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How much do kids learn from TV?

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

There is a growing number of educational TV programs aimed at children under the age of three. But how much can young children learn from such shows? According to a new study, not that much – unless adults work with them.


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For this Temple University study, children under the age of three watched clips from educational programs. Researchers evaluated whether the shows helped the children understand and remember verbs.

Kathy Hirsh Pasek heads Temple’s Infant Language Laboratory. She says kids only learned the verbs when they had help from an adult, who pointed to the action on TV, or repeated it.

Hirsh-Pasek: When they talk, we’re the ones who follow what they say, we look where they look, that turns out to be really important in language learning. When the adults teach, when the adults demonstrate, then the children can learn it.

When it was on TV alone, the children didn’t learn it. When it was TV with an adult, the child did learn it. So it means really that co-viewing is going to be very very important.

Pasek says letting a young child watch educational TV while you make dinner will not result in learning. Her colleague Sarah Roseberry at Temple say the term “educational program” is not well defined, and more research is needed on how much children can learn from TV.

Roseberry: We really don’t know, and a lot of shows call themselves “educational” even though there is not a lot of research to back it up, so I think that we need to look at that and to see exactly which shows are actually educational, and we need to be clear about what they are teaching.

On average, children under three watch two hours of TV a day.


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