reading but brings wonderful kids' books to its young viewers' attention. Plus, it goes beyond the page, taking kids further into the subjects brought up in the featured stories with documentary-style investigations on everything from trains to slavery. Bozdech gives it a thumbs up.
- Little Einsteins "Both artistic and educational, Little Einsteins grabs kids' attention with its characters' exciting adventures-- and teaches them something at the same time," Bozdech says. Kids who watch learn about everything from classical music to art to photography -- plus teamwork and problem-solving.