Many of us fondly remember the excitement of sitting down in front of the television each day to watch a favorite show. From “Sesame Street” to “Blues Clues,” media companies have developed a variety of shows that appeal to young children. But do these programs really help kids learn? Although some experts argue that watching television can be dangerous for early childhood development, scientific evidence suggests that certain television programs can play a key role in childhood education. “Sesame Street,” initially broadcast in the United States in 1969, is widely considered the first educational television show of its kind. Unlike other shows of the era, “Sesame Street” explicitly attempted to affect childhood development by improving self-esteem, increasing school readiness, and boosting children’s feelings of academic competency. The show was intended to be an educational tool for all children, especially those from low-income families who lacked access to traditional educational opportunities. In 1970, the Educational Testing Service conducted a scientific study of nearly 1,000 children aged three to five that assessed the effects of television on educational performance. The study found that watching “Sesame Street” increased performance across a variety of cognitive domains. Children improved in their knowledge of letters and numbers, recognition of shapes, names of body parts, classification skills, and ability to understand relationships between objects or events. Watching “Sesame Street” also benefited children’s attitudes toward learning and school readiness. Other studies have found that viewing “Sesame Street” is correlated with the amount of time children spend reading and engaging in other educational pursuits. These findings suggest that “Sesame Street” and other educational programs may help kids learn basic concepts and enhance their excitement about learning. Thus, television can be a very powerful learning tool during early childhood. Since “Sesame Street”, television studios have produced a variety of shows intended to educate children. The popular “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” teaches children about dealing with conflict, cooperating with others, performing crafts, playing music, and using their imaginations. A 1979 study found that preschoolers who watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” for eight weeks had more positive interactions with their peers and used their imaginations more frequently. This evidence suggests that simply watching a television program with a strong positive message meaningfully affects children’s behavior. Other modern educational TV shows include “Dora the Explorer,” “The Magic School Bus,” “Teletubbies,” “Blues Clues,” “Clifford,” “Wishbone,” and “Arthur.” Parents often encourage their children to watch these shows for their ability to teach basic concepts, model appropriate behaviors, and facilitate effective conflict resolution. One of the primary reasons children learn so well by watching TV has to do with its ability to capture their attention. Listening to a classroom teacher talk about letters and numbers is less interesting than watching a favorite TV character count cookies or list items that begin with the letter “J.” Popular educational TV shows also use other techniques to capture and sustain kids’ attention. They often break each show into discrete segments about different topics, rather than requiring children to sustain their attention for a full 30 minutes. These TV shows also use repetition, songs, and games to demonstrate new concepts. All of these techniques create a dynamic environment that encourages kids to learn. The federal government recognizes the positive role of educational programs in teaching young children. Many of the shows air on PBS, a government-funded channel that provides broader access to TV programs than cable or satellite channels. In fact, “The Magic School Bus,” “Reading Rainbow,” “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” and other programs were funded in part by the National Science Foundation and other government agencies. This government support speaks to the benefit of educational television programs on childhood social and cognitive development. Predictably, there has been a backlash from several parents’ groups who argue that television is harmful to early childhood development. For example, a 2011 study by researchers at the University of Virginia claimed that watching “SpongeBob Squarepants” impaired children’s thinking abilities. A previous CableTV.com article found that this study had serious methodological flaws that limited the researchers’ ability to make strong conclusions about the effects of TV on cognitive development. Other scientific studies have shown that certain TV programs can negatively affect child development. Watching violent shows causes some children to behave aggressively. However, the majority of age-appropriate educational TV programs have the opposite effect. These programs emphasize the importance of non-violent conflict resolution, giving children positive role models to use in their real-life interactions with others. Despite concerns from parent groups about the negative effects of television, a wealth of scientific evidence suggests that watching educational TV programs improves your child’s thinking and social abilities. These shows can boost school performance, enhance creativity, and become life-long favorites that your kid will remember fondly for years to come. Sources Education.com: Studies Support Benefits of Educational TV for Reading The Kaiser Family Foundation: The Effects of Electronic Media on Children Ages Zero To Six Shalom M. Fisch: Children’s Learning from Educational Television Power Rangers photo by MelvinSchlubman.