Can TV be good for your baby?



There.  I said it.  I realise there will be those that disagree.  But, hear me out.  I don’t mean all TV, but programmes that aim to teach.  There are loads of them, but this post just focuses specifically on thirty minutes between nine o’clock and half past nine in the morning on CBeebies.

During this time, there are four fun, interactive TV programmes that help your baby or toddler learn letters, phonics, numbers and music.  You may think your baby is far too young to even think about such things and that they won’t get anything out of programmes like these.  But, in my opinion, it’s never too early to expose your baby to anything.  Of course it would be wrong to expect them to be doing sums, painting pictures and reading independently by the age of one…but the more exposure they have to language, music, numbers, art, science…well, anything really, the better.

TV is a good teacher for the following reasons:

1  Repetition, repetition, repetition!  The more your baby or toddler hears, sees and does things, the more likely they are to remember and learn them.  Educational TV programmes are often daily, providing once a day revision and practise for your child.

2  TV is multi-sensory.  The more senses a child (or adult) uses when they are learning, the more they are likely to actually remember what they have done and learn from it.  All of the TV programmes below are visual, auditory and can even be kinaesthetic (physical) if you are there to encourage your child to join in or copy what is happening.

3.  TV is interactive.  Alright, not all TV is interactive.  But the programmes I am going to list below can be.  They encourage participation.  As long as you or another carer is sat watching with your child, you can get some interaction going.  (What’s that letter there?  Can you find it on your alphabet?  What can you think of that begins with that sound?  Shall we sing the alphabet/number song with…?).

How could TV be bad for your baby?

This may be extremely controversial…but I am not one to shy away from unpopular subjects.  I don’t think there is anything bad about TV as a medium of entertainment.  To me, it is just another way for us to absorb information.  We don’t see books, films, or radio programmes as “bad” for us, so what is so different about TV?

If you left the TV on and sat your baby or toddler in front of it for hours on end, without talking to them or playing with them, THEN you could argue that TV is having a negative effect on your baby.  But this isn’t because there is something intrinsically evil about moving images on a screen.  It is merely because your baby would be missing out on valuable interaction time with you.

So, yes, TV can be passive.  But so can many other activities. To me, watching adults sit in a coffee shop and chat is just as passive an activity for a baby as watching TV.  It is adult interaction that provides a high quality learning experience, whether it is in a coffee shop or in front of the box.

Right, enough of that.  Here are the TV programmes we watch and a little paragraph explaining why I think they are worth watching.

9am  Alphablocks

Five fun, musical minutes of phonics taught through story and music.

Worth watching because:

  • It’s fast-paced: as you probably know already if you are a teacher or work with children, the best way to teach numbers or letters and sounds (or indeed anything that just has to be remembered) is in short, sharp bursts. This is exactly what alphablocks does.
  • It uses music and story – each episode is a mini-story, with the phoneme that is being taught featuring as the main character.  The main character sings a song to remind the viewer of it’s sound.  As I have said before on this blog, music is a powerful teaching tool, which aids recall.  The same goes for story. All of us are far more likely to remember something long-term if we can link it to a story and a song.
  • It’s humorous: I suppose T doesn’t yet get the humour, but it’s nice for me!  Each phoneme is a funny little character which the creators have tried to match to it’s sound.   One of my personal favourites is  the pirate: ‘r’ – ha-ha! (I am easily amused.)

9:10am Raa Raa The Noisy Lion

A programme that teaches about musical concepts such as pitch and rhythm, through animated story, with six adorable jungle animal characters, set in a jungle.  This isn’t showing as of today, but I am sure it will be back on soon.  It’s worth checking it out on bbc iplayer too, to get a taster.

Worth watching because:

  • It has BEAUTIFUL (and I mean seriously attractive) animation.  Maybe it’s because I am a very visual learner, but I do think that visually interesting and attractive programmes aid learning.  The animation certainly seems to hold T’s interest.
  • It provides opportunities for interaction.  The photo in this post (scroll to the top) is of T trying to bang his drum (cake tin) like Oo Oo (the monkey) in an episode about rhythm.  Raa Raa made up a beat and all his friends were tapping it out and chanting to it but Oo Oo couldn’t get it quite right.  He could only do his own (different beat).  In the end, all the animals decided to tap out Oo Oo’s beat, so that he wouldn’t feel left out.  As soon as T saw Oo Oo monkey he smiled and jiggled around.  So I grabbed a cake tin and a wooden spoon and showed him how to hit it.  He immediately started to do it with Oo Oo – it was so lovely to see him so involved.  He had never shown an interest in drumming before – but when he saw an animal he liked doing it on TV, he wanted to try it out.  Whatever works!
  • It’s a great starter for a creative music-making session: This episode would have been great fun with an older child, who could have practised doing the beats the characters were doing, with some tapping sticks or a drum, then you could have extended it and made up your own jungle beats!
  • It’s got a great theme tune!

9:15 Get Squiggling: Letters

A programme that teaches the names of the letters of the alphabet and how to write them, through songs and a story.  It’s an offshoot of another programme which teaches how to draw (squiggle) things.  The only thing I don’t like about this is the use of “squiggle” in place of the word “write” or “draw” – because I don’t really believe in dumbing language down for young children – “Jojo do…jojo want drink?  etc.”.  I think they need a realistic model of language to be able to learn it.    Enough of my opinions, though…

Worth watching because:

  • It has a puppet.  A giant, orange, monster puppet.  I don’t know about your baby or child, but my T LOVES puppets.  A puppet will instantly stop a mini-meltdown or a sad moment.  I have yet to meet a child under five who doesn’t love puppets actually!
  • It uses music and pictures.  She sings the letters of the alphabet alongside an animation.  The song and the pictures help you to remember the song.  The song is particularly catchy: I have been singing it in the shower all week. Probably not something I should be admitting…!
  • It encourages participation and interaction. After the song, she introduces the letter of the day and writes it.  You could get an older child to do this in a handwriting book, but as T is only 13 months old, I just write it for him, so he is getting the concept of writing and seeing how the letter is formed.
  • It uses story.  Then, she tells a story (animated) involving things that start with that letter, teaching initial sound recognition.  This part is a bit over T’s head so we do something else while this is on, but I think it would be great for an older child to revise initial sounds, and (as mentioned above) the story would help them to visualise and remember the letter.  You could also extend this part by making up your own story after the programme, with different characters supplied by your child.
  • It teaches letter names.  These often get missed out these days, and have to be re-introduced at school. A very wise teacher friend of mine once told me that children remember things better when taught together, as they make connections – so it is worth teaching both the name of the letter and it’s sound at the same time. It seems more complicated, but actually it’s easier to learn this way.

9:25 Numtums

A five minute programme that teaches the numbers 1-10 through jingles and little characters.

Worth watching because:

  • It’s fast-paced: each number is introduced in a matter of seconds, with some quick visuals to support it – a bit like sesame street if you remember their number jingles.
  • It’s got music – as mentioned above, music is a great teacher, and holds a young baby’s attention.  In particular, there is a tune in every episode to match the numbers said in order from 1-10.  I now sing this around the house, going up the stairs and so on!
  • It packs a lot of teaching into those five minutes: number order, number recognition, numbers as labels for groups of objects, numbers for counting (forwards and backwards).

I can’t recommend these programmes highly enough.  It’s SO easy to add this teeny weeny half an hour of TV into your routine – I have, and I know I won’t regret it!

Other programmes T and I like are:

Show Me, Show Me – sort of science for toddlers – the two presenters explore different objects and their properties in a simple, fun way.  Visually interesting with some catchy jingles.  Great for ideas of what to explore at home.  For example, an episode I watched recently explored colanders – seeing what would go through the holes and what wouldn’t, how they are used to drain spaghetti, and how they could be used for imaginative play (as a spaceship for your dolly going to the moon). 

Let’s Play – a programme that shows children how much fun they can have dressing up as different characters and using their imagination and knowledge of the world to explore those roles.

Mr Bloom’s Nursery – teaches about gardening and fruit and vegetables in a fun way.  All the veggies are puppets!

I Can Cook – teaches how to prepare and cook simple recipes with a very pleasant presenter in a colourful kitchen, with some children who join in. 

As always, love to hear your comments on this post.

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