As I thought about what my first post should be about, I went for a mental jog of all the conversations I’ve had with fellow early childhood educators and directors, and friends. One topic seems to find its way into almost every conversation and class lecture: the role of TV and electronics in the lives of children. The purpose of this post is neither to be judgmental towards parents or educators nor to discuss this issue in black or white terms. Instead, the purpose is to look at parts of the childhood experience, in terms of social, cognitive and physical development, to help decide where TV and electronics fit into the lives of children.
To understand why TV is so mesmerizing, one needs to look no further than PBS programming for children. Curious George is always running around exploring new things. Climbing trees, flying kites, even making his own model of a car wash are just some of George’s adventures. Other characters on PBS are often doing exciting activities as they teach children about everything from counting to sharing. But, think about what the child is doing. Most of the time, he/she is sitting, watching all of these imaginary animals and people have all of the educational, sensorial experiences that he/she could be having. Children need rich, sensorial activities such as playing with sand and water, feeling the difference between a brick or wood, etc. They learn a great deal about their world just by touching and working with different materials. They need plenty of opportunities to develop their gross motor skills (jumping, running, walking, kicking) and fine motor skills (holding a spoon, holding a pencil, working with smaller objects).
Also, children expand on literacy and social skills by practice. Early Childhood educators have lengthy conversations with their toddlers about simple parts of the child’s life (their shirt, their weekend, a piece of toy) to promote literacy. Children who are ready to speak and learn vocabulary should be encouraged to speak as much as possible. This includes asking your child to tell you stories, to tell you about objects, to use their words to communicate their feelings. Preschoolers should be encouraged to tell more elaborate stories, tell you in detail about their day or their friends, and to use their words to solve problems. All of these rich, social interactions promote vocabulary and literacy in young children. Talking to children rather than at children is a crucial part of language development. But, children can’t talk to smartphones or TV’s. Screens don’t have ears or mouths. A child can watch a boy learning to share on a program over and over again, but the child will not know what sharing means until he/she finds him/herself in the situation with another real child.
Children’s shows can, to an extent, be a great part of childhood. Some of the fond memories I have of my childhood include references from Blue’s Clues, characters from Rugrats, and songs from Arthur. But, it is very important to learn about the ways your child learns and develops. It is crucial to consider what is important and most beneficial to your child’s development when deciding what role TV or electronics should play in your child’s life. After all, childhood consists of our earliest adventures (sadly for some people, their only adventures) and it is very important for parents to not let screens dominate this vibrant and curious time.