With Parent Involvement, Television Viewing Can Be a Learning Opportunity

Television Watching Has Negative Health Effects
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The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages excessive television viewing in children and adolescents due to possible negative health effects such as violent or aggressive behavior, obesity, and decreased school performance.

However, television is such as big part of American life, and there should be a way for parents to use the small screen as a learning opportunity. Vanderbilt University researchers have learned that when parents watch and actively participate with certain television programs along with their children, they can boost skills such as vocabulary and comprehension.

There is no doubt that book reading with children helps to develop language skills. Gabrielle Strouse, a Peabody College researcher, however, notes that parents naturally enhance storybook reading by stopping and asking their child questions throughout the book. So, she theorized, couldn’t parents do the same thing with videos?

Strouse tested her hypothesis using 81 parents of three-year-olds. They were provided DVDs of children’s stories to watch over a period of four weeks. Children were tested both before the study and after on vocabulary words from the stories and completed a post-test on story comprehension.

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The parents were divided into four groups. The first group was trained to use the dialogic reading method, which prompts the child to become an active participant in telling the story, rather than just being an audience. The second group used directed attention, where the parents watched the videos with their child, commented on the content, but did not ask questions. The third group just sat their child down to watch the stories with little or no interaction from the parents. The fourth group had an actress, rather than parents, use dialogic-style questions.

The children whose parents actively engaged in dialogic questioning and reading scored significantly higher on vocabulary and comprehension than all other groups, especially the groups where the parents provided little interaction with the kids. While the group that watched the actress provide questions about the story scored better than those without interaction, “it doesn’t take the place of parent-led discussion,” notes Strouse.

Associate Professor of Psychology Georgene Troseth adds, “When kids are very small, especially babies, toddlers and those first pre-school years, it isn’t natural and easy for them to learn from videos, so they’re going to learn a lot more if you are there helping them, just like you would help them with a book,” Troseth said. “Don’t give them a steady diet of flopping in front of the television and thinking that is going to somehow educate them.”

Parents can use these tips from Designed Instruction when watching videos with their kids:
• Ensure a non-threatening learning environment. Children should feel safe to contribute to the conversation.
• Talk about what you observe on the screen. Help children see the subtleties that occur during the story that may have significant meaning later.
• Explain unfamiliar words that may be spoken.
• Ask your child questions about what he or she thinks or how they might use the story’s lessons in their own lives.

Source: Vanderbilt University

Image Credit: Morguefile.com

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