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TV or Not TV?

Lights, Camera, Action! Or is it Lights, Camera, Distraction? Regardless of which side of the television divide you sit on, since its introduction in the 1960s, watching TV has become one of the most popular pastimes for Australian children. Lights, Camera, Action! Or is it Lights, Camera, Distraction? Regardless of which side of the television divide you sit on, since its introduction in the 1960s, watching TV has become one of the most popular pastimes for Australian children. But the question still remains: is TV numbing the minds of our children or does it educate and stimulate? Since children now spend an average of two hours a day watching TV, let’s take a few minutes to consider what effect it is having on their development…

How much is too much?

There are people who argue that TV replaces the child's unique fantasy and gradually destroys their originality and creativity. They say it distracts from more wholesome activities, such as imaginative play and family activities, and that children will watch TV in preference to listening to a story, playing a game or helping around the home. They believe TV discourages resourcefulness, the ability to socialise, solve problems and communicate.

While some of this may be true, TV can still play a positive part in your child’s development. Moderation and supervision are the key elements, as well as providing a stimulating balance of other leisure activities. Try to follow the guidelines below to ensure that the time spent by your child watching TV is of some benefit:

What the Research Shows

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study was conducted last year by a team set up by the Australian Council of Education Research and involved 14,000 students across Australia. The results of this study challenge many of the modern myths about the negative effects of watching TV. Key results included:

Recommended Viewing for Under 5s

There are some wonderful programs for young children on TV today. These are designed to educate and nurture certain behaviours such as creativity, communication and language skills. Some of the best home-grown shows are Play School, The Hooley Dooleys, The Wiggles, Bananas in Pyjamas, Hi-5, Cushion Kids, Book Worm, What’s in the Box? and of course Here’s Humphrey. Favourite overseas programs include Sesame Street, The Tweenies, Teletubbies, Bear in the Big Blue House, Blue’s Clues and Barney. If these programs don’t suit your child’s viewing time, most of them are available on video.

Based on what attracts and entertains my children (Isabel, aged 5 and Will, aged 2), I can heartily recommend Teletubbies, Hi-5 and The Hooley Dooleys. These programs encourage them to interact - whether by singing, dancing or making something they saw on the show - and this kind of active learning is great food for a hungry mind.

Teletubbies (my son’s favourite) These poor creatures have been the target of much controversy over the years, but these bright, baby-talking aliens are really quite harmless. The latest Teletubbies video (Go) is fantastic for introducing your toddler to basic movement skills. You might call it an exercise video for under threes - your toddler learns to jump, reach up high, roll, touch the floor and get ready to go! Rather than a typical sit-and-watch video, this is more a watch-and-do video. For those keen parents who join in with their children… my advice is to have a glass of water handy!

Hi-5 (my daughter’s favourite) The educational principles behind Hi-5 have been extensively researched. This show provides a stimulating variety of visual, aural and kinaesthetic experiences that cater to children’s individual learning styles, as well as encouraging development of crucial right and left brain integration. All this is magically woven together with catchy songs performed by five vibrant, highly talented young singers and dancers. The creators of Hi-5 worked previously on other educational programs such as Play School and Bananas in Pyjamas and have strong backgrounds in education. Helen Martin, the Principal Early Childhood Adviser for the show, has been a kindergarten director and play therapist, as well as a lecturer for 15 years at the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University.

Hi-5 is educational, interactive and, most importantly, entertaining. It offers a world of learning based on music, movement and laughter. Their latest video (Hi-5 Alive) emphasises the importance of exercise. Fun games provide a great workout and the introduction to basic anatomy has your child wiggling their gluteus maximus, for example. Kathleen De Leon, one of the members of Hi-5, sums up by saying, “I think we’re very energetic. We focus on being active, being very ‘up’, being fit and we try to make everything fun, while learning at the same time.”


HI-5 Learning Styles

Shapes in Space (visual and spatial awareness segment) Nathan’s focus is exploring shape, colour and pattern using all kinds of materials such as coloured boxes, play-dough, everyday furniture and even the body. As well developing hand-eye coordination, children enjoy opportunities for dynamic movement. These activities also offer ways of seeing things from a different perspective, learning about the body and its proportions, and shapes, colour and design.

tv box

Puzzles and Patterns logical thinking and mathematics segment Kathleen is particularly interested in numbers, puzzles, mazes and sorting things. She uses a variety of methods to show that problem solving is fun. Kathleen doesn’t realise it, but a mischievous puppet called JupJup co-hosts her segment, providing the opportunity for many tricks and jokes that children can share. Counting, ordering, comparing, classifying and analysing are all skills leaned from this segment.

Making Music (musicality segment) Tim focuses on musical concepts such as beat, rhythm, pitch and melody. His aim is to introduce children to great new songs and rhythms using a variety of ‘instruments’. The whole band also join together to demonstrate the possibilities of group music-making. A great way to encourage oral and aural skills.

Word Play (linguistic and aural skills segment) Kellie explores the world of language and sound. Through stories, rhymes and games, she encourages awareness of language use. Playing with the sounds and written symbols of the alphabet and also with whole words provides a wonderful foundation for early reading and self-expression. Children will delight in her interaction with her aptly named co-host, Chatterbox the puppet. Skills learned include literacy, numeracy and vocabulary.

Body-Move! (physical/motor development segment) Charli specialises in fun movement and coordination skills. The songs and rhymes in this segment encourage children to stretch, hop, skip, jump, balance, clap, throw, crawl and twist. Many activities involve crossing the mid-line of the body to stimulate left/right brain integration. Develops gross and fine motor skills.

Sharing Stories (self-awareness and social skills segment) In this segment, the Hi-5 team work together to explore emotions and personal interactions through light-hearted story and drama. It provides a time for reflective entertainment and humour, during which children can identify with the feelings and situations presented. Children learn to cooperate, take responsibility, determine their likes and dislikes, and learn various social skills.

The Hooley Dooleys (Universal appeal!) The Hooley Dooleys are a trio of musicians - Bruce Thorburn, Antoine Demarest and David Butts - who combine a musical mix of fiddle, saxophone, guitar and flute with a hint of comedy to bring out the best in their audience.

These guys don’t have all the bells and whistles of the high budget productions. What they do have is the experience of being parents and knowing what kids like, albeit through trial and error! With a broad background in contemporary and classical music, as well as jazz, they also have unbelievable musical talent. They write all their own music and no song sounds the same… a welcome relief for parents!

David has a degree in music education and has spent time developing and teaching a music program for pre-schoolers. Antoine grew up listening to, and playing, music in Paris. When he moved to Australia with a young child of his own and a child care centre next door, he began writing and trying out children’s songs. Similarly, Bruce was ready to try something new after playing in bands in Australia and busking around Europe with his trusty violin. He began writing songs and stories for his son.

When Bruce and Antoine met at a gig, they got talking about original music and their own songs. They clicked creatively and decided to combine talent to develop a show for primary school children. They met David a little later and, when all three managed to get together in one place, they discovered they had a performing and songwriting synergy that was bigger than all of them individually. The Hooley Dooleys (after many name debates!) was formed in 1996 and they have since performed live for young children all around Australia.

I had the pleasure of watching the Hooleys do a live show to an intimate crowd of 25 children. From the moment they marched into the room - with their bright costumes, great harmony and funny lyrics - they had the kids clapping their hands, tapping their feet and wearing the biggest grins. This energy from their live performances translates beautifully to the TV screen.

Laughter is the best medicine, but good music comes a close second and a dose of the Hooleys will certainly treat your child to a good time. Besides the clapping, tapping, laughing and learning, don’t be surprised if your child develops a stronger appreciation for music. I am constantly surprised at how much a child can learn through the simple pleasures of music, including:

The Hooleys are quirky and unique and this is reflected in their music. These very talented musicians obviously have a genuine passion for what they do. If your child can’t get enough of the Hooleys, they have just released another video and CD (Roll Up! Roll Up!), available from ABC shops and good music outlets. The five-minute segments we see of them between TV programs is never enough, so fingers crossed they’ll have their own show soon…

As a parent, it’s up to you to determine beforehand what TV programs you want your children to watch, rather than just flicking on the TV and walking away. It is equally important to encourage your child to participate in a diverse range of other activities, especially reading and active play. These activities generally involve a bit more participation from you, but books and exercise contribute immensely to your child’s overall development. When your child does watch TV, steer them towards fun programs with an educational element. Let them enjoy TV for what it is… an entertaining adventure of fun and games. If only we could all go there!


What’s in the Box?