By profession, I’m a full time nanny. I spend 50-60 hours per week with children all under the age of 4. I am also a full time elementary education major. It’s easy to see that I take a great interest in the development and education of young children. I find myself discussing television usage with parents quite often.
Research has found that watching too much television can slow down a child’s cognitive development; there are surely lines that should not be crossed. I always stress to use caution but some parents use caution enough. I wonder, should kids watch television?
Honestly, I am a firm believer that children should watch a limited amount of television. I’ve watched many children grow up over there years and I’ve never seen a limited amount of television negatively affect the child in the long run. Actually, I’ve seen quite the opposite. The children that I’ve spent my time with have watched television and still been active, intellegent, and well-rounded kids. On the other end, I take care of a 19 month old child who has never been exposed to television due to his mother’s preference. He has a vocabulary that consists of two regular words ‘up’ and ‘yeah’. Children his age typically speak between 15-20 words regularly, are able to imitate words, and can sometimes speak in simple sentences like, “Daddy go.” Although I’m not terribly worried about his development because some children just don’t develop a vocabulary as quickly or as easily as others, I do wonder if being exposed to a limited amount of television might help expand his vocabulary more quickly.
That’s another question, what is a limited amount of television and what qualifies as educational? My answers to these questions are purely opinion.
When I am with a child full time and the child’s parents do not have preference about television, radio, and internet use (because it is my job to follow a parent’s rules and if they say no tv, no tv is what they get), I follow my own idea of what I feel works best.
0-3 months old – Children at this age are almost oblivious to the world. If I watch T.V. it’s for my personal enjoyment and to have voices speaking when the baby is around. As long as the child is not facing the T.V. or fixing their eyes on it, I see no harm in having it on, just to expose the child to as much human sound as possible. I don’t put cartoons or any shows where human voices are altered to sound ‘cutesy’ because the idea is to expose children to human sound, no alien voices. My television usage will not exceed an hour a day, mostly due to the fact that sitting still with a tiny baby is almost impossible.
3-6 months old– When a child becomes alert, I immediately stop television use and switch to radio use. I make playlists of children’s songs and play them for 1/3 of the day. Another 1/3 is spent listening to music with no words like Bach, Mozart, etc. I love exposing children to music of all types and I really feel like they enjoy the music as well. I continue music use indefinately.
6-12 months old – This is where the time frame expands. A child’s development is completely unique. I follow the children and their needs during this time. Somewhere within this time frame, usually around 8 months, I will put on educational television shows in the background while we play. Children at this age have a very limited attention span and I’ve found that if half an hour of Sesame Street plays on the television, they will glance at the screen every now and again and quickly avert their eyes. Their total time of watching added up is probably under a minute. I do find that children enjoy the songs that are sung and the wide range of voices used. I do not exceed more than 30 minutes of television use in a day. Typically, I prefer two 15 minute sessions of Sesame Street.
12-24 months old– Another trickly age. Children of this age are developing speech rapidly. There are also possibly many other milestones happening: beginning potty training, bottle weaning, first playdates, first haircuts, exposure to new adult foods, learning ABC’s, learning to count, etc. I find that exposing children of this age to 30-60 minutes of television can be extremely helpful. Personally, I never exceed more than 45 minutes in a day and typically stay down around 30 minutes. 15 minutes of the time spent watching T.V. is dedicated to fun things like singing and dancing and the other 15 minutes is spent on something purely educational. For a child learning the ABC’s, I like to show them 1-3 minute long videos about the ABC’s every day. If I find a video the child responds well to, I will show that repeatedly. For instance, Elmo’s Alphabet Rap is a fan favorite. Find this video at the end of this post. All credit goes to Sesame Street. Children truly look forward to this 2 minute long video because it’s fun, I look forward to it because it teaches the ABC’s. Win-win! Sesame Street also covers many other important topics. After I got a haircut, the 22 month old that I take care of pointed to my head and said, “Jamie haircut!” because she’s been exposed to Elmo teaching all about hair (washing, cutting, brushing, etc). I’m seeing other great improvements in her vocabulary, she has almost 100 words for sure and speaks in 5 word sentences. I know that this is not due to television use, but I can’t help thinking that it has helped!
2-3 years old – Children at this age are like sponges that absorb almost everything they hear. I no longer limit children of this age to only watching Sesame Street, I’ll also show movies in 30-60 minute frames. I still do not exceed 60 minutes of television per day, but typically this time is spent continuously (60 minutes straight). With children of this age, anything can be educational with good adult involvement. A 3 year old I take care of learned an amazing amount of words between 2 and 3 because she watched Spongebob Squarepantswith her dad before bed. Imagine my surprise when we were playing with her kitchen set one day and at 2.5 years old she said, “this is a spatula!” I was amazed and said, “What do you do with it?” and she said, “Cook! on a grill!” That information came direct from Spongebob. She also learned many other kitchen related words. The 22 month old I take care of has learned the names of all different kinds of sea life from watching Finding Nemo with her mother. Ever heard a 22 month old say “clown fish live in anemone”? I have and it was one of the most exciting moments of my day. What I’m saying is, with parental involvement, anything can be an extremely educational experience.
3-5 years old – At this time, I shorten exposure to T.V. again to about 30 minutes a day with the exception of watching a movie every so often. Maybe once every week or so, we’ll sit together and watch half a movie or even an entire movie depending on attention span. Typically though, our usage is shortened a great amount and is replaced with book usage. Although one of the most important toys I expose children to from birth-infinity are books, at this age, I really work on attention span, letter recognition, word recognition, early reading, etc to help prepare them to attend school. When we do watch T.V. I try to watch word-related shows. Between the Lions is a great example of a word related show.
After this point, I don’t have experience to speak about television usage. What I can say is that with limits and parental (or nanny!) involvement, I really feel that television can be a great tool to aide in early learning. Please, share your ideas or experiences with this topic in comment form!
Until next time, I leave you with Elmo’s Alphabet Rap! Again, all credit goes to Sesame Street!