Last week, I wrote about the Sesame Street Project called “Math is Everywhere.” That site has all sorts of information about early math for parents of young children and educators of young children. After exploring the site for quite some time, I started thinking about television and learning, and whether or not there is real value in passive television watching.
I remember all of the research about this topic from graduate school. Most theorists agree that learning takes place when new information conflicts with what is already known and the learner must create new understandings from the conflict. This process is most generally an active one – meaning that it doesn’t take place like a sponge absorbing water or like writing on a blank slate. It is active because the brain is required to work at these new understandings ,and is supported through the supportive interactions between the learner and other people.
So, that begs the question…Do children learn when they watch shows like Sesame Street. I would argue that, “Yes, they do….to a point.” Television can never take the place of genuine human interaction, and it isn’t meant to. It can support prior learning by reinforcing what is already knows and by providing a medium for practice. Good programming, like Sesame Street models appropriate interactions between the regular characters, both the human ones and the Muppet ones. It is designed to be as interactive as possible, even though children can’t actually interact with the characters on the show.
The way that television works best for learning (if that is what you believe you are using it for) is if it is watched together. If adults provide genuine human interaction with creative, appropriate, and engaging programming, then children can most definitely get something more out of this passive activity.
This clip from Sesame Street is a great example of the kind of programming we have come to expect from PBS. How would you watch this with your children to make it more interactive?