Tuesday, February 1, 2011

TV for toddlers

Our "experiment" of no tv has gone super well for me but not so well for Will.  I do not miss having tv at all (although I must admit that if we didn't have Netflix I would probably miss it).  I watch about one Netflix movie a week with Will and the occasional tv show on the internet but I feel a lot better not having to "keep up" with the shows I was watching before.  The only thing I really missed was not being able to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade!  Since then we have acquired an antennae for the tv to be able to watch the free broadcast channels so that Will can watch "real" tv occasionally and so we won't miss the holiday parades and firework shows. 

Depending on which study you read, the average person watches somewhere between 3 and 5 hours of tv a day.  I can't even figure that one out - how do people have that kind of time to waste?  Our no tv "experiment" might be working so well for me because I was never really into in the first place - I never really got into tv shows enough that I had to watch them every week.  It was always easier to wait until they were in reruns and watch when I had time.  The weird thing about it now is that I think I might be missing out socially because I don't watch tv.  I can't participate when others are talking about the shows they watch and I have no idea what movies are playing in the theaters since I don't see previews anymore.  It's a bit awkward at times when I can't add my input to the conversation. 

When I say that I don't watch tv and that we don't have cable people tend to react weirdly but I think that it's fine since it's a choice we made for the benefit of our kids.  The best thing for our kids is what we will stick with since they are our priority.  But, that does bring me to the topic of today: tv for toddlers.  We were adamant that Dominic not watch tv before the age of 2 - too many research studies have show that it's just not a good idea and that kids benefit so much from not having it on to watch  (not to mention the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no tv at all before the age of 2 and limited exposure after that).  But, now that he's older we didn't want him to be that weird kid who doesn't know what tv is and at times it can be a helpful distraction (like the cross-country plane flight to Florida we take twice a year - watching Blue's Clue's on the laptop really saved us this last trip!). 

But, this doesn't mean we want to throw him in front of the tv and let him watch whatever he can find.  I firmly believe that he should only watch when we can sit down and watch with him and that we limit his tv time to 2-3 hours total a week (about 3-4 child length episodes a week).  We want to be able to interact with him about what he is watching and not let him think/accept that watching tv should be a passive activity.  So far it's gone really well and he actually seems to be learning from the tv at times (he learned to say paw-print and clue from watching Blue's Clues and backpack and map from Dora).  So here are the few shows we have tried out with Dominic and why (or why not) we will continue to watch them:

Blue's Clue's - Very well done and fantastic show for a 2 year old!  Dominic loves it and is always asking to watch the "doggie on tv".  The show is about a dog named Blue, who is also colored blue, and the game it plays with it's human friend, Steve.  Steve asked the viewers questions and for help all the time which Dominic does his best to answer.  He likes to run up to the tv to point out the clues when he sees them.  It's a slow paced show but has simple puzzles and games to be answered throughout that is wonderful for the 2 year old level.  They have real educators helping them with the show to write plots that can actually teach your child something and not just have them sit and zone out for a while.  There is a lot of repetition of the theme in each episode which is great for the age level of the show but it does make it a bit tedious at times for the adults watching.

Thomas the Tank Engine - I hate this show and Dominic is NOT allowed to watch it.  The stories seem like they are teaching moral lessons about life but it's done very badly.  The Trains are really mean to each other, they are always making fun of each other, they often seek revenge on each other, and "curse" a LOT.  The cursing isn't real - they say things like "bust my boiler" - but it teaches children that saying things that resembles cursing is okay when you are angry/upset/frustrated.  And, if you can't be a "useful engine" you get sent to the scrap yard to be junked.  What kind of message does that send to kids?  Not to mention that there is Thomas merchandise everywhere - it's a marketing machine that I don't like and don't want my son to become so obsessed with.  Yes, some marketing and commercialization is okay but I really hate seeing young kids who are obsessed with collecting the next Thomas item.  The problem is that Dominic recognizes the trains and really wants to watch them - he does have one Thomas and one Percy train that were gifts.  I don't mind him having them but when he's asking to watch the "choo-choo's" on tv it makes me worry since this show is a bad influence on children.

Dora the Explorer - Another show that Dominic really likes and is great for his age and development level.  You follow Dora and her monkey friend, Boots, on a three step adventure to find something or help someone in each episode.  It teaches words in two languages and has lots of simple games and puzzles like Blue's Clues.  This show is a lot more repetitive than Blue's clues which is good for the kids and helps them pick up what the show is trying to teach but it's hard to watch as an adult. 

Word World - This show is rated for an older audience (about 5 years and up) but Dominic really loves it and I like it too.  It's the adventures of a bunch of animals in Word World and it's another show that is backed by real educational research!  The animals and many of the objects in the show are made up of letters that spell out what they are and the stories involve finding/making objects out of letters.  They talk about the different words you can make with the same letters, sound out words, spell words out, and spending a lot of time talking about letters and how they function in different words.  It's nice because I can ask Dominic to identify the different letters he is seeing on the screen and he will also frequently point out letters that he knows already.

What show's do you watch with your toddler and preschoolers?


  1. oh, i really need to write a big response to this one, but i'm on my way out the door so I'll just jot down some quick thoughts..

    i agree-- the thomas show is NOT for little kids.
    the shows i like are... Dora, Diego (we have the diego dino rescue game for wii and he likes "playing" with costas), word world, Super Why, Miss Spider's Sunny Patch friends, Dinosaur Train, and Yo Gabba Gabba.
    George's vocabulary increased A LOT after he started watching TV regularly. He absorbs and remembers a lot and is able to use the vocabularly appropriately later. I try to watch with him as much as I can (but I need to shower sometime!) and to ask questions during the show. i also like to be able to respond when he starts talking about a character or a show later, when we're not watching TV.
    ok, more later. good topic.

  2. ok, back from target (where i almost bought the burts bees toothpaste, but didn't want to spend the $4.99).
    where was I? oh yeah. for full disclosure, George watches about 2 hours of kid-friendly tv per day. this includes Nick Jr, PBS, some netflix on demand videos, and an unhealthy amount of Youtube. I use tv when i need to shower in the am, mop the floor, and then maybe for a short break in the pm or if C gets home from work tired. If i'm having a bad day, I might put in a full length video (cars, shrek, something disney), but then i'll watch it with him. ok, so i'm not going to win any parenting awards in this category, but at least he's watching age-appropriate stuff and we're talking about it.
    some more thoughts on which shows and why..

    Dora-- we like dora because it's an excellent show for language learning. he started watching it in Greek (where dora speaks greek/eng,) and that helped both of our greek vocabularies! I also like the "Swipper" character that teaches kids that (a) not everyone is nice and trustworthy (b) we must be careful with our stuff and (c) it shows how to deal with troublemakers appropriately (no yelling, fighting, name calling, etc.).

    Diego-- definitely more advanced, but G likes animals and making the animal sounds. Now he knows the names and characteristics of some exotic animals too. The puzzle at the end of the show is very interactive and he likes that too.

    Super Why (PBS)-- this was the first show we started watching regularly. He likes being "Super George" with the power to help. He watches and cares about the story (he'll say, "Oh no! Pig's toy is broken!" or "The princess is sad."), and there are a lot of lessons we can talk about later (sharing, asking for help, etc).

    Yo Gabba Gabba -- it makes him get up and dance!
    The Fresh Beat Band -- also good for making music & dancing.

    Dinosaur Train (PBS)-- maybe a good train show alternate to Thomas? 4 dino kids go on adventures and investigate hypothesis. They have a real palentologist come out at the end and talk about dino features. George knows a lot about dinosaurs from this show. I like it because there are 2 episodes in each half hour show so I can turn it off in the middle if we're "done" watching TV.

    We're also big fans of Veggie Tales. Not so much for the religious aspect, but because it's just plain good kids programing. Fun songs, lovable characters, good values. I know most of the songs by heart. We watch them on netflix (30-50 min shows, 1.5 hr movies) or youtube (3-4 min music videos). It all started with The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything..

    On Netflix we have watched episodes of "Kipper" (Sprout) that are simple and a little dull, but good for when he's calm.

    Other shows we've seen but try not to watch often (mostly because they're over his head) include Olivia, Franklin, Little Bear, Sid the Science Kid, Martha Speaks, Backyardagains, Angelina Ballerina, and Ni-Hao Kailan. I love Kailan, Olivia & Martha, and I'm lookng forward to watching them as he gets older. If you want my opinion on these, I'm happy to share.

    ok, i totally think I wrote enough. I'm happy I know so much about this topic & the shows because it's something my son is exposed to. i hated when MIL would just turn on "cartoons" for him but not pay attention to the language/violence or if they were age appropriate. TV is a huge opportunity for him to learn language and social interaction, so I want to know and approve of what he's watching.