PBS to show parents how to use TV as educational tool

Paige Stonerock

Reading to children can increase their ability to learn and perform better in school. Studies now show that children who watch some television also do better in school than children who are never allowed to watch television.

Barbara Kanelakos, coordinator of KTWU Education & Outreach programs, is determined to show parents, child care providers, teachers and anyone who works with children how to mold television watching into a healthy habit and how to best prepare children for school. The movement is part of PBS’ Ready to Learn series, sponsored by KTWU and Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services.

“[The Ready to Learn workshops] show anyone who cares for kids how to take media literacy and use it as a tool,” said Kanelakos. “What it is not [doing] is pushing TV, because we don’t have to. It’s already popular enough.”

She shows parents how to rate programs, choose the best programming for their children and control how much television their children watch. Studies show that auditory vocabulary, which is measured by the number of words and concepts a child recognizes, is the single largest indicator of how well a child will do when they enter school. Television can be a great way to help a child build that vocabulary. It allows children to hear language from a variety of voices and it presents words and concepts in stories in short time frames.

“We all learn best from play and things we enjoy,” said Kanelakos. “And children love television … but it has been abused.”

Using television effectively is all about moderation and interaction. Kanelakos said, “If you use TV as a baby sitter, they don’t get anything out of that.”

Reading to a child is still one of the best ways to help a child build a vocabulary. KTWU’s Ready to Learn workshops demonstrate how to hold a book and read to engage children. Parents should point out important concepts and trail their finger under the words as they read. Talk about the stories and images and ask questions afterward.

Kanelakos said some children get to school believing that you “read” the pictures or without knowing that you read from left to right. They have to compete with children who already know how to read.

The workshops are an important tool in educating adults to work with children because they help to break the self-consciousness around playing. People are more likely to go home and repeat the activities if they actually had to get up and play with a puppet in front of other adults.

In the last year, KTWU’s educational department has conducted 58 workshops for more than 1,400 participants, who received more than 21,000 books and thousands of other literary resources. As an extension of the Ready to Learn program, KTWU also distributes children’s books to families who might not otherwise have access to them.

While the Ready to Learn workshop was designed for ages 2 to 8, the model can be adapted for any age group. Last Friday, Kanelakos gave a workshop to 28 case workers at TARC who work with adults with developmental disabilities.

“Seniors with Alzheimer’s and those with dementia connect with ‘Teletubbies,'” said Kanelakos, because it is designed to give simple gratification and has bright colors. “It’s a way of releasing stress. It lets the mind play.”

Currently, KTWU offers workshops to groups for a fee. Visit KTWU’s Web site, ktwu.washburn.edu/education, for more information.