Television as a Language Tool (page 3)
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.
Choosing Programming for Young Children
Selecting appropriate children’s programming has become more challenging in recent years. In addition to regular public access, cable service may offer as many as 100 options to choose from each hour of the day. And while there are a number of proven classics—such as Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, and Mister Rogers—children’s programs change from year to year. One way parents can determine the quality of children’s programming is through considering children’s needs. Diane Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige (1994) created a list of children’s developmental needs and suggested program criteria to accommodate these concerns.
“What do you think Dora will do, Shelly? Swiper took her cousin’s present! What would you do?” asks mom to her three-year-old daughter Shelly, who adores all things Dora the Explorer. Shelly replies, “Follow the triangula (Spanish for triangle).” Shelly’s mom marvels; her preschooler is learning her shapes in English and in Spanish!
Research suggests that when parents watch high-quality programming with their children, the opportunities for vocabulary development and story comprehension are tremendous (Close, 2004). Young children are extremely impressionable, and television’s visual imagery is a powerful force in their lives. Electronic programming also provides exceptional opportunities for shared visual attention, which may greatly stimulate vocabulary development in much the same way as a storybook (Walker, 2004). Therefore, it is important for parents to help guide and mediate the viewing process. Susan Miller (1997) suggests a number of ways parents and caregivers may interact with children as they view television.
- Watch television together—Help children interpret what is seen on the screen.
- Talk about the programs—Conversations initiated by television programming offer opportunities to discuss a wide variety of issues.
- Observe children’s reactions—Ask children to label or describe their feelings.
- Foster critical thinking—Ask children what they think about a program. Would they have handled the problem differently? Did they agree with the character’s actions?
- Extend viewing activities—Children are often motivated to learn more about a topic or activity once television has sparked their interest.
For instance, Annie’s interest in the hatching sequence in the video inspired her to find her Egg Becomes Chick book. She pored over this early science text, which features actual photographs of the development of a chick inside the egg. A trip to the zoo in early spring also provided her with the opportunity to see more chicks being hatched in a large incubator.
In short, television/videos/DVDs can be a powerful tool in children’s learning, but how much, what, and how children view television programs should be carefully considered.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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