This week is a holiday week – President’s Day was this past Monday. Most offices, schools, and banks were closed to honor Washington and Lincoln. With that being said, my son was home from school on Monday and most of the day he just wanted to watch cartoons on TV and videos on his tablet. I’m okay with a day of lounging and recharging, but it got me thinking ….. it has become so easy to allow our children to just watch TV or videos on their devices. Are we lazy parents? Are parents overworked or overwhelmed with their own lives that look for shows to distract kids so that they can get their own to-do lists done?
Most cartoons and kid shows are packed with educational tools and hidden lessons for viewers to absorb. Shows like Little Einstein’s, Thomas and Friends, Teen Titans, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Peg Plus Cat, Team Umizoomi, Odd Squad, Sid the Science Kid, Word Girl, and Blippie are just some of the popular shows and videos that are out there for kids to watch. There are many, many more. Each teaches skills like problem solving, math, science, STEM, teamwork, music, and vocabulary. Many times, these shows can explain skills to a child in a way that adults cannot. And it is tempting to turn on the math- or music-centered show to teach something to our kids that we may not be able to, or so we can get dinner ready or fold that load of laundry still piled on the couch. Is this the best way though?
Recently, I even discovered that our local school uses cartoons in the classroom to teach music. I kinda thought that’s what they have music teachers for. The majority of the first quarter, my son reported to me that most music class days were spent watching Little Einstein’s, which he finds boring. I understand if a teacher uses a show as a tool to help reinforce something taught in class, but as a main source of education is not acceptable to me. Is our education system relying on cartoons and kid shows to instruct students instead of actual instruction and demonstration? Sadly, it’s true, but was not always this way. I remember my music teacher and my band instructor from high school. (This was from the 80’s and 90’s) They were inspiring and creative teachers. Even as a student, I enjoyed their classes more than any other because it was not always a perfect or textbook class, and no lesson was ever the same.
While kid shows hold educational tools and social skills, real life learning is much more effective. Experiences like traveling, exploring nature, and meeting people will activate curiosity and engage a child’s imagination and thought processing. A child that goes for a walk in the woods or in a park with a parent and discovers a Daddy Long Leg Spider, or a caterpillar, or a beetle, or a walking stick bug may get curious enough to look up information on that bug. Perhaps on that same day they see a bird with bright colors that they haven’t seen before, or a snake hiding in an inconspicuous spot, or a fish in a pond/river. Maybe they hear music in the park and are curious about the instrument or how music is made. I’d put money on the fact that the child is going to look up or ask about what they saw and want to know what it is. That knowledge is now attached to a real life experience and is much easier to remember and process.
I do not mind when my son wants to just relax and veg out with his tablet or cartoons on, but not for a long period of time. I’m not sure what the right amount of time is, but I feel no more than an hour at a time is appropriate. I will have him turn it off so we can play a game together, or he has to do one of his chores (yes I am that mom that believes in chores for kids), or we can go outside for a while, or even just to have a conversation. With the amount of pressure and exposure that kids as young as early elementary have these days, I do think that unplugged and “unthinking” time is a good thing. Whether it’s with goofy games or unstructured time or cartoons with little to no educational value, mindless time can be recharging.
So what do you think? Are we relying too much on TV to education our kids? What do you think is an appropriate amount of TV time? Do you have favorite kid shows that hold no educational value? If so, what are they?