Media literacy for preschoolers, pt. 4: Tips and resources

This week, I’ve been writing about how parents can help their preschoolers become media literate. [See: Part 1: how media work, Part 2: media content, Part 3: media creation.]

For my wrap-up post in this series, I’d like to share some tips and resources.

Key Tips for Fostering Media Literacy in Your Preschooler

In my opinion, there are five essentials that will help your preschool child become  media literate:

  1. Pre-screen media as much as possible, and choose only the good stuff for your child to view. Talk about these choices with your child; help him or her make good choices, too.
  2. Don’t let young children watch shows and films that really go against your family’s values, or that you do not feel are age-appropriate. It’s okay to set limits.
  3. Watch with your child, but don’t be silent–speak up. Only by talking about what’s on screen will your child develop the critical thinking skills that are central to media literacy. So, point out things you like and don’t like. Convey your values. Ask and answer questions.
  4. Keep television out of your child’s room. If he or she is watching in private, you can’t talk about what’s happening on screen. (Also, studies indicate that watching TV before bedtime can disrupt young children’s sleep, so it’s best to keep TV out of their sleeping spaces.)
  5. Find ways to create media with your child. Help your child see him or herself as not just a consumer, but a creator.

Discussing Media with Preschoolers: Conversation Ideas

Talking about media with your child is really important. Studies show that conversations about television do help to develop children’s media literacy, whereas two other common parenting strategies–watching TV silently together and/or restricting children’s media use–are less effective. It takes active conversation to foster a child’s critical thinking.

So, where to begin? Talking about media if you haven’t often done so can feel awkward or forced. Try using simple declarative statements to share your reactions to what’s on screen. For example:

  • “I like this part because [reason].”
  • “I don’t think he should be lying about that.”
  • “I don’t agree with her decision.”
  • “No one is listening to her! They should listen to their friend.”
  • “He’s being greedy! We shouldn’t be greedy like that.”

Ask questions to solicit your child’s opinion. Yes/no questions are okay, but open-ended questions are even better:

  • “Do you think it’s a good idea for her to do that?”
  • “Why do you think he is keeping that secret?”
  • “Uh-oh–what did her mommy say to her earlier? Can you remember what she’s supposed to be doing?”

Resources to Prompt More Conversation:
Books for Preschoolers about Television

(Also available on my Pinterest!)

If you’d like to talk with your child about media-related issues away from the screen, it can be helpful to read some books together. Here are some age-appropriate books that might be helpful.

On balancing screen time with other interests:

Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair: What happens when people no longer read? A cautionary tale: don’t let TV take over your life!

The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV: The bears go without TV for a week, and find all kinds of other things to do, instead.

Box-Head Boy: Denny learns about the consequences of too watching too much television.

Mama Rex and T Turn Off the TV No power means no TV! Mama proves to T that there are other fun things to do besides watch television all day.

Mouse TV: A mouse family squabbles over what to watch. No one can agree. But when the television breaks, they learn to enjoy all kinds of other activities together.

On other topics:

Arthur’s TV Trouble: Arthur learns that the products on television commercials aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be! A good prompt for conversations about ads.

The Bionic Bunny Show: A behind-the-scenes look at Arthur’s favorite television show, this story describes how an ordinary bunny seems to have superpowers on screen, even though it’s all make-believe. A good prompt for conversations about how media are created.

How a Book Is Made: This book is all about the publishing process. It shows how a book progresses from an author’s idea to a published work. Another good prompt for conversations about how media are created.

Teddy’s TV Troubles: Teddy Bear sees frightening things on television; fortunately, his mommy knows how to help him cope with his fears. Filled with positive ideas for helping children recover from viewing scary media.

When the TV Broke: When the television breaks, Jeffrey is upset and doesn’t know how to occupy himself–but soon he becomes an artist, creating his own media! Good for discussing the idea that we don’t just have to consume; any of us can create.

Creating Media with your Child: A Few Ideas

Marketers love positioning kids as consumers. There are entire books on the topic, written to help people in the industry encourage your children to consume media and merchandise–and to pester you to spend as much money as possible on their behalf.

Teach your child that he or she can break out of that box and be a creator, too. Some ideas:

  • Give your child an inexpensive camera or camcorder. Teach him or her to document his world. Ask him or her to direct your actions. How should you pose for a photo? What should you say or do on video?
  • If your child enjoys telling stories and drawing, have him or her tell you a story and write it down. Then, help your child draw pictures to illustrate it. Now, you have a homemade book!
  • Take the homemade book one step further: help your child take a photo of each image. Upload the images together to your computer. Put them together in a software package you’re comfortable with–it doesn’t matter if it’s PowerPoint or iMovie. Now your child’s story is on screen!
  • If you’re good with video editing, or want an excuse to learn, you can help your child make videos featuring his or her toys. You could take inspiration from a favorite program; for example, a lot of families have created video remakes of the “Accidents Happen” song from Thomas and Friends. Or, you can help your child use dolls or stuffed animals act out a story that you videotape. Technology is so ubiquitous nowadays, and so affordable, that there’s lot of potential for making cute, creative stuff!
  • Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth also recommends the web site Storybird for creating stories and, for those who have iPads, a variety of storytelling apps. I don’t have an iPad myself, but I’m eager to check out Storybird–it looks promising.

Readers: Do you know of any other good books for young children about TV and related topics? Or, are you familiar any other resources that parents can use to help young children create their own media? If so, please post them here–I’d love to add them to this post!

3 Comments on “Media literacy for preschoolers, pt. 4: Tips and resources

  1. Rebecca, Thanks so much for your posts about media literacy and preschoolers. I’m a Catholic nun that speaks to parents and teachers about media literacy and values. Having no kids of my own (but I am an eldest child!) it is sometimes hard to find real-life examples of the point I’m trying to make about talking to kids about media. The sharing of your experiences with your son has only reinforced that media literacy is possible even with younger children.
    Thanks so much for sharing this and all the resources, too.

  2. A few years back, I authored “Coming Distractions: Questioning Movies” one of the 8 books in the Capstone Press Media Literacy Factfinders series. ( These books are aimed at young people in grades 3-5 and each book covers a different medium and uses the media literacy critical thinking questions as the starting points for discussion and understanding. I hope and your audience will consider them.

  3. Pingback: Screen time, Media Literacy and the preschool set – Marketing, Media and Childhood

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