Category Archives: Preschoolers

How kids watch TV

One of the goals of this blog was to bring child development research to the hands of parents, child care professionals, and others that are just interested in knowing what is happening with kids and research!    Well today I have some fun and interesting (and really well done) child development research!

In the most recent journal of Child Development there is a fabulous article about how people (infants, preschoolers, and adults) watch TV.  This study is fascinating!

Drs. Heather Kirkorian, Daniel Anderson, and Rachel Keen used eye-tracking software to examine where infants, preschoolers, and adults were looking on a television screen when watching a video. Their finding is pretty interesting- infants, kids, and adults do NOT watch TV in the same ways.  Maybe not surprisingly, parents are much more focused when they watch TV- they follow the cues from the program, like sound effects and various cuts and zooms very well and are able to direct their attention quickly and easily to the part of the screen that really is providing the most essential information.  This is not too surprising.  Adults have been watching TV for their whole lives and like everyone’s parents always say, “practice makes perfect.”  This seems to be true with TV viewing.  It takes time and practice for us to get used to the medium and how the information is presented.

That’s interesting, but generally very few people are concerned about adults’ TV viewing.  The hot topic issue (still!) is exposure to screens in infancy (see the NYT article about the American Academy of Pediatrics recent recommendation).  The questions about whether infants and toddlers can learn anything from a screen and whether they should be watching at all are important and challenging questions (that I’m not going to attempt to answer here).  Instead lets focus on the data!  This study shows that when infants (1-year-olds) watch TV their eye movements are more scattered and less focused than the movements of older children (4-year-olds) or adults.  (Preschool children’s eye movements seem to fall in between infant and adults- they are less focused than adults but more focused than infants!)

The authors also found that when there was a cut from one scene to another, adults and older children adjust and orient their eye gaze almost immediately to the new content whereas infants take a few seconds to get oriented to the new scene.  This is an important concept for parents and media creators to recognize.  If infants take a few extra seconds to just get their eyes in the right place on the screen when a program has cuts to new scenes it likely will take them a few more seconds to process what they are seeing on the screen.  By this time many programs have already changed to another new scene, causing this process to repeat! Therefore programs that have very rapidly changing scenes are likely going to be very difficult for these youngsters to follow both visually and in terms of learning.

Tip for Parents: Next time you are watching TV (either with or without your children) focus on scene changes.  See if you can count or keep track of how frequently the screen cuts or changes to a new scene.  It’s amazing when you stop and focus on this, you realize how complex TV viewing is and how challenging it might be for a very young brain to follow!


Age Differences in Online Processing of Video: An Eye Movement Study (pages 497–507)
Heather L. Kirkorian, Daniel R. Anderson and Rachel Keen
Article first published online: 30 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01719.x

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Filed under All Kids, Preschoolers

“Hold you too”

So I have been doing my research and have been getting help and resources from others about how to help parents help their young children develop language.

A Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist friend of mine commented on the original “Hold you” post (you all should read that comment it’s quite informative and helpful) and she provided the link to this website.

Here is some of the take home points from the research I have been reading:

1. American kids tend to learn and produce nouns earlier and in more novel ways that verbs (Tomasello, Akhtar, Dodson, & Rekau, 1997). Parent tip : American parents don’t practice verbs with their young children.  We like to label things.  “Look a boat” “Is that your shirt?” “Where are your toes?”  It’s far less often that you hear parents say, “Look you are going” “Your sister is running” “I’m cooking”.  Don’t be afraid to teach your children verbs while you are labeling and teaching your child nouns.

2. The reason young kids say things like “hold you” might be because they have created a sort of template for language. Initially they follow these global rules to create sentences, even when their rules are incorrect.  For example, kids might frequently hear sentences structures with the word “you”  at the end of the sentence, “Can I hold you?” or “she is going to hug you” so they begin to understand that “you” comes at the end of a sentence and then they just insert the verbs they know before the “you” like “hold you.” (Akhtar, 1999).  As children grow and experience more language they are better able to form grammatically correct sentences.  Parent tip: There is no harm in children saying things like “hold you” when they want you to hold them, but when you hear your child saying something like this take it as a teaching opportunity.  Demonstrate to the child the differences in what things mean.  Pick her up and say, “I am holding you” and “you are holding me”.  Then pick up her sister and say, “I am holding sister.” Then pick up a doll an say “I am holding the baby” and then give the child the doll and say “Now, you are holding the baby”  By providing different examples of how the verb “holding” and where the word “you” can be used you will further expand your child’s templates of how that verb and different objects are used together.

3.  The power of overhearing.  While it is important that you speak to your child frequently for their language development, young children also learn words by overhearing others speaking (Akhtar, Jipson, & Callanan, 2001).  Older toddlers learned verbs and object labels equally well when overhearing the words as when they were addressed directly with the words.  Younger toddlers (2 year olds) were better able to learn object labels when overhearing them than action verbs (Akhtar et al., 2001).  Parent Tip:  It’s always important to speak to your child directly but remember than the conversations that are occurring around the child are also providing your child with learning opportunities to successfully learn new words too.

4. Parents tend to repeat the grammatically incorrect utterances of their children (Hirsh-Pasek, Treiman, Schneiderman, 1984).   This is not surprising to me because I completely understand how tempting it is to repeat the cute things that kids say (whether they are said correctly or not).  When a child says “hold you”, we don’t always correct them, instead we repeat what they say “hold you” which said by us is grammatically correct but by repeating it we are providing rewards for the way it is said.  This particular article didn’t’ look at the impact of mother’s repeating incorrect grammer said by child but just found that in fact, mother’s do repeat incorrect phrases.  Parenting tip: As with swear words and other “bad” things that children will spontaneously say, we have to be careful to not reward their behavior (despite how tempting it is to laugh or to repeat it).  While children will say things incorrectly and will learn on their own without parents correcting them, by repeating their mistakes you are generally rewarding the behavior.

Language learning is complex but the moral of the story is that talking to your children is important for their language development.  By speaking to your children frequently you are providing them with multiple examples of how speech is constructed and a variety of words that they will eventually incorporate into their vocabularies, plus talking with your children has emotional benefits as well.  Clearly the little girls on the train yesterday (see yesterday’s post) were just looking for someone to talk to.  Even when your children are older they are still learning and perfecting their language, so please keep talking and teaching your children!

Note that while I did do a lot of research for this post there is so much information about language learning that in no way did I do this topic justice in such a short blog post.  I’m sure there will still be more to come!


Akhtar, N. Jipson, J., & Callanan, M. A. (2001).  Learning words through overhearing. Child Development, 72, 416-430.

Hirsh-Pasek, K., Treiman, R., Schneiderman, M. (1984).  Brown & Hanlon revisted: Mothers’ sensitivity to ungrammatical forms.  Journal of Child Language, 11, 81-88.

Tomasello, M., Akhta, N., Dodson, K., & Rekau, L. (1997).  Differential productivity in young children’s use of nouns and verbs.  Child Language, 24, 373-387.

Tomasello, M., & Olguin, R. (1993).  Twenty-three-month-old children have a grammatical category of noun.  Cognitive Development, 8, 451-464.


Filed under Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers

Lets Read!

Reading is undeniably one of the most prominent and accepted “good parenting” practices in the United States.  In a country that loves to debate the quality of everything, literacy has really never been questioned. Pregnancy books tell you to start reading to your child before the baby is born and you are expected to read to your child forever and always!  The US Department of Education Reading is Fundamental has a nice article about Reading with your Child that talks about when to start and how to make reading a part of your child’s life.
I find that many parents understand the importance of reading to their children, but there is very little advice about what to read, how to pick books, how long to spend reading, etc.  So here is my quick Reading Guide to reading with your pre-reader. (I will post later about working with your child to learn to read.)
What makes a kids book a good book?
The good thing with children’s books is they are generally short so you can, and SHOULD, take the time to read through books before you select one and check for some of the following criteria:
  • Age Appropriate.  This can be hard to determine, but a good place to start is to look at the age recommendations that often appear on children’s books or on   Also, consider the number of words per page and the type of vocabulary used in the book.  Too many words will test the attention span and interest of a young child and books filled with words that are too challenging for the child (or the parent for that matter) will disrupt the flow of the story and will potential hinder comprehension.  The nice thing about technology is that you can now “look inside” books online before purchasing them online.  This will give you a better idea of the words per page and the vocabulary in each book.  Also ask your librarian about what books might be appropriate for your child given their age and developmental abilities.  Parenting Magazine offers books for Building Baby’s First Library.
  • Comprehensible Storyline.  If the book you choose doesn’t seem to make any sense to you, it’s likely not going to make sense to your child.  Part of the reasons reading to your child is so important is it helps build language and literacy skills.  One important literacy skill is reading comprehension so begin to build on this skill early by selecting books that your child can understand and by asking questions about the book to ensure the child is “getting it”.
  • Interesting topics.  Kids like what they like.  Some kids love cars, trucks, boats, and planes others love princesses, worms, dinosaurs, or stories about food.  Find books that are about things that interest your child but don’t be afraid to try new ideas or story lines.  If your kid is obsessed with cars make connections between cars and other things like animals.  For example, get a book about animals and show your child that elephants move slowly like big trucks and instead of saying “beep beep” lions say “roar”.
Where to find good books?
  • Go to the Library!  Librarians offer all sorts of knowledge about new good kids books and the kids rooms at libraries around the country are really fantastic.  Also libraries and bookstores often offer story times when children can all sit together and have a story read to them. This is a great opportunity to find new books and to make new friends.
How much should you read reading?
  • There really isn’t one set answer to this question, although the Children’s Reading Foundation suggests 20 minutes a day.  Really the best answer is to try to make a routine out of reading and make sure you do it daily.  Many families like to read books as a downtime activity before a child goes to bed.  But kids often love books and reading can be sprinkled in throughout the day with other activities.  Keep books in your playroom and your children’s room at a level where your child can reach them so they can take them out as they please.  In between coloring and building a tower suggest reading a book or even bring a few books with you to the park and read when your kids need to cool down or are eating a snack.

What are some benefits of reading?

  • Positive impact on children’s language and cognitive skills (See SRCD report).
  • Reading aloud with your young children has positive effects on bonding between parent and child
  • Builds listening and attention skills


Fletcher,K. L. & Reese, E. (2004).  Picture book reading with young children: A conceptual framework. Developmental Review, 25, 64-103.

University of Michigan Health System YourChild Development & Behavior Resources.  PDF on Langauge & Literacy Development

Reading Rockets  Reading Tips for Parents.  This resource provides Tips for Parents of babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, and 1st- 3rd graders.

Reach Out and Read Reading Tips.  This resource offers very basic reading tips for parents.

Scholastic offers advice on picking age-appropriate books for slightly older children here.

Huffington  Post Article on Reading IS Fundamental by Christal Watts Deb 29, 2010.

National Education Association Read Across America

Parenting Magazine Building Babies First Library

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Filed under Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers

Wii for the Wee Ones

by Dr. Amanda E. Staiano

Hi parents!  Did you know Wii can get your family moving and in shape? Believe it or not, I research how video games can promote weight loss and activity in kids – we call them “exergames” because you have to EXERCISE to play the video game! Think Kinect, Move, Wii, Dance Dance Revolution.

It surprises people that exergames are considered “physical activity.” After all, we’re facing a huge obesity problem in this country – one of five preschoolers is overweight or obese, and that number is even higher for Hispanic and Black preschoolers. Two-thirds of adults and one-third of children/adolescents are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for bad heart health, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and even certain cancers. Video games are usually blamed for obesity and sedentary lifestyles, so how can they possibly be a “good” and “healthy” choice?

By requiring movement, exergames get players to burn calories and increase heart rate to levels of moderate intensity activity (Biddiss 2010; Graves 2008), which goes towards the 1 hour/day physical activity recommendation for kids age 6 and up (Siegel 2010). And for the wee ones, these games can contribute to the regular active play that is recommended for kids under 6. This physical activity can translate to weight loss for overweight/obese kids and weight maintenance for healthy weight kids – in fact, my dissertation showed that overweight/obese high school students lost about 5 pounds when they played the Wii Active game in a lunch-time and after-school program during the school year.

The best exergames for physical activity are those that use both the arms and the legs – that’s what will burn the most calories and get your kids moving the most (Graves 2008). And the best part is that the FUN of the game can distract your child from the “exercise” part! Even better news — when given a choice, kids choose physically active games over the sedentary versions (Sit 2010).

And the benefits don’t stop at physical health – exergames are an “equalizer” that allows family members at different ages and abilities to play a game together (Bryant 2010). Cooperation and group bonding can promote self-esteem, which motivates kids to become more physically active (Suhonen 2008). There’s even evidence that exergames can have cognitive benefits, like increased attention, visual-spatial skills, cognitive flexibility, and motor speed (Staiano, in press). For instance, playing an exergame can help preschoolers learn how to multi-task and begin to understand other people’s perspectives (Bryant 2010).

The fact is kids play video games – kids under the age of 5 already spend on average 1 hour each day playing console or hand-held video games (Vandewater 2007), and kids use media more and more as they get older (Rideout 2010). Video games are fun, challenging, and can help develop important skills like how to follow rules, how to track objects on a screen, and how to quickly respond to visual and auditory stimuli (Staiano 2011, in press). Adding physical activity to the game creates an even better package!

So consider adding some exergaming to your family’s schedule. Look for games designed just for preschoolers – like the Zippity Learning System designed by LeapFrog and Disney – or find games available on common platforms like Microsoft Kinect, Nintendo Wii, and Sony Move that your preschooler will enjoy. Make sure the games you pick are developmentally appropriate. And, just like with any physical activity, supervise your wee ones to make sure they use the equipment properly and don’t hurt themselves or others.

Special Instructions for Preschool Exergamers:

  • If the exergame uses a sensor bar, place it low enough (like under the TV) to read the preschoolers’ movements. This is especially important if the preschooler plays with taller siblings or parents.
  • If the exergame uses a handheld remote, make sure your preschooler’s hands and fingers are large enough to reach the buttons (such as pressing “A” and “B” buttons on the WiiMote). If your child doesn’t yet have the coordination to work the remote, use this as a teaching opportunity to develop motor skills!
  • Remember that the complex, multi-step procedures that come easy to an adult is not so easy for a preschooler (think of all the steps involved in Wii bowling). So be patient in teaching your child how to create the motions needed for game play. And you may want to try out Kinect which doesn’t require a remote at all, or stick with some simpler games like Wii Tennis, Baseball, and Boxing that don’t require as many button presses or simultaneous actions.

Some physical activity tips from the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines:

Why exercise? Physical activity helps you maintain a healthy weight and prevent excess weight gain. This protects you (and your child) from developing type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancers, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, sleep apnea, asthma, reproductive health complications, and many other serious health consequences (CDC 2010).

Why limit screen time? Screen time, especially watching tv, is linked to overweight risk in preschoolers (Dennison 2002, Spear 2007). This doesn’t mean that if little Johnny or Suzie watches TV or plays video games they will automatically be overweight. But… if your child is sitting on the couch for hours on end instead of being physically active… and if your child has unlimited access to potato chips and candy bars or other unhealthy foods while watching screen media… then you’ve created an “obesogenic,” or obesity-promoting, environment that will make it harder and harder for your child to have a healthy weight.

So… how much screen time should kids get? It’s recommended kids and adolescents spend no more than 1-2 hours each day watching tv, playing video games, or using the computer.

Does it matter if the parent is active or overweight/obese?

Yes!  You are your child’s number one role model. If you’re not physically active, you’re missing a great opportunity to demonstrate to your child the importance of having an active lifestyle. Also, statistics show that if a kid has an overweight or obese parent, they are 80% likely to be overweight or obese themselves. Adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. That’s just 2 ½ hours spread out over 7 days – totally achievable!

How much exercise should kids get?

Ages 2-5: Several bouts of active play each day

Over 6:  60 minutes or more of physical activity each day

Also — children should do muscle-strengthening activities (like climbing) at least 3 days a week and bone-strengthening activities (like jumping) at least 3 days a week.

It doesn’t have to happen all at once – physical activity can be broken down into shorter blocks of time, as long as kids get enough exercise to make them sweat. The activity should be FUN, developmentally appropriate, and offer variety – not just the same activities over and over again.

Where can I get more info on how to play exergames with my kids?

Wii Mommies is an online discussion forum started by Jenn Hethcoat, mommy blogger who shares her weekly healthy family recipes on her own site Super Jenn. Wii Mommies gets moms throughout the country to share their stories of how to use Wii games and other exergames to get their family up and moving.

What can I do in my community to promote physical activity?

  • Be a voice for physical activity in your child’s PTA, and talk to your child’s teachers, childcare providers, and P.E. coaches about how to make sure the P.E. and recess offered at school includes active play.
  • Chart your child’s weight and body mass index with his/her pediatrician. Some schools also provide regular monitoring of your child’s weight.
  • Support children’s programs that promote healthy nutrition and physical activity throughout the year, including during the summer.

Help!  My preschooler is overweight!  What do I do? The best advice is to talk to your child’s pediatrician to see if your child is overweight and the best steps to take. There is also plenty of valuable info and resources online (click here for one example).

About the Author:

Dr. Amanda E. Staiano is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Physical Activity and Obesity Epidemiology Lab at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She had the pleasure of working with Dr. Alexis Lauricella in the Children’s Digital Media Center at Georgetown University, where Amanda earned her Ph.D. of psychology and master of public policy. Amanda researches how exergames affect children and adolescents’ physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive health. More recently, she studies how physical activity reduces the risk for premature mortality in adults, and how waist circumference can be an important indicator of health risks in children and adolescents. She received her B.S. in psychology at Louisiana State University.

Email Amanda at

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Filed under Elementary School Age, Preschoolers

Intro to Childcare

Guest Blog Post

by Beth Meloy

Often, as a Child Care Researcher, I get questions from friends, family members, and sometimes even total strangers about the benefits of childcare for their children and how to pick a childcare arrangement.  The truth is, as with most parenting decisions, there isn’t one correct answer.  Luckily there is plenty of research on the topic, and we do know a couple of things that can help guide parents as they make this important decision.

What are the benefits of childcare for your child?  The answer to this question largely depends on the alternatives. We know that child care, especially preschool/ pre-Kindergarten programs boost cognitive test scores, increase school readiness, and can even impact long-term outcomes (visit these sites for findings from a few high profile studies: The Carolina Abecedarian Project, High Scope Perry Preschool Study, Gormley, Phillips, Gayer, 2008. However, most of this research is derived from samples of low-income children, and when studies compare children by family income, they find that more disadvantaged children derive greater benefits from childcare and pre-K.

When you are making a decision for your own child, it is important to consider the alternatives.  Childcare can be beneficial for children if it places them in a more stimulating, sensitive, and/or secure environment.  That said, if your child is very young (under 3) and the alternative is staying home with you—the sensitive and instructive primary caregiver- then there is no rush to put your child into childcare.

The most important factor is the quality of the experience for your child (See Burchinal, 1999).  For young children, the highest quality experience may be staying at home with a parent.  For older children, it may be a preschool program.  And for parents who work, cannot stay home, or want their child to enter childcare, the goal should be to find the highest quality arrangement, and the best fit for their child.

Not sure how to find a “high quality” child care arrangement or preschool program?  Here are some helpful guidelines and tips:

(1)  Research. Currently, twenty-three states have implemented Childcare Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS).  Like the rating systems for hotels or restaurants, QRIS assesses childcare settings based on program standards. A full list of states that have these systems and their websites is available here.   For example, if you live in Illinois and are considering childcare for your child you can go here and click on Licensed Child Care Centers & School-Age Programs and it will give you a 10 page pdf document listing all of the centers by county.

In addition, several states have public pre-K programs.  Find out if your state has one, and how they measure-up by visiting the National Institute for Early Education Research.  If your state isn’t on either of these sites, a simple google search, asking other parents, and looking at local parenting websites for advice is always a good place to start!  Another great resources is Child Care Aware which provides information about locating high-quality child care, parent information, helpful tools, resources, and newsletters.

When you find a center that you are interested in, you should also ask to tour the facilities and meet the prospective caregivers.  Again, trust your gut, if something feels off when the facility ought to be putting its best foot forward (to get your business), you could be picking up on something important that you don’t want to expose your child to.

(2) Child’s Age. Your child’s age may be particularly important when making the decision of where to place your child.  For young children, informal arrangements, such as those with relative caregivers, nanny care, or home-based childcare may be best.  Lower adult to child ratios are associated with higher quality care for infants and toddlers (NICHD ECCRN, 2007).  As your child gets older, it becomes more important to help them get used to school-like settings.  Childcare centers, and especially high quality preschool programs may be a good way to do this.   Think about it this way—you wouldn’t throw your child in the deep end of a pool without first teaching them to swim.  Kindergarten is a scary place with lots of rules and expectations.  High quality center care and/or preschool programs, like swimming lessons, will help teach your child the skills they need to succeed in school  (See Pre-K Now).

(3) Center Care vs Home-Based Care. Both center-based and home-based child care offer benefits and disadvantages. Home-based care may be more flexible with your work hours and are more likely to mix age groups (more sibling interaction).  However, center-based childcare is usually higher quality than family day care.  Childcare centers also tend to be more educationally focused… they are geared more towards learning and preparing children for school, so they are particularly beneficial for older children when compared to home-based day care options (Loeb, Fuller, Lynn, & Carrol, 2004). That said, parents can usually trust their gut on these things, not all childcare centers are better than all family care centers, and most importantly, not all child care centers are high quality (Love et al., 2003, Fuller. Kagen, Loeb, & Chang, 2004).

(4) Stability.  Find a childcare arrangement that works for you and stick with it.  From the childcare research we know that stability matters!  Stability in childcare can be defined in terms of stability of the childcare center (the physical building) and stability of the caregiver.  Ideally, the arrangement you choose for your child will be stable for both. Each arrangement has different expectations (rules and routines) and entering a new arrangement involves navigating new relationships (with the caregiver and with peers).  Switching up the game too often will be stressful for your child.  When you are choosing a childcare program, it is important to find a good fit, so that you are less likely to move your child mid-year.  Consider the center’s policies.  If your child will age out of the center after a few months, or even a year, you may want to look for a different arrangement. Read all about childcare stability and its potential impacts on your child’s development by going here.

So, what is the take home message?  Choosing childcare is all about considering the alternatives, finding a high-quality program—and one that is a good fit for you—and sticking with it.  There are tools out there to help guide your decision, but in the end it’s all about knowing yourself, knowing your child, and going with your gut.

About the Author:

Beth Meloy is a fifth-year student in the Dual MPP/PhD program working with Deborah Phillips at Georgetown University. Her research interests include the effects of early education (child care) programs on subsequent cognitive development (particularly for minority and low-income children), as well as the effect
of involvement with the child welfare system on child development. Her current research focuses on the effects of type, stability, and quality of childcare on young children with special needs and young children in foster care. She received her BA in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005 and her MPP from the Georgetown Public Policy Institute in 2008. Email Beth at

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Filed under Infants, News and Other Resources, Preschoolers, Toddlers

Art For All Ages

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up”- Pablo Picasso

Just the other day, I received an email from a woman who had joined the PlayLearnParent Facebook Fan Page and was really excited about the January 27, 2011 post from the New York Times titled Mom, You’re One Tough Art Critic.   She was an Art Teacher and was glad that something art related was posted and wanted to let me know that she would like to see more!   Well, she is in luck- she inspired me to do a little more research on Art and Young Children.

I came across a three items that I wanted to share:

1. In 1998 the Arts Education Partnership and the Task Force on Children’s Learning and the Arts: Birth to Age Eight came out with a report called Young Children and the Arts: Making Creative Connections. This report focuses on the importance of early Arts Education and has guidelines for how to successfully implement a program.  For parents it also has a great chart that provides appropriate arts activities for children at every level of development (see page 6-13).

2.  Angela Eckhoff, an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Clemson University in South Carolina has published 2 articles about young children and art.

First, Eckhoff published an article in Early Childhood Education Journal in 2008 that examined how Art Teachers teach art to young children.  Eckhoff (2008) reports that Art teachers used 4 main strategies when teaching children age 4-5 about art: Questioning, Game Play, Storytelling, and Technical.  Based on her research each of these strategies were effective in teaching preschool aged children about art and are strategies that could be adopted and used by parents with their own children.

Eckhoff (2008) explained that Questioning was used by the teacher to help introduce the children to the artwork by discussing technical aspects like color, design, etc and contextual factors like  what the art was intended to look like.   Parents could use similar questioning techniques to help their children begin to think and discuss aspects of artwork they see.

Eckhoff (2008) explains that storytelling was used by the art teachers to further engage the students in understanding the art.  On page 468, Eckhoff uses the example of a teacher asking a young child to pretend that they were very, very tiny and that they could be in the painting and then asking the child to describe and tell a story about what it is like “living” in the painting.

Technical discussion may be a little bit more challenging for parents who do not have as much of a background in art, but it can still be done.  Eckhoff (2008) describes a teacher talking to preschoolers about how the paint was made to decorate a Rawhide Box in the 1930’s.  While this teacher had the expertise to know that the paintbrushes used to paint this box were sticks made from Yucca, parents can provide other technical information to their children.  Possibly a parent could discuss the orange paint and explain that you can make orange paint by mixing red and  yellow paint.

Finally, Eckhoff (2008) talks about gameplay and the ways in which teachers were creative in developing age appropriate games to engage their students in the art.  Eckhoff just recently published an article in Young Children– a magazine published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children providing teachers with more ideas of how to use games to help children explore Art.

Eckhoff’s article is titled Using Games to Explore Visual Art with Young Children and is in the January 2010 edition of Young Children which is free online. This is a great article, please read!

The article (on page 20) provides excellent games to play with young children to help them understand, appreciate, and enjoy art.  Here are a couple of great suggestions from that article:

1.  Color Spinner Wheel:  Bring a color spinner wheel (take one from a game at home or make out before you leave) to the museum with you.  Have the child pick out a picture that they like and the child spin the wheel to determine colors to search for in the piece of art.

2. Eye Spy: play the traditional eye spy game in a museum.  Have the child give “hints” based on the colors, size, texture, type of art, etc that they see in the room.

And some fun suggestions of my own:

3.  Bring a large notebook and crayons with you to the museum (some museums even have these available for young children to use) and have your child pick out their favorite piece of art and let them draw it. (This is good for kids who are preschool age and older and are good at staying on the paper when they color).

4.  Bring different colored index cards or post-its or even the color swatches they give you when you are painting a room.  Go around the museum and see if you can finding paintings with each of the different colors.  As you find them write the name of the painting and the date on the cards and one sentence describing the painting so you can talk about it again when you get home.


Eckhoff, A. (2008).  The Importance of Art Viewing Experiences in Early Childhood Visual Arts: The Exploration of a Master Art Teacher’s Strategies for Meaningful Early Art Experiences.   Early Childhood Education Journal, 35, 463-472. Link

Eckhoff, A. (January, 2010).  Using Games to Explore Visual Art with Young Children.  Young Children, pp. 18-22.  Link

The Task Force on Children’s Learning and the Arts: Birth to Age Eight & Sarah Goldhawk, Arts Education Partnership.  (1998).Eds Carol Bruce.  Young Children and the Arts: Making Creative Connections.  Retrieved from: on February 3, 2011.

Related Resources:

The Artful Parent

Creative Art Helps Children Develop Across Many Domains

Art Ideas for Small Children

Children’s Museum of the Arts

Parents Magazine Ten Best Art Museums for Kids Number 1 is the Art Institute of Chicago

National Gallery of Art


Filed under Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers

Help! Quality Media?

When I was growing up media consisted of the Television- a total of 5 channels (cable was around, but we didn’t have it), a VCR, a Nintendo (the result of a particularly traumatizing dentist appointment that my Dad had taken me to), eventually a GameBoy, a computer (that my mother “borrowed” from the school she taught at), a record/tape/radio combination stereo, and books.

I don’t even know where to begin with what is considered “media” today! There are ipods playing songs from YoGabbaGabba, DVD players in minivans playing the Princess and the Frog, laptop computers with A Bug’s Life CD-Rom software (although that seems to be nearly extinct), ipads with Sesame Street apps, smartphones & iphones with apps that translate your child’s voice into a cute squeaky guinea pig voice , regular old Television programs like SuperWhy (that you can  now get in High Definition on cable, satellite, or online on demand), new motion sensored video games like theNintendo Wii, handheld video game players like PSP, and online interactive storybooks of the 3 Little Pigs… I could go on forever, but instead I will provide you with a Sesame Street clip called “There’s an App for That”.

Given all of these technologies and all of the content that is now “out there”.  How do parents decide what programs/games/books/music/content to show/play/interact/use with their kids? In a world of instant replies via email and blog posts about everything, are parents supposed to rely on “word of mouth” (which now exists via telephone, Facebook, email, etc) or base their purchases/downloads on reviews and product descriptions and their own best guess?

Should there be some sort of Children’s Quality Media Guru?  A resource that offers advice on what apps to buy for your 2-year-old versus your 8-year-old?  A guide that can tell you what is required to play the newest top app Bubble Ball (created by a 14-year-old boy)?  A checklist of questions parents might want to ask before purchasing media for their child?  Do parents want/need help with these questions?

Earlier this week the Fred Rogers Center held a roundtable discussion at Erikson Institute with 30 impressive people in the fields of child development and media production/creation to discuss just this issue.  Given all of the technology out there, how do we help creators and parents decide what “quality” media is for young children?  Lisa Guernsey at the New America Foundation wrote an excellent blog about the event.

But my question is really to parents… what questions are you asking before downloading new material for your young children? Who are you asking for advice? How do you decide what IS and what is NOT quality media for your children?  Help!  How do you decide what is quality media for your young children?

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Filed under Elementary School Age, Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers