Nowadays children watch a lot of TV. Even babies are exposed to early childhood programs because parents believe in the educational value of these programs. These programs indeed have great entertainment value for those children. However, besides this entertainment value, what do these children really learn from such programs? Is the television really such a great learning tool or just a cheap babysitter?
Researchers at Wake Forest University investigated this issue in regards to language development. In the study children in the age group of 15 to 24 months were evaluated to determine how their language skills developed, if exposed to programs specifically aimed at their age group, like Teletubbies. The results were compared to their ability to pick up new words and their meaning, when interacting with an adult in the room.
The researchers concluded children younger than 22 months do not gain anything in terms of language development from these early childhood educational programs. Certain items were identified by name by the early childhood television program. However, the children in this age group were unable to correctly identify the objects afterwards. Yet, when the objects’ names were offered in a responsive interaction with an adult in the room with the children, the children were able to correctly identify these objects afterwards.
Therefore, in terms of language development, early childhood television programs have no significant impact on children under the age of two. To increase their vocabulary, this age group needs responsive adult interaction.
Consequently, parking a child younger than two years of age in front of the television to watch those early childhood education programs is really just a form of entertainment to them, and a cheap babysitter for the parents to gain some quiet time. There is no real developmental gain for this age group, when exposed to these programs. In fact, the Academy of Pediatrics recommends not exposing children this young to the television programming at all.
However, it is commonly known children older than two years of age will be able to learn from programs geared at their age group, such as Barney, Sesame Street, and other programs aimed at pre-schoolers. Such programs will not only benefit their language development, but also improve their understanding of how things work. Additionally, those programs teach correct social interaction. Still, this does not mean television time should not be limited. Children still need interaction with other children and adults to overall properly develop their skills.