Dora and Mickey

The NY Times had an article this week (written by a friend of mine, as it happens) on how young children learn from television.  In particular, the article discusses a study that found that the more that children interacted with the television characters — Blue’s Clues is cited as particularly well-designed — the more they learned.

On vacation last week, I heard N shouting as he tried to open the heavy sliding door on our rental house.  It took me a minute to figure out that he was saying "Abre!" just like on Dora the Explorer.  He also loves to make a gate across the entry to our kitchen with his body, and make us do knock knock jokes before he’ll open.  So, yes, I’m sure he’s learning from television.  But I still cringe when we go to the bookstore and he shouts with his enthusiasm about finding books with Dora and Boots.  Why don’t you paint a scarlet "TV" on me while you’re at it, kid?

In spite of the bad rap that TV gets, I’m not convinced it’s bad for small children as long as it doesn’t replace reading.  A report came across my desk today about mother-toddler bookreading in low-income families which confirmed that reading to kids promotes language development.  As the abstract of the study says, "Path analyses show reciprocal and snowballing relations between maternal bookreading and children’s vocabulary."

One minor finding of the study is that moms are more likely to read to their first-born children than to later ones.  That should not come as a surprise to anyone who has more than one child.  I’m sure that younger children are also exposed to more television, and in particular, more non-educational television (e.g. D sure wasn’t watching KimPossible when he was 2).  I wonder if there’s a way to use that fact to improve research on the effects of TV on child development — most current research is flawed because it can’t distinguish between the effects of TV on children and the effects of having parents who allow or don’t allow lots of TV watching.

I’m not worried about N in any case.  We’ve been reading a lot of In the Night Kitchen lately, and he’s been walking around reciting long passages from it.  He particularly likes "I’m not the milk, and the milk’s not me.  I’m Mickey!"  Except that sometimes he says it as "I’m not the milk, and the milk’s not me.  I’m N—!"   or "I’m not the milk, and the milk’s not me.  I’m D—!"  and then he sneaks a peek over at D to wait for his reaction. 

8 Responses to “Dora and Mickey”

  1. Sarah Says:

    My second born likes books more than my first. I think it is imitation of his big sister. She is now 5 and on the verge of reading to herself, but with her, I usually had to bring the books. With my younger son, now 2, he brings the books. Since he could crawl (~6 mo), day care and babysitters have commented that he demands books. Considering we watch too much TV, I hope it evens out.

  2. Jody Says:

    “Why don’t you paint a scarlet “TV” on me while you’re at it, kid?” makes me grin.
    My kids don’t watch TV — an hour a week? mostly Muppets DVDs right now? — and they shout for Dora and Boots at the bookstore, too. Cut yourself some slack! ;-)
    That having been said, there are a limited number of hours in the day, and I think the problem with low-income families in particular has been that TV does replace book reading. Of course, when you’re looking at parental literacy issues, that’s raises all sorts of questions about the “read to your child” campaigns. There are in fact tons and tons of books-on-video now (I anticipate we’ll watch even less TV at home now because the kids seem to watch at least one video every day in school) and I’m mystified as to why they can’t be broadcast on a special channel.
    Well, no, I’m not mystified, but I’m sorry.

  3. deidre Aufiero Says:

    My daughter (4) loved to sit for hours looking at books, even before age 1. She developed a great vocabulary, fairly lengthy attention span, and is already starting to read herself. My son took a little longer to show an interest in books, but now at 15 months does enjoy and initiate looking at books. It’s nice that my daughter enjoys “reading” books to her brother, so he’s probably not getting shortchanged. As you posted previously, if reading is high on your list of priorities, you can find time every day.
    My husband and I do not watch TV when the kids are up, so I have limited their exposure to inappropriate programs and commercials. I was shocked (so naive!) when I found out that in the 2 1/2 hours my daughter attended pre-school, they frequently watched videos. Why? There were two teachers and only FIVE children in her three year old class. Believe me, I will speak up this year, as she’ll be attending 5 days a week.
    The article only briefly mentioned that background TV is detrimental. I’m curious about that. My son does not watch the TV when my daughter is viewing her programs. He briefly glances up when he hears the Backyardigans or Thomas theme music, or if live animals catch his attention, but generally ignores it.
    I’d gladly trade for your scarlet TV. Whenever we go to the supermarket on Sunday, my daughter exclaims, “Oh no, Mom! They’ve got the blanket covering the beer.” Thanks for the smile and food for thought.

  4. Amy Says:

    I joke that all you have to do is read to the oldest child; once our oldest became an avid reader, we found him reading to his younger brother. Younger brother now reads to little sister, who reads to her dolls (because of being cruelly denied a younger sibling to read to).
    We watch TV, and we also read a lot in our house. I’m fine with reading a Dora book now and then if that’s what someone wants to hear, but it seems like good writing, like that found in In the Night Kitchen, retains its attraction for my kids–our copy is about ten years old, and it still gets read regularly–while the Dora/Thomas/Teletubbies books quickly lose their charm.
    That said, I was happy to buy and read Teletubbies books to Kid #2, who was less inclined to sit still and listen to stories as a toddler than either of his siblings, but who loved to read about the Teletubbies. I’m supportive of just about any text that gets my kids interested in reading.

  5. Anjali Says:

    I’ve always thought that one of the negative things about TV is that replaces time that a child could otherwise spend entertaining themselves for a change — a concept that seems to be utterly lost on this generation of young children. My kids don’t watch any tv at home, but you better believe that I don’t spend all the time they’re not watching TV, reading or otherwise entertaining them.

  6. merseydotes Says:

    Wear your scarlet TV with pride, Elizabeth. Really, I know there are many who would equate allowing your sons to sit in front of the boob tube with neglect, but you should just do like the wise mimi smartypants and get a “HEGEMONY OF YUPPIE PARENTING FREE KID or a SUBSERVIENCE TO TRENDY GROUPTHINK FREE KID t-shirt” for D and N.
    I find that TV and movies actually help my daughter in her imaginery play games. She will constantly pretend that she is Mary Poppins and my DH and I are Jane and Michael Banks, or she and I are Diego and Alicia, saving animals in the rainforest. TV and movies give life to characters that I think are hard for toddlers and preschoolers to visualize in their minds. Picture books with limited text are not the best for getting a sense of movement, style, voice, etc. I think there is a place for TV/movies AND books in kids’ lives, in balance and moderation – like everything else.
    Also, I feel like popular television and classic movies are practically a point of cultural reference. What would our generation be without Star Wars, the Smurfs, the Muppets, E.T., etc? Just think, you’re giving D and N the future ability to sit and banter easily at college instead of being the kids in the corner who furrow their brows and say, “My parents never let us watch any TV.” LOL

  7. landismom Says:

    Hey, my daughter’s first word was ‘Backpack!,’ so you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of as far as I’m concerned. I think the culture is so full of marketing (and the two- and three-year-old brain is so susceptible to it) that even kids that don’t watch tv still understand who the popular characters are.
    I think the second kid thing is definitely mixed–while it’s true that I don’t read to our son as much as I read to our daughter, it’s also true that he has a big sister who will read to him practically any time he asks her to.

  8. Jennifer Says:

    Like the others I have only anecdotal information. My son, now 4 1/2, wasn’t interested in books for what felt like a long time. Let’s see: I remember him in my lap while I was pregnant with my second — she would be kicking at him, ouch for me — so I guess he was just past 2 when he’d sit still for a story. However, he also never cared for TV. Even now he’ll watch maybe 1/2 hour and then turn the TV off.
    My daughter on the other hand liked books from the instant she emerged — not so much the story but the pictures. (That is, she didn’t want me to read to her; she wanted to sit alone & look at the pics.) Her first words were for animals she’d only seen in books. And yet she’s the one who loves TV, who asks to have it on ALL the time & who I have to fight to get it off.
    I just don’t think there’s a 1:1 relationship between bookreading and TV — like merseydotes said, we don’t read every moment that the TV is off. I wonder if what’s really helping is parental attention. Parents who will take the time to read to a kid will spend time w/ the kid doing other things as well; so it’s not the reading itself which develops vocabulary but the attention.
    If my theory is right then 2nd children are fine, because even if they’re not getting as much attention from their busy parents, they are getting attention from the other sibling — and that’s a perk the firstborn didn’t have.

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