Studies Support Benefits of Educational TV for Reading
Even the harshest critics of the role that television plays in children’s lives would have a hard time arguing that Elmo and Big Bird are bad for youngsters. From the earliest days of “Sesame Street” nearly four decades ago, educational television has earned high praise and millions of fans for entertaining and educating young children.
Now, a new generation of programs, and a rigorous research effort to test its impact, is adding to the “Sesame Street” legacy and working to clarify for parents the potential benefits of television viewing, particularly for literacy development.
While learning experts surely agree that too much television and inappropriate content can have detrimental effects on children, the right kinds of programs can set them on the path toward reading.
“I’m a big supporter of media technology and I do agree that kids spend far too much time with television and other media,” said Milton Chen, who in the mid-1990s helped launch the Ready to Learn Service, a partnership between the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS, and the U.S. Department of Education to create educational programming. “But I come out on the side that specific television programs and experiences can very much support literacy.”
Well-designed programs can teach distinct skills such as letter and sound recognition, as well as cultivate a love of reading, said Mr. Chen, the director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in San Rafael, Calif. As the director of research earlier in his career for the Children’s Television Workshop, which has since been renamed Sesame Workshop, Mr. Chen helped to design and test some of the lessons embedded in programs like “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company.”
Gains in Understanding
Literacy has been a dominant theme of public-television programs since the first episodes of “Sesame Street” pioneered the genre in November 1969.
Many parents since then have observed firsthand the effectiveness of those lessons, such as one on “Sesame Street” that featured Y as the letter of the day and was accompanied by Grammy winner Norah Jones singing her song, “Don’t Know Why.” Or when Synonym Sam, the girl genius character on “Between the Lions,” demonstrated the meaning of sets of words like “walk,” “strut,” and “stride.”
There is now growing empirical evidence that such carefully crafted segments deliver an academic punch.
A federally financed study released last month, for example, found that “WordWorld,” a program funded under the Ready to Learn initiative, helps preschool children learn oral vocabulary and featured words.
“Between the Lions,” hosted by a puppet family of lions who live in the New York City Library, has been studied even more extensively. Studies on the 10-year-old program have linked it to significant gains in students’ understanding of how letters combine to make words, as well as of the purpose of the printed word.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized that some television programming has benefits. But the Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based organization urges parents to avoid television viewing altogether for children under age 2, a prime audience for many programs, because it may be detrimental to their brain development.
The academy also points to the potential for television in general to send the wrong messages about violence, drug use, and other negative behaviors, as well as its documented role in promoting sedentary behavior that can lead to childhood obesity.
The Ready to Learn initiative, begun in 1995, set new priorities for children’s television several years ago, requiring that new programs receiving public funding home in on early literacy. At least a quarter of federal grant money for the programs must be used for research to drive their design and gauge whether the lessons in the programs affect children’s literacy development.
That research is now emerging and providing critical information on the most effective approaches to infusing learning into television programming, according to Deborah L. Linebarger, the director of the Children and Media Lab at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“We know that we can successfully merge learning and appeal to children, but it takes work,” said Ms. Linebarger, who is studying the impact of several popular shows on public television, including “Between the Lions” and “Super Why!”
The best programs, she said, create content that reflects research on how children learn and test it out on children prior to putting it on television. While public television tends to dominate the educational market, she said that the cable stations Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel have also found success in promoting children’s learning on shows such as “Blues Clues” and “Little Einsteins.”
“When they do these things and kids understand them and like them, the shows are really successful,” Ms. Linebarger said, adding that the commercial success can often underwrite the costly development process.
Copyright 2009 by Editorial Projects in Education. All rights reserved.
Add your own comment
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- First Grade Sight Words List
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Graduation Inspiration: Top 10 Graduation Quotes
- What Makes a School Effective?
- Child Development Theories
- Should Your Child Be Held Back a Grade? Know Your Rights
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: Introducing Your Child to Your New Partner