Home » News » Parenting » Preschoolers Learn Little From Educational TV Unless Parents Watch Too

Preschoolers Learn Little From Educational TV Unless Parents Watch Too

Preschoolers Learn Little From Educational TV Unless Parents Watch Too  A new study finds that preschoolers learn very little from their favorite educational TV shows unless their parents watch as well and engage their child with questions.

In a study at Vanderbilt University, parents were trained to pause, ask questions and encourage their child to tell parts of the story while they watched educational videos together.

When evaluated, the 3-year-olds whose parents used this simple technique — known as dialogic questioning — showed significant gains in vocabulary and comprehension over those who watched alone, according to the study.

“Parents are naturally stopping and talking with their children while reading storybooks, but they aren’t doing that with videos and television,” said Gabrielle Strouse, who conducted the research as part of her doctoral dissertation.

“There are a lot of questions about how much small children learn from TV, and this study sheds light on that.”

For the study, 81 parents were provided DVDs of children’s stories to watch over four weeks. The families were assigned to one of four groups: dialogic questioning (pause and ask questions); directed attention (comment but do not ask questions); dialogic actress (an on-screen assistant asking dialogic-style questions); and no intervention.

After four weeks, children in the dialogic questioning group scored higher on story comprehension and expressive vocabulary than the other groups, the researchers reported.

The researchers concluded that parent-led questioning offered a distinct advantage over the other methods, particularly allowing children to watch unsupervised. The results from the group using a dialogic actress were better than watching alone, though not as effective as the parental involvement, according to the researchers.

Strouse conducted her research under the direction of Dr. Georgene Troseth, who has conducted numerous studies on young children’s symbolic development, including their understanding of symbolic artifacts, such as pictures and video images.

“Until children get older, it isn’t natural or easy for them to learn from videos, so they’re going to learn a lot more if you are there helping them, just like you would help them with a book,” Troseth said.

“And at any age, don’t give them a steady diet of flopping in front of the television and think that is going to somehow educate them.”

The study was published in Developmental Psychology.

Source: Vanderbilt University


Mother and child watching a video photo by shutterstock.

Preschoolers Learn Little From Educational TV Unless Parents Watch Too

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Preschoolers Learn Little From Educational TV Unless Parents Watch Too. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 28 Dec 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.