TV is still king for the youngest learners


The question is not if a child learns from TV. It’s what that child learns.

Making sure the what is meaningful and educational is what has kept Sesame Street on the air for 44 years.

Mindy Brooks, the Director of Education and Research at Sesame Workshop, spoke in Boise on Tuesday about digital learning for the littlest learners. Brooks researches digital learning tools like apps and technology and how to use them effectively for early learning to help drive the content for Sesame Street and other products, such as apps and e-books.

Brooks was a guest of the ED Sessions 2.0 monthly speakers series and luncheon hosted by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

“We can use the power of TV to teach,” Brooks told a capacity audience at the Linen Building.

Sesame Street, the most studied TV show in history, bases its content decisions on more than 80 studies of children (age 0-8) using devices.

One discovery, Brooks said, is that TV is still king and owns nearly 70 percent of a child’s electronic time, even though we are living in the digital age. Computers hold 13 percent, videos 10 percent and cell phones and tablets account for 4 percent.

“We are very cognizant of trends,” Brooks said.

Studies also show that children will absorb educational messages when they are embedded in what’s funny. Content needs to be relevant to their lives and learning is better when they are entertained. She also said that children who were frequent viewers of Sesame Street had a 16 percent higher grade point average than those who didn’t regularly watch the show.

“The digital frontier for the littlest learners is constantly involving,” Brooks said. “We’ve learned that it’s not the platform, it’s how we use it as a tool.”

Brooks had advice for teachers and parents in the audience for when they seek out educational digital tools.

“Audio and visual should accompany text and children respond to word-by-word highlighting,” she said. “Comprehension is enhanced when the bells and whistles are minimized. Clear, creative and catchy is what works best.”

An audience member who said she works with pre-kindergarten children asked Brooks if technology is reducing face time with parents.

“We recommend no more than two hours of media usage in a day and that time includes all platforms,” Brook said. “We also encourage co-engagement.”

Brooks showed off a new product that is scheduled for release in September. This app recognizes words on items in a grocery store, like a milk carton, and then explains the word and how to say it. Some Idaho students are testing the product this year.

Click here to see the complete video of Brooks’ presentation.

Disclaimer: Idaho Education News is funded by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.


Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over one million pageviews in 2019. Jennifer has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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