Educational TV May Boost Intellectual Development

But what and how much they watch makes a difference

Preschool children who watched a few hours a week of educational programming perform better on achievement tests over time than their peers who watch more general entertainment shows, according to researchers at the University of Texas in Austin.Dr. Aletha C. Huston, of the University of Texas in Austin.

"The public discussions dismissing television without distinguishing the content seem to be missing the boat." says Dr. Aletha C. Huston, who, along with the late John C. Wright and their colleagues followed nearly 200 children aged 2 to 7 over a 3-year period, tracking their television viewing.

Each year, the children's reading, math and vocabulary skills were assessed. The researchers found that younger children, especially those aged 2 and 3, who watched a few hours a week of educational programs had higher scoring on academic tests 3 years later than children who did not watch the programs.

Younger children who spent many hours watching entertainment programs had lower test scores than those who watched fewer hours. "Viewing of educational programming was associated with better school readiness and better academic skills," Huston noted. "Watching educational television may be an important vehicle for children to get some early learning that can really make a positive contribution." Huston notes that she and her colleagues took into account possible influences such as the family's level of education and socioeconomic factors.

Still, Huston urges parents to consider possible benefits from television. "Use television intelligently," she advises. "Don't throw it out – but don't ignore what your kids are watching."

The research was funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to the Children's Television Workshop, producer of educational children's shows such as Sesame Street.