What Media For Young Children Can Teach Their Grown-Ups

This post orginally appeared at the New America Foundation’s Early Ed Watch. It appears here with permission.Sid-300x225

Last month I had the opportunity to write about one of my favorite preschool television shows, Sid the Science Kid.  The piece, “How Kids’ Television Inspires a Lifelong Love of Science,” is part of a special online report on Educating Americans for the 21st Century, published by Smithsonian magazine.*

What interests me most about Sid is not the use of 3-D animation or the endearing purple-haired four-year-old who plays the main character. Instead, it’s how the show has the potential to teach adults. Yes, you and me.

Here’s an excerpt:

Child-development experts stress that children need to be able to learn using all of their senses, instead of just watching something unfold in front of their eyes. They learn best, according to guidelines from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “when they can safely encounter and explore many interesting things in their environment.” Shouldn’t children be outside observing ants in the crevices of the sidewalk and testing what happens when a chocolate bar is left on mommy’s car seat?

The creators of these shows would agree. What they want to test is the “both/and” hypothesis—the idea that children may be able to learn and get excited about doing these hands-on activities by watching characters talk about and engage in science first. Already, evidence from academic studies shows that children can gain STEM knowledge from well-designed preschool TV shows. A recent analysis of more than 100 studies of “Sesame Street,” the gold standard of educational programming, showed significant positive effects on children’s cognitive skills, including learning numeracy and concepts from environmental science.

Now the question is whether TV shows, and increasingly, digital media and games, can also help children learn science by sparking hands-on exploration. To test this idea, researchers are asking whether shows like “Sid the Science Kid”could lead parents and teachers to offer more chances for real-world experiments and more “science talk” with kids.

You can read more here, and in this recent shout out in Physics Today. And if you want a taste of how the show models behavior for adults, take a look at this episode shared on YouTube by PBS:

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