As the years go by, the wisdom taught by Fred Rogers seems to grow ever truer. Nobody — including Fred Rogers — could foresee the digitized media environment in which we would raise our kids. Nonetheless, he provided some remarkable insight with the power to transform the way we use media to teach our children.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning,” Rogers said. “But for children, play is serious learning.”
Children play in lots of ways. As a child, my play-time centered around chasing a ball, riding a bike or building a fort.
Kids still spend time outdoors but they also play in virtual worlds, complete missions, and share photos and videos. Based on recent research, however, we do not need to express great concern for that children learning in virtual spaces. With careful planning, the virtual play worlds of today’s children do not necessarily translate as any less valuable than the learning we experienced as kids.
Researchers at Texas Tech University (including myself), Vanderbilt University, and University of South Dakota recently published a study in which they sent home a tablet with preschool-aged children. In accordance with instructions given, children played with a preloaded app (either the “Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings” app or a “control” app) for at least 10 minutes and to watched an episode of either Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or a “control” program every day for two weeks. After the two-week study period, scientists measured several learning outcomes, including kids’ emotion regulation (being able to control one’s emotions) and emotion knowledge (being able to identify and recognize common emotions). They measured the same outcomes again one month later.
What I found surprised me. Thousands upon thousands of apps appeared — all of them labelled “educational.” The parenting conundrum is clear — how can parents sift through all these apps to find one or two truly educational apps to download for kids to use? How many of these apps undergo rigorous testing to determine that kids actually learn what is being taught? How do parents accomplish the impossible?
We do what Fred Rogers taught: “Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job,” he said. “Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds.”
The legacy of Mister Rogers has again risen to the top with “Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings” app. And as a parent, knowing that I now have one more tool to help teach my kids gives me comfort.
Thank you, again, Mister Rogers.
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