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How Communicative Is Your Preschooler? -- 5 Ways TV Time Can Help

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You know that educational shows for preschoolers like Dora the Explorer or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse can help young children learn simple concepts such as letters, shapes and early reading skills. But with a little help from you, limited TV time can be an effective tool in teaching kids far more important concepts, such as thinking skills, communication skills, and early literary concepts. Here's how you can use TV shows and movies to help your child excel:

  1. Talk about the story and ask a lot of questions...

    Every time you watch a TV show or movie with your child, talk about the show just as you would talk about a book. Ask your child which part of the show was his favorite. Which character did he like? Why? The more you can get him talking about the show, the more he develops communication skills and the ability to recall and relate to a story. As you know, even adults benefit from having good communications skills, so just by talking about the shows he watches, you are putting your preschooler on the path to success.

  2. Retell, retell, retell...

    If you've had a child go through school, you know that one of the key things teachers gauge in those early reading years is how well a child can retell a story she's just read. Can the child effectively communicate what happened in the story? Does she include the beginning, middle and end of the story as she recounts the main events?

    After your child watches a movie or TV show, even if she's seen it a hundred times, go over the story with her afterward. Talk about what happened in the beginning and the middle, and point out how the conflict or problem was resolved in the end.

    Once your child seems to understand what it means to retell what happened in a show, see if she can do it on her own. As she tries to recount the events in order, encourage her by asking questions like, "What happened first?" and "What happened next?" Once she gets the hang of retelling stories from TV shows, books and movies, she'll be well on her way to making up well-constructed stories of her own.

  3. Predict, infer, and analyze...

    Predict, infer and analyze are big words for preschoolers, but they don't have to understand that's what they're doing. You can easily help your child learn to predict by asking, "What do you think Diego will do next?" or "Oh no, what will happen if Curious George eats all those doughnuts?" Extend this TV time learning by asking him to predict what will happen in real life situations throughout the day with questions like, "What will happen if..." or "Which one would work better..."

    Teach your child to infer information that is not explicitly stated in the shows and movies he watches by looking at characters' faces and other details. Some of the easiest inferences for children to make are about characters' feelings. Ask him, "How does Minnie feel knowing that everyone forgot her birthday?" If he has trouble expressing what he thinks she feels, point out the signs that show she feels sad: "See Minnie's face? It looks like she's frowning. And she's looking down at the ground. I think Minnie feels sad."

    Very young children can also learn to analyze through talking about characters in movies. As your child becomes more comfortable talking about the stories he reads about and sees on TV, ask him to analyze characters' motivations and actions. A few examples of questions you could ask him are: "Why do think Handy Manny wants to help Mr. Lopez?" "Why do you think Mr. Lopez doesn't want Manny's help?" Even if your child doesn't hit the nail on the head, encourage him for trying and offer your opinion on the characters' actions and motivations as well.

  4. Talk about the characters' behaviors and consequences...

    In addition to discussing story elements, drawing inferences and making predictions, also talk about behaviors and attitudes. Discussing characters' actions as you co-view allows you to relate family values and help solidify your child's knowledge of social and life skills. Reiterate character behavior you like: "I really like how Doc McStuffins helps her little brother when he has a problem." And point out the consequences of poor choices: "It's too bad that Stanley yelled at his friend. Now his friend doesn't want to play with him anymore."

    Ask your child questions about how characters' behaviors affect themselves and others. "That's great that the characters learned to brush their teeth properly. What do you think the dentist will say next time they have a check-up?" "What would happen at the appointment if they didn't brush their teeth?" These kinds of questions seem so simple, but they lay a strong foundation for kids' thinking skills. Being able to analyze their own behavior and how it will affect others, or themselves, is a skill many adults still need to work on. So establishing the habit early can make a difference.

  5. Compare and contrast...

    Yes, you can prepare your preschooler for those dreaded Compare/Contrast essays she'll get to write in middle school! The process of picking out similarities and differences will be oh so familiar to her by then, if you ask her now to tell you how two characters like Boots and Swiper are the same or different. Or how Dora's trip to Mermaid Kingdom is similar to her trip to the Enchanted Forest.

    Another great way to engage preschoolers is to compare and contrast a movie with the book it's based on. Look for good movies based on books that your preschooler likes, and ask her to tell you how the movie was different from the book, and how it was the same. Movies based on books can also encourage kids to read more, and those that are narrated word for word can even help kids learn how to read with fluency and feeling.

The difference that simple practices like these can make in a preschoolers' ability to communicate, think and create their own stories is phenomenal. Many parents use these questions and techniques when reading, but discussing TV and movies in the same way provides even more opportunities for learning and growth. Not only that, but preschoolers love the time and attention. They have fun talking about their favorite things, and they'll be ecstatic to have that one-on-one time with you.

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