After completing my dissertation about enhancing learning by co-viewing educational television, many of my parent-friends started to ask me about how they should co-view with their kids. The co-viewing experience can vary depending upon the child’s age, experience, the television show being watched, and the adult’s co-viewing style. However, I have compiled here some basic tips that are based on my experiences as a Researcher and as a co-viewing Mom (aka the “Covert Coviewer”).
1. Choose an educational TV show that is enjoyable to both kids and adults.
This will be a difficult task for you (a sensible adult) if you do not like what you are watching, so the best advice is to choose something you like, or at least can tolerate. If you are not familiar with kids TV programming, ask other parents what they like to watch. Also, look around for descriptions and comments on-line. A good place to start is Common Sense Media, which offers descriptions and reviews. Most programs on PBS Kids and Nick Jr. channel are worth considering for preschoolers, and I like those channels best because they are commercial-free. The main thing is that you should enjoy the show as much as the smaller people in the room.
2. Get comfy with your Kids.
Get on the couch, the floor, cuddle in the big chair… wherever you are comfortable. Get close to your kids; mine prefer to sit on my lap or right next to me. This closeness validates their TV watching as important stuff, and also gives you some quality time with your kids.
3. Is Kai-Lan asking you questions? Then answer her!
That’s right, folks… as dorky as you may feel about this, it really does make a difference if you talk to your television when prompted. Those of you who are familiar with the newer crop of preschool television programs on Nick Jr. or PBS will no doubt already know that at least half of them have characters who pose questions directly to the viewer, or encourage you to participate in some way. While it might not be the style of TV watching you grew up with, for your kids this is par for the course. Play along! Count when they want you to count, say the magic word with them, sing the songs that you know. The good shows out there are the ones that have you singing, repeating and playing along in ways that have the learning embedded in them.
4. Ask your own questions.
One of the best ways to engage your kids in what you’re watching is to ask question – particularly open-ended ones, where there may not be just one answer. I like to do this while there is a lull in the action, or even press pause on the remote occasionly. Ask questions like, “Why do you think [a character on screen] feels that way?” or “How did you know that was going to happen?” Get your kids to talk about what they see and make predictions. Remember, though: Question-asking doesn’t always have to be challenging. In fact, when you begin this process you might want to stick to questions you know your kid will be able to answer. Pay attention to the expression in your child’s face and figure out when he’ll know the answer. It feels good to make him feel proud! Increase the level of challenging questions as you progress.
5. Connect what you see to your child’s prior experience.
Is Team Umizoomi at the aquarium? Recall with your child your trip to an aquarium. Is Alpha Pig on SuperWhy feeling sad because his blocks were knocked over? Maybe your child once felt sad when his blocks were knocked over. Connecting what your child sees to his or her own life makes this is a deeper viewing experience. Good kids TV shows take the time to create stories a child can relate to, so you can bet there are instances that you can pick up on and expand.
6. Talk about what you saw when the show has ended.
When the show is over, it’s a great idea to recap what you just saw. I find the best time to do this is when the credits are running. Ask, “What was that about?” Review the major plot points. Find out your kids’ favorite characters or parts of the show, and tell them yours. Not only will this little recap be enjoyable, but it will also do a lot to reinforce the learning. Maybe later in the week (or month… or year…) you might be reminded of something you saw in that TV episode, and you can bring up the topic again. It’s amazing how educational TV can be when a real world grown-up reinforces the learning!