How to maximize kids’ learning from educational media


In our home we have a children’s book called “Petunia.” It’s a story about a goose who learns through harsh experience that the power of books comes not from simply owning books, but by learning how to read. Petunia concludes: “It was not enough to carry wisdom under my wing. I must put it in my mind and in my heart. And to do that I must learn to read.”

Research shows that our kids watch quite a bit of TV. And as a parent, I get it. To get anything done sometimes we have to plop them in front of the TV. I do it, and I don’t feel bad, especially because there are some great educational shows that I can feel confident in showing my kids. But just as owning books is not enough to teach kids, simply having kids watch educational television is not enough. Kids need to be equipped to “read” TV in order to get the most benefit.

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology demonstrates this. Researchers in Germany had 150 kids ages 4-6 watch a short educational film and play an interactive computer game. Researchers also tested kids’ ability to “read” media by testing children’s media literacy. Media literacy was defined as kids’ ability to “read” several aspects of media, such as knowing the difference between TV reality and TV fiction, ability to understand the plots of stories, and being able to match voices with characters. Results of the study found that the more media literate kids showed greater learning from the film than kids who were less able to “read” media.

This means that if we want kids to get the most out of the educational shows they watch, it will take some effort on the part of parents and teachers to first teach media literacy skills to kids. According to the study, we can start teaching these skills to kids in a few simple ways:

  • Point out the things on TV that are not real, and those that are. For example, we can point out that the weather person is really standing in front of a green screen, not a weather map.
  • Helping them learn the difference between TV shows and advertisements.
  • Asking questions to gauge their understanding. For example, if a voice is narrating a scene on the TV, we can ask kids which character they think is talking.
  • Helping kids identify characters’ emotions based on their facial expressions.

Helping kids navigate the big ol’ media maze, can be intimidating, to be sure. But we as parents can have a big impact on kids’ learning from educational media by doing a few simple things.

So, which part of children’s media literacy will you be tackling first with your little one?

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