OK, OK, OK! Before everyone freaks out on me and I get a TON of hate mail please just bare with me for a few moments. I swear I'm not promoting Cartoon Network or Disney Channel as learning tools! As a matter of fact the only time the Peanut and Cracker Jack's watch Cartoon Network or Disney is at their grandparents house with watchful adults switching the channel if a weird show like "Uncle Grandpa" or whatever it's name is (it is seriously the name of a cartoon if you haven't heard of it yet) comes on instead of something that's relatively harmless.
I'm talking about most of the shows that you will find on public broadcasting channels. Yes, I know, it's still cartoons. Yes, I know, we don't want our children in front of the television all of the time and that outside time is more important. I believe all of these things and our children actually watch very little television. But, all three of them watch public broadcasting from time to time. All three of them watch the news with us every day. Eldest Cracker Jack has been asking questions about what the news reports for about five years now, occasionally Younger Cracker Jack will ask about something she hears if it sparks her interest, and Peanut will sometimes pipe up with "That bad man broke the law, it's good the cops got him." We switch the channel on most violent news, or if it's concerning something sexual, but other than that they need to know what's going on in the world just as much as we do.
Whoops! Got off topic slightly for a moment there. Sorry about that. Anyways, back to the main reason I'm writing today. Television can, and will if given a chance, teach our children. It's up to us to monitor what they're watching so that we agree with what they are learning.
I absolutely love putting on Dinosaur Train for Peanut, the Cracker Jack's actually like it too, because there's a moral in each story for the most part and serious science when it comes to the information they give out about the dinosaurs. They don't "dumb it down" either they just present it in a child friendly way. They use the real name for each species of dinosaur and even sing songs that include those names. Each episode is about half an hour long with the end of it having scientific facts about dinosaurs being talked about by a real paleontologist. For those of you who have kiddos into dinos you should really let them check this out. You can also find full episodes online to watch.
Another favorite around this house is Sid the Science Kid. This show is about a preschool aged boy and his friends in preschool and was based on a preschool science curriculum called, Preschool Pathways to Science. One of the children's favorite episodes talks about decay where a pumpkin is used to show how decay happens (fall appropriate right? lol) and the decay song is really catchy. This show does follow some national standards but again you can find whole episodes online and pick and choose which ones fit with what you're teaching.
Word World is another good one for teaching sounds, sound blends, and words to younger children. The girls really really like this one and make sure to catch it at least a couple times a week. ECJ will sometimes join them even though this is not one of his favorite shows.
There's the show Wild Krats for children who are a bit older that focuses on animals. Along with several other shows that I simply cannot think of at the moment. The four I mentioned are ones that my kids watch on a semi regular basis.
Right now there are a TON of Halloween and fall episodes for almost every show if you go to http://pbskids.org/video/ and if nothing else these are sure fun to watch though most of them have a lesson that can be learned from them.
Here is how I would incorporate Sid The Science Kid into a lesson about spiders for my children. (I chose this one because it is one we did the other day and I refuse to have a live spider to study in the house.) I began with talking about house spiders and that they are generally harmless. I printed off several factoid sheets for my 11yo son, a coloring page for Peanut, and a quick worksheet that I found for YCJ by doing some web searches the night before. While I spoke about the house spiders they all listened and Peanut colored. Then I went to the site I shared above and clicked on Sid The Science Kid: Halloween Party. The teacher on the show explained spiders a bit better than I did and made them seem less spooky. All three kiddos watched the episode, YCJ then filled out her worksheet, ECJ then journaled with the help of his factoids, and Peanut went on to watch a Curious George episode because she absolutely loves him and I'm trying to get her excited for Halloween and not think it's scary. All in all this took about an hour to do and I probably could have shaved more time off if I had simply let them watch the episode and do the papers I'd given them without my talking to them first.
The main reason I use http://pbskids.org/video/ to help teach subjects, especially science, to Peanut is because it's a fun way to introduce a new science concept without getting her stressed out. It makes it fun and that's really important to her learning style.
Television used in moderation can be a learning tool. Cartoons in moderation can be learning tools. Used correctly these things are great.
Now time to send the kids outside to play.