Erin Chawla: The Kiducation Learning Curve


How TV Can Make Your Child Smarter

Why is this Teacher Telling You to Let Your Kids Watch TV?

Television gets a bad rap. There are countless studies demonstrating links between kids’ TV viewing and aggression, inability to focus, sleep deprivation, inactivity, and a myriad of other disturbing negative repercussions. The American Pediatric Association recommends zero screen time for children under 2, citing all sorts of learning difficulties that may be connected to early TV exposure.

However, television is part of our modern Canadian lives and its delivery continues to grow and develop as time marches on. Through advancing technology, it is possible to take our TV with us everywhere we go and instantly demand our favourite shows. Television doesn’t show signs of disappearing from our lives soon, so why not use it to our advantage?

I am here to say, as a dedicated educator who values your child’s growing brain, some TV is actually good for you kids! Enter Kids’ CBC programming. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is committed to delivering quality, educational programming that actually interacts with your young child.

This week my daughter and I attended Kids’ CBC Day and to sat down with Dr. Lynn Oldershar, children's programming consultant for Kids' CBC and child psychologist, to talk about the new fall line-up and the link between TV and early childhood educational development.

Dr. Oldershar said, “As a developmental psychologist, I’ve always had a singular goal, and it’s genuine and it’s true. It’s to make a positive difference in the lives of young children. So working at the CBC is just a dream, because pretty much everyone of us who work in the Kids’ Department has that goal.”

Any programming that starts with that mission statement must be great! Kids’ CBC presents a slew of great kids' shows that have your child’s development at heart. But, seriously, can TV really make a positive difference to your child’s learning?

According to Dr. Oldershar, it absolutely can! Research shows that developmentally appropriate, intentionally designed television programs do advance the development of young children. Listening to her with my “teacher ears,” knowing that interactive, experience-based learning is the most effective kind, I found myself surprised to completely agree with what she was saying.

In planning their programming, the team at Kids’ CBC considers the whole child, focusing on five areas of developmentsocial, emotional, cognitive, physical, and creative. Studies show that little kids don’t passively watch TV the way adults and older kids do, but rather engage with shows, making connections, asking questions, and building understanding. Knowing this, CBC creates programs that challenge kids and are highly interactive in nature. They have a great line-up of programs designed to target every one of the areas of child development.

Interestingly, these are the same five areas of development that the kindergarten program is based on. It seems CBC really knows what’s up when it comes to helping kids transition to school. By the way, parents of preschoolers, take special note of the shows that target social and emotional development. As any primary teacher can tell you, your child’s social and emotional skills are a far greater predictor of their success in school than their ability to write their name or count to ten.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you plunk your two-year-old down in front of the TV for hours while you check your Facebook.

Parents are responsible for selecting appropriate shows and for keeping the interactive nature of these programs alive. 

Here are my top tips for effectively using TV as an educational tool for kids of all ages:


1) Watch shows with your kids: No, not every time. I know life gets busy and sometimes the kids are watching TV while you get stuff done. No criticism here. But when time allows, sit down and watch shows with your kids. Ask a few questions throughout, encouraging your kids to make predictions or explain a character's action. For the younger set, this will advance the developmental nature of the show. For the older set, this will encourage them to watch less passively and will strengthen your connection with them. It's a way to take an interest in their interests.

2) Talk about what they have seen: Never underestimate the educational power of a good conversation. Have your kids tell you why they like a show, or what they think of a character. Ask them to explain what happened in an episode and what they think could happen next. Have your adolescent reflect on a situation that occurred in a teen drama and talk about what they would do in a similar situation. You never know where the conversation may go, but encouraging kids to connect to and talk about what they are viewing creates a richer experience.

3) Let TV enter real life: Extend your child’s learning by bringing shows into your everyday life. Kids connect with what they know and get excited to see familiar friends. Get books featuring favourite TV characters, allow the kids to dress up in character’s costumes or to re-enact a scene from the show. Plan a theme party around a TV program. Before I became an auntie and a mother, I thought it was a bit tacky to get your kids all those character-inspired backpacks, books, and toys. But then I witnessed my nephew’s faithful, unwavering, 6-year love affair with Buzz Lightyear. I saw the power of my daughter’s connection to Elmo. My stance on character-branded paraphernalia changed. I know from teaching that when kids are excited about something, they are engaged, and when they are engaged, they are learning. Now I saybring on the Elmo!

So there you go, television can in fact make your kids smarter. Feel free to quote me to your meddling mother-in-law when she criticizes your son’s iPad viewing. Help your kids make positive choices about what to watch and help them to interact with shows. Go on, grab some popcorn and get learning!

Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy the journey!

Need to know what's happening in the world of television? Check out our new TV blogger, Jennifer Rathwell. Want to know some more ways to advance your child's learning? See these Teacher-Approved Summer Activities or these Tips to Help a Struggling Reader.