Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guest Post: The A-B-C’s of Children’s Media

Today's post is by Maggie Hames. Her blog, Media Darlingsis a wonderful source of ideas for using media for family fun.

The A-B-C’s of Children’s Media by Maggie Hames
Children’s media offer countless educational opportunities. As the ultimate gatekeepers of our children’s media consumption, it’s up to us to decide what we want for our children at the different stages of their lives. And media today offers you choices: from learning foreign languages, to numeracy, to learning to treat younger siblings with kindness, there are television shows, apps, and books that will support your values. If your goal is very specific, for example, if you’re interested in helping your child learn letters and phonics in the hope of leading to early literacy, you can make choices that will support this decision across a variety of media.

You may be surprised to hear that the majority of television shows for preschoolers and young school kids don’t actually address the subject of literacy head-on. Plenty of shows allude to literacy in the form of expressing a love of books or reading, but few shows actually teach the alphabet and the sound each letter makes. One of the few that does (and always has) is Sesame Street. In fact, this show does such a great job, other shows seems to avoid stressing the subject to avoid direct comparison. (I’m sure nobody wants to be known as the show not quite as effective as Sesame Street.) On Sesame Street, each episode is “brought to you by” one particular letter of the alphabet (and one numeral as well). Viewers learn to make the critical connection between letters, their sounds, and words beginning with that letter, the skills that are the first steps to literacy.

I’m very glad that Sesame Workshop and PBS have brought back the iconic seventies hit, The Electric Company. It’s the only show that explicitly covers topics essential to early readers: phonics and grammar. Like its predecessor, it teaches these skills through comic skits and music with a talented live cast. This latest incarnation of the show leans toward a hip-hop sensibility, but honestly, it’s the witty writing that makes this show a winner.

There are plenty of apps out there that support literacy for kids who can already read. One of my favorites is “Crossword by Grade” by Prachi Pimpalkhare. Several levels of difficulty—including crosswords for preschoolers with pictures instead of words—makes this a very useful app for families with preschoolers and older kids. In fact, once a child has achieved literacy, there is no limit to the apps that support literacy; but how to get there? A few of my favorite preschool apps are “First Words: Deluxe” by Learning Touch and “Interactive Alphabet” by Pi’ikea Street.

“Interactive Alphabet” introduces each letter as a toy, each letter loaded with interactivity. It encourages children to linger on each letter, learning its sound and a word or two beginning with that letter. “First Words: Deluxe” gets children spelling words by pulling letters into their correct space in a ghosted version of the word. They place an “A” over the outline of an “A,” and so on. Without realizing it, they’re spelling words. Users can adjust the difficulty level to raise this to a true spelling “bee” experience.

The usefulness of books is self-evident. If you can interest your child in a book, you’re halfway there. But how do you get a child to take those first tentative steps into actual reading? You may already know that Ted Geisel—better known as Dr. Seuss—created his famous “Cat in the Hat” book to encourage the earliest readers to take the plunge, incorporating the easiest vocabulary words in a story that has never lost its cool. Now it’s available as an app by Oceanside Media. Your children can learn to read with the same book as you did, adapted for new media, which is a fitting initiation to the most profound skill they will ever learn.

Maggie Hames is a parent and teacher and creator of the blog Media Darlings, intended to help parents navigate a media-rich world. Maggie can be found on Twitter and on Facebook. Her blog is Media Darlings.

Thanks, Maggie!

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Next Wednesday is World Read Aloud Day. It is sponsored by LitWorld, an organization that strives to unite literacy efforts across the world.

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