How do you feel when you turn on the TV with your little one? For many mums it’s a moment of guilt that they’ve let the unofficial babysitter into the room. But actually, watching TV with your tot (we’re talking children’s programmes not your favourite soaps!) can be an education for you both. “Watching TV is fine – it’s what you do with it that matters,” says Open University childhood development specialist Professor David Messer. “By watching, children are building up a bigger picture of what’s going on in their lives.” Here’s how to make the most of your tuning-in time so you both learn more together…
There are so many programmes out there; it’s hard to know which is best. So try out a few once you’ve found the right ones for her age. “Think to yourself, ‘What can my child get from this?’,” says David Messer. “What is she still learning about and what would be useful to her?”
If you like a show too, you’re more likely to remember it and talk to your little one about it. Try to find something you both enjoy, even if it’s for different reasons.
TV is downtime for both of you, there’s no denying it. After a hectic day, 10 or 20 minutes on the sofa is always welcome! But the key here is the ‘together’ part. Make it an activity you enjoy together. “The more a child watches on her own without an adult, the less the child is going to get out of the programme,” says David Messer. “Watching for 10 minutes on her own won’t damage her learning but research shows the importance of parents and carers being involved with their children. It’s the same with TV.”
Get her to bring toys to your TV-watching time to make it an event. Then have question time afterwards about what you’ve just seen.
Talk about it
“There’s a lot of research that suggests doing things and talking about things together is good for developing new understanding in your children,” says David Messer. TV gives you a great opportunity to talk to your child about all sorts of subjects, by stepping in and answering her questions about what she’s seen. Rather than relying on the show to tell her everything she needs to know, it’s your starting block.
“TV lets you talk about emotions and what other people are thinking and doing,” says David Messer. Ask her some leading questions like “Why do you think that character did that?” to bring out your toddler’s opinion rather than simply telling her what you think.
Build on it
Turning the TV off and playing other games or moving onto teatime is important. Hours in front of the box aren’t good for anyone, mentally or physically. But there are plenty of ways to keep your child interested in the subjects she’s learned about.
“I think a lot of mums would be surprised to realise how educational programmes are,” says David Messer. If you’re confused about a topic that’s been covered in a show, do some research in your own time, too, so you can answer your tot’s questions.
Tuning-in tip …
If she has some toys from the programme, get your little one involved in role-play to see what’s she’s taken on board from what she’s watched. If not, get the coloured pencils out and draw out a story together featuring her favourites.
“He copies what he sees”
“Samuel loves watching older shows – his current favourite is Rosie and Jim. One series is presented by an artist and after watching Samuel can’t wait to pick up his pens and start drawing with me.”
John Perkins, 37, from London, dad to Samuel, 2½
“She loves cooking now”
“Ruby loves Big Cook, Little Cook on CBeebies! So she regularly helps with mixing/stirring when dinner is being cooked, and we’ve started making cakes as a result. She thinks me and her are Big Cook and Little Cook!”
Sally Windsor, 31, from Brighton, mum to Ruby, 1½
“A lot of work goes into each show”
Jackie Cockle, creator of Timmy Time, explains how the show aims to help children learn about other’s emotions. “Timmy has a love of life, he’s a very enthusiastic character and we hope it’s a fun shared experience watching him learn. For example, the stories will show children it’s important to share. You do feel responsible, as a programme creator, and hope that children will remember what they learn. A lot of work goes into a show – the creators at Timmy Time live and breathe the show. I don’t think mums should feel guilty for watching TV with their little ones. A shared experience is a good one.”
“Our programme is made with love”
Dan Goode is the creator of Waybuloo, which follows the Piplings in their land of Nala. He says: “My wife, Lucy, who co-created the programme, did yoga with our children when they were babies, so we built on that for the idea behind the show. Waybuloo works on two levels – it deals with emotions as well as being physical (there are yoga moves to learn in each episode). I think parents can tell when a show’s been made with love. Most of the people who work on the show are parents or have children. TV is a way of encouraging time when the bond between parents and children can be shared.”