Sunday, August 5, 2012

Television: Friend or Foe?

Before my son was born, I was adamant that there would be no television for him until at least age 2. Ha! That went out the window as soon as we accidentally discovered that breakfast in front of the television meant eating instead of yelling and throwing food. I felt guilty at first, thinking I was being a bad mother. But then I heard my then-18-month-old use the word “humongous” correctly. And I realized that television, when used wisely, can be a useful and effective teaching tool.

I consider myself fortunate to live in an age where there are so many wonderful choices of educational television. I grew up with Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, The Electric Company, and Schoolhouse Rock, but my son also has Word World, Super Why, Word Girl, Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train, Curious George, Fireman Sam, Handy Manny, Arthur, Wild Kratts, The Berenstain Bears, and dozens of other well-produced shows that teach everything from reading, numbers, and shapes to sharing, table manners, and safety. I work hard to teach my son his letters, colors, numbers, and shapes, but he learns them much more quickly when he sees a puppet turning into a yellow triangle and singing a song about having three angles and three sides.

Because of shows like Sesame Street and Word Girl, my 2-1/2 year old son knows words like “gigantic,” “fragile,” “scrumptious,” and “hypothesis.” Because of shows like Sid the Science Kid and Curious George, he knows how a vending machine works, why rain falls from the sky, how many legs a spider has, and what plants need to grow. Because of shows like Wild Kratts and Dinosaur Train, he knows that some animals eat plants and some eat other animals, and that some animals fly, some swim, some walk, and some crawl. Because of Arthur and the Berenstain Bears, he knows that sometimes you share toys by taking turns and sometimes by playing together. Because of Fireman Sam and Handy Manny, he knows that there are some things that you need to be very careful of because they’re hot or sharp or heavy or breakable.

Even with all these wonderful things that he’s learned, I’d still think of television as an enemy if he preferred to sit around on the couch staring at the TV instead of playing. But because of the television shows he’s seen, he is now even more creative in his playing. After watching an episode of Dinosaur Train, he’ll build a dinosaur out of Legos and tell me it has a long neck because it’s a T-Rex, or wings because it’s a pteranodon. After watching Curious George, he’ll pretend to make a kite out of paper and make it fly. After watching Fireman Sam, he’ll drive his fire truck around the room saving cats out of trees and rescuing people stuck on roofs.

So I think the answer to the question of whether television is friend or foe is that it is what you make of it. Because we watch together and talk about what we see, television has made my son more literate, more educated, and more creative. And as long as I continue to be careful about what he watches, television will continue to be not only a friend, but a teacher. I look forward to introducing him to shows like Nova, How It’s Made, and Mythbusters, so he’ll learn physics and engineering. In a few years, shows like Chopped and America’s Test Kitchen will teach him that cooking is fun and exciting. Blue Planet will introduce him to marine biology and National Geographic Wild will teach him geography and zoology. Hopefully all these shows will continue to pique his curiosity and encourage him to learn more and explore the world around him. As Dr. Scott the Paleontologist always says at the end of Dinosaur Train: “Remember, get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries!”

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