A project of the Child Trends News Service supported by the National Science Foundation

Puppets Helping Kids Learn

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Toddlers spend about one to two hours a day in front of a screen. With TV shows and mobile apps, several educational tools can improve a young child’s learning. For example, a recent study reveals how parents can use TV characters to give their toddlers a head start.

Amy Smith is a mother of four. She wants to make sure her kids are always learning.

“When I play with them, I like to do creative games where they kind of have to think,” Smith detailed.

But will kids learn just as effectively from virtual pals? Psychology professor Sandra Calvert of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. has spent years studying how children process and understand digital media.

“You have to look at the diet of media that children are being exposed to,” Calvert told Ivanhoe.

In a study of 21-month-olds, toddlers whose parents played with them using puppets and then had a video of that character performing an early math skill—such as ordering objects by size—were able to learn that skill better than kids who were not exposed to that character in real life.

Calvert explained, “Children come to care about characters and therefore they learn better from them. So it’s a motivational direction.”

Calvert also said the more the child nurtures the puppet during play, the greater the emotional connection and the more likely that child can learn from the character on the screen. For Smith, the character “baby doctor” is making a lasting impression on her kids.

She said, “My four-year-old son always talks about his future. He says he would like to be a doctor to help babies.”

Elmo from Sesame Street is very effective in helping kids learn. Calvert says parents can increase engagement and learning by interacting with the child while he or she plays with the puppet. When the characters have the same likes as the child, the child can establish a deeper emotional connection and is better able to learn.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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