This is part 4 in my Preschool Series. Read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.
Before I start explaining why I don’t feel guilty including TV as an integral part of my homeschool, let me explain that in no way is TV the most important part of our learning environment. The value of a good conversation or board game adds to the learning process cannot be underestimated.
We are bombarded from all sides with the dangers of too much screen time, from shortened attention spans to reduced capacity for understanding language to displaying symptoms of mood disorders. These dangers should not be underestimated, either.
Moderation is Key
But let’s be real, too. Screens, in the form of educational games and TV, can add great value into our school for several reasons. The key to using them responsibly is simply moderation.
First, these programs can be a reliable and fun way to get kids to be independent. This means that parents can work with another child, get some chores done, or grab a quick shower.
While TV surely doesn’t provide the same mental workout as reading or whatnot, there is evidence that quality educational programming like Sesame Street, written by education experts for decades, has been shown to help prepare kids for school in an effective way. According to a 2016 meta-analysis (a definition), children who watched Sesame Street had significantly better outcomes in literacy and numeracy, social attitudes, and health/safety knowledge. These results were consistent across 15 different countries, with representatives from all socioeconomic statuses and research methods. This meta study reviewed 24 studies and the 10,000 children.
It is important to recognize that our kids can learn from TV because homeschool parents are often under much more pressure than parents of traditionally schooled children. Of course, all parents are under pressure of some kind, but homeschool parents are directly doubted as to our abilities to teach our kids. The truth is that our abilities are much less important than our dedication to present our kids with learning opportunities at every possible time. TV can be a positive supplement to a play-based preschool program that includes whimsy and magic.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an reimagination of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, has been shown to be beneficial in teaching our kids social lessons and in promoting emotional intelligence. According to a study released by University of Texas, preschoolers who watched the show, and discussed the happenings with parents, were better able to understand the emotions of others and were able to respond more appropriately. They had higher empathy scores.
In this study, kids who were engaged in conversation about the material did the best on the tests, suggesting that parental reinforcement of these ideals was still a major factor in the benefits. Parents can engage in these shows with our kids and make sure they reap the benefits. Of course, I am still going to turn on Daniel Tiger and slip away to change the laundry or change a diaper, because we are not perfect.
We read plenty of books in my house. I am a bibliophile and have spent hours online researching my the names of my favorite childhood stories. What I mean is that stories stuck with me much longer than the title or authors of the book actually did. For instance, I spent days looking for the title to story that followed a poor, black girl through the bayou as she tossed magic eggs over her shoulder so they would break and reveal treasures. I found the book, The Talking Eggs. I would never give up this opportunity to pass on stories that I loved to my kids.
So often in the homeschool world, we forget the power of the moving picture story. Kids can glean many of the benefits of sharing our favorite childhood shows, in terms of bonding through shared experience.
They can also learn the importance and sequence of narrative story through movies and TV shows. Of course, as I have stated before, the importance of books shouldn’t be underestimated either, but I am not above using Fern Gully to talk about important parts or the sequence of a story. Getting to re-live part of my childhood and sing some favorite songs with my kids is just a perk.
You had better believe I am going to include educational video games, too. According to this 2002 study by a researcher who focuses on gambling addiction studies, his review of the literature showed that those who were negatively affected by video games where almost always those who played video games too much. This study of video games designed for educational use showed that games improved student learning and motivation to learn in the classroom. So while the science is clear that too many games can certainly be detrimental to our kids, playing games in moderation with a clear academic goal in mind can be beneficial, too.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) takes the position that video games, when used appropriately and within reasonable time limits, can make meaningful additions for the experiences and learning outcomes of young children. Here is their in depth position paper.
Last, teaching kids to use technology from an early age is a good thing. Our society has come to rely on technology for even the simplest daily tasks like keeping a schedule. I know plenty of people who keep their calendar on their phone, using their Alexa or Dot to schedule things hands free. My doctor’s office has done away with paper records all together, replacing forms with a tablet. Computers and their uses will be an integral part of my homeschool for years to come. My kids will learn to type and to code.
I would like to conclude that while I am definitely not going to base all of my preschool curriculum around TV, games, or computers, I do not pretend they are nothing but bad. I am going to use them to my advantage, both as a legitimate way to teach and reinforce skills, a way to bond, and as a way to keep my kids entertained so I can shower or load the dishwasher without guilt or fear that my kids resort to tearing out each other’s hair in my absence.