Entertaining Education

I’ve spent a lot of time this past week reflecting on Postman’s quote regarding Sesame Street and education. Like Andrew it was a little hard for me to think of because I didn’t have a whole lot of experience with educational tv growing up (at least not that I can remember). This is something that made me think more about my own children and their exposure to educational television. I decided to look into Neil Postman’s quote and found that he provides several reasons why parents embraced Sesame Street. He begins with a very important point and it’s something that I can relate to as a parent.

“Sesame Street” appeared to justify allowing a four- or five-year-old to sit transfixed in front of a television screen for unnatural periods of time. 

After reading Naomi’s post and some of the comments that follow, it is easy to see that I’m not the only parent who may be able to relate to this. I too have allowed my children to watch Baby Einstein and it started at a very young age. I remember putting my son into his exersaucer and turning on Baby Einstein so that I could blow-dry my hair, or change a load of laundry. It’s difficult when you are the only parent home and trying to run a household with a little one who doesn’t nap when you need them to. I’m sure we’ve all been there. I don’t think that it’s a terrible thing if we let our kids watch tv, or shall I say use the tv as babysitter as long as we aren’t going overboard.

How do we know how much is overboard though? I was surprised when I read some of the stats on how long children watch tv in a week as provided in the first chapter of “Children’s Learning From Educational Television: Sesame Street and Beyond.” It was interesting to read about some of the negatives such as behaviour issues that may arise due to increased tv time. In response to some of the negatives that may arise due to increased tv time, the American Academy of Paediatrics suggested that total tv time should be limited to 1-2 hours per day and eliminated completely for children under the age of 2. I sure hope no one from the American Academy of Paediatrics comes over to my house while I’m trying to get supper ready, or finish my work, or do anything that needs to be done while the kids are awake. That being said, is that ALL my kids do? Of course not! My kids are great at make believe play and entertaining themselves, but I do allow them to watch tv daily with limits.

A big hit in our house is the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Disney Jr. When I first saw the show I was quite impressed with the educational value of it. Commonsense Media gave one episode that we have on DVD a 3/5 stars for educational value. I was a little surprised to see it didn’t rate higher. One thing I really like about each episode is the use of “Toodles” and the “Mousketools”. The mousketools are a set of tools that will be used to solve a problem throughout the show. The kids are asked to problem solve and think critically about the tool that will need to be used to solve the problem. Check out the clip below to see how Toodle works. In addition to Toodle it does teach counting, colours, shapes and social skills.

Postman also suggested that parents felt Sesame Street took care of the education side of things in the household. This is something that I can see in tv shows as well as apps and computer games. Although educational tv does teach some skills, it cannot be the only way that our children are learning at a young age. We need to work with our children to develop reading, writing, critical thinking and math skills.

“Sesame Street” relieved them of the responsibility of teaching their pre-school children how to read.

We cannot expect our children to learn everything they need to learn from an app or tv show. We need to read to our children, talk to them about money, count things, look for patterns, discuss rules of the road…I could go on and on about the little things that we can do that will make a big difference in our children’s educational lives.

Postman finishes by stating that

We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street”. Which is to say…[it] undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.

I can agree with this point to a certain extent. I believe that educational tv, apps and games contribute to the lack of attention that some children seem to have. From a very young age our children are stimulated by these tv shows and games. They find them fun, entertaining and enjoyable. I do think it may develop expectations in these young children about what learning looks like. As Benita mentions, it’s hard to compete with stimulating games and tv shows when students come into our classroom and it’s exhausting to think about Teaching Like a Pirate. I think we all struggle with making ALL learning fun and to be honest I don’t know if that is realistic. However, realistic or not I think it is something that we need to strive for. Do we need to tell jokes, dance, juggle and put on a show? Of course not! But we do need to engage our students and be excited about what we are teaching. If we are excited about what we are teaching, our students will be excited to learn the material.

Am I being too harsh? Is it realistic to think that everything we teach (or learn) can be fun? What happens as we move through our schooling into post-secondary education or onto meetings in our careers? Is there a point that is reached in which learning is no longer fun?

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8 thoughts on “Entertaining Education

  1. Ashley, I really liked your post and I agree that some TV is ok for kids as long as parents are involved with their children. As for whether teachers need to constantly be entertaining children, I think absolutely not. Part of what teachers are doing is preparing children to be adults in the next stage of their life, whether that is work, university, etc. And most jobs and university classes are not constantly entertaining. So in order to prepare students for these things there needs to be a limit in how much “entertainment” they are exposed to.

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  2. I agree! Ensuring that education is always fun would be adding even more pressure than we already do to ourselves as educators trying to engage our students every day. As some of us learned in our last ECI class where we participated in many debates, we discovered balance was the key to most of the questions we explored. One concept that stands out to me was the idea that children don’t know how to be bored due to instant gratification of our smart phones or iPads. Perhaps, we do have to take that pressure off of our plate and realize we can’t always be entertaining to our students.

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    • I completely agree Jennifer! I do think it’s important that we try to make things engaging, but simply being an entertainer isn’t our job. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves for various reasons and make our job a lot harder sometimes.

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  3. I really appreciated your post this week. I was able to relate to you in the sense that no one really tells you how hard parenting is and if I can throw on a television show to entertain my child while I make supper, finish getting ready etc. without disruption then all the power to you. I feel that too often people are judgmental of others, we need to take a step back and put ourselves in their shoes, everyone is doing this parenting thing to the best of their ability. Thank you for sharing!

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    • I agree that we are all so quick to judge each other as parents, teachers, friends etc. I think that we need to understand that everyone is different and the way we parent or teach or learn for that matter isn’t the same as everyone else. Does that make us wrong? Of course not! Thanks for the comment.

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  4. Props to all you parents who balance things incredibly well (even if it doesn’t always feel like it)! No judgement here for putting on a show in order to get something done!

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    • Sometimes it seems the be the only way I manage to get things done haha. Thanks for not passing judgement and taking the time to read my blog.

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