Television as a Language Tool
Deeply engrossed in a Discovery video titled Birds, three-year-old Annie cheers when a duck slowly hatches from its egg. She watches this video several times, frequently asking questions about “How did the duck get into the egg?”
In the middle of the night several evenings later, Annie’s father awakens to noises coming from the family room. As he walks into the living room he realizes that Annie has begun to play the Birds video in the VCR. He also observes that her hands are full of eggshells and yolks. She asks, “Daddy, where’s the baby duck?”
As you can see, Annie’s interest in ducks, eggs, and the mysteries of hatching were clearly sparked by her observation of a science video. Children today have a wide range of electronic media to watch and interact with. Television, the oldest medium, is still the most influential and easily accessible, and opens the door for cable programming, videos, and DVDs. Parents have the choice to view television as a hazard to their child’s intellectual development or they can explore its potential as an inexpensive tool that can broaden their child’s curiosity and vocabulary (Foley & Enz, 2004).
Television has been a major influence in family life in almost all U.S. households since the 1950s. In the 1980s, the availability of video rentals and inexpensive video players, video movies and storybooks, cartoons, and games added yet another dimension to television watching. During the 1990s it was estimated that 99 percent of U.S. homes had at least one television set. The latest research reveals that the television/video player/DVD player is usually in the part of the home where most family interactions occur (Miller, 1997). Hence, the average child between two and five years of age will spend twenty-seven hours a week viewing television programming (Lemish, 1987). Anything that occupies children for so many hours a week deserves careful consideration. So what are some the key elements a parent needs to consider when determining how to use the powerful medium?
Research regarding the amount of time young children watch television and the effect of viewing on later academic success is inconclusive, though the data clearly suggest that watching for many hours per day or week has a negative effect on children’s academic performance. Susan Neuman (1988) suggests that more than four hours of television viewing a day has a negative effect on children’s reading achievement. Likewise, Angela Clarke’s and Beth Kurtz-Costes’s (1997) study of low-socioeconomic African American preschool children shows that children who watched the most television (between thirty and fifty-five hours per week) exhibited poorer academic skills than their peers who watched fewer than twenty-five hours per week. On the other hand, moderate amounts of television viewing may be beneficial. The Center for the Study of Reading landmark report, “Becoming a Nation of Readers,” suggests that there is actually a positive link between watching up to ten hours of television a week and reading achievement (Rice, Huston, Truglio, & Wright, 1990). Clarke and Kurtz-Costes (1997) suggest that the variation in researchers’ findings may be due in part to the home climate. They suggest that who watches television with young children and how television is watched may have a greater effect on children’s learning than simply the amount of television viewing.
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