Posted by: Ticktock | January 16, 2010

No Television: An Update

One thing is for sure, this strategy of removing television has made it extra difficult to avoid comparing the intelligence of other kids to my own. There’s an inherent danger with plotting your child’s literacy on a grid against her peers because it’s quite easy to cross the line into jealousy if she doesn’t excel or gloating if she does.

That being said, I’m writing this to compare my children to themselves. We often highlight the achievements of our children and leave their faults unspoken, and the reason probably comes down to the fact that we want to take responsibility for their successes and not for their failures. Ultimately, both the best and worst traits of our children are likely a reflection of our own assets and liabilities as parents, and we might as well come to grips with our influences so that we can do our best to adjust.

In the past two weeks, my kids have only been offered two hours of television per weekend. Some people do zero TV and see results, some people do more TV and see results, we are doing a strict TV diet, which has been working for our family.

Sasha (age 5) has shown the most improvement in her literacy. She went from being illiterate two weeks ago to reading the entirety of “Hop On Pop” over Skype to her grandma a few days ago.

Juliet (age 2.5) has had a tougher time learning her letters, but she’s made a ton of progress from her previous alphabet ignorance. The first letters she learned were J-O-B-S (if only Obama could assimilate those letters); we’ve also been seeing success with T-H-X.  Recently, she’s stumbled on the vowels A & E, confusing the two even when we’ve just worked on one or the other. We haven’t even tried most of the others.

What I’ve realized is that I need to let Juliet learn at her own pace. The average child begins learning and understanding alphabet letters around age 3 or in pre-school. There’s this idea that many parents have in their heads that literacy MUST come early, that precocious literacy will predict future success, and that it’s fair to compare our children to outliers like Mozart and other geniuses. Really now, we can hammer our kids brains like a sculptor does a bronze statue, or we can nurture them at a fair and reasonable pace like a gardener and his plants. Both tactics will get results, but one will make your kid a lot happier (perhaps healthier).

One other thing, the moderate success we’ve had in literacy is merely because I’ve reshuffled my priorities and started focusing on educating them. Turning off the television was not a magical panacea that fixed everything, nor did it create shock waves of resentment and confusion.

Banning TV is not something that I recommend for everyone. I’m one of those people that needs to give 100% commitment to a project because when I leave myself a loophole, I sometimes lack the self-discipline to see it through.

Sasha and Juliet, by the way, have not missed it. Other than the occasional request to watch Scooby Doo, they have not even shown visible signs of missing the TV in our family room. The cable guy came and pulled the plug, but we’re still breathing. We’ve just been spending more time making pillow forts, cardboard clubhouses, and playing board games. Life could be worse.



  1. Getting rid of TV, and by the way the computer, allows for more interactions among household members and therefore more learning opportunities. Studies have shown that young children learn more language (and I suspect other skills) through interactions with others than from electronic equipment. Kudos for getting rid of the TV.

  2. Oh dear. It is relatively late on a Saturday night. But I do have to at least indicate that I’m not sure that you are on the right path.

    Juliet (age 2.5) has had a tougher time learning her letters

    As educational therapist and as a mother and grandmother, it isn’t clear to me that a 30-months-old child should be “learning her letters”(do you mean, being able to recite the alphabet in order?)

    [Gone away to think a bit]

    OK, if you want your children to enter schooling with a sound literacy foundation, I highly recommend Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons

    I have more to say, but for tonight, I’ve run out of steam.

    • That’s my point, Liz. I’ve been on the wrong path. I would gladly accept your advice on the matter. To answer your question, she can sing the alphabet song – I just mean recognizing letters, which I admit that I’ve pushed on her before she’s ready.

      • I’ve been an adult literacy teacher for many years and can recommend Laubach’s Way to Reading. The first level teaches the “names and sounds of letters.” It only shows the lower case letters and does all the consonents before the vowels. The way it teaches is to relate the shape of each letter to a picture or “key word.” Example: This is a picture of a bird with a long tail and round body (his tail is up, pecking the ground). This is a letter that looks like a bird with a long tail and a round body. Bird begins with , read . E-mail me if you want more info on it. I can probably scan the charts and email them over.

      • Damn it. Didn’t realize that the way I was showing the letter b was also the html code for bold. Sorry about that.

  3. As for TV: I don’t think pulling the plug is the answer, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing either. After polling many students for many years, I’ve noticed that just having certain TV boundries/restrictions is a big factor. So letting them have some on weekends is fine.

    As for literacy: I have a lot to say on this as well, but I’ll leave it up to Mem Fox, Jim Trelease and Stphen Krashen. They all have websites and they all have excellent books. Mem Fox: Reading Magic. Jim Trelease: The Read Aloud Handbook. Stephen Krashen: Reading Power.

    But yeah, learning the ABC song/letter names doesn’t really have anything to do with reading or literacy.

    The best thing you can do is find out what they’re into and read out loud to them every day. And I mean every day until they move out of your house–NOT just until they can read on their own.

    The next best thing is to find books and magazines about stuff THEY like and put them in baskets by their beds, in the bathroom, and in the back seat of the cars (without any DVD players or other junk) and they’ll surprise you.

    Oh, and the other best thing: have fun!

    • Thanks. I’ll take your advice, TN.

  4. What TeacherNinja said about reading to them. But also nursery rhymes and singing!

    Now, I can’t carry a tune in a handbasket with both hands, so I used a lot of different CDs for us to sing along to.

    Here’s an informative youtube video giving some game prompts for increasing phonemic (phonological) awareness

    here are two others that explain PA for the 3-5 year old set.

    Reading Rockets is a wonderful free site loaded with information and activities. Here’s their page on phonemic awareness, which has links to some useful videos.

    Then again, PA can be nurtured in the preschool set, but it really starts to develop in early reading, in sort of a spiral.

    Another thing you could do is buy and read “Straight Talk About Reading”

    They have a lot of activities to do in the home at the end of the book, some of which might be fun to do with the littlest person.

    As far as handwriting (producing the letters)– 2.5 is far to young to expect fine motor control. Get or make an easel and give Ms. 2.5 plenty of time to paint or color, standing at the easel. The big space encourages big shapes, which is developmentally more appropriate than sitting at a table with an 8.5 x 11 sheet.

  5. Our son has been able to “read” all his letters and numbers since before he was 2. At 27 months, he now has all his lowercase letters. We didn’t do anything specifically to promote this (except have lots of books in the house). He just loves to “read”.

    We don’t own a TV.

    • Bah. I’m not listening. I’m not listening. La la la la la… *sticks fingers in ears*

    • Same here. Our oldest daughter learned to recognize all the uppercase letters at 21 months old, and lowercase not too long after that. Also no TV for to her in our house, but there is lots of reading. One day we taught her what the letter ‘A’ looked like and she just decided she wanted to learn all of the others because they show up so much in her books.

      We read to her at least a couple of hours a day, and she “reads” (looks at books) on her own as well. Reading to her is built into our schedules, kinda like TV gets to be for others, so it’s no real problem. Overall, my hunch is that one-on-one time in general is probably best for promoting learning, not necessarily just reading. TV just kind of kills the interaction.

      It’s really fun when she grabs one of mommy & daddy’s books (with no pictures) and starts “reading” it to us. The stories are great.

      …and if I can brag just a bit more, she had this toy that sings the ABC’s. You should have seen her when she discovered the switch that makes it sing in Spanish. She learned to sing the Spanish ABCs very quickly and loved dancing to the song when sung in Spanish. She doesn’t remember them very well now because we don’t have that toy around and my wife and I haven’t worked on singing them with her. However, it was fun to see the pediatrician’s face at a ear-check visit when he her her singing the (english) ABC’s and he said, “Wow! You ALREADY can sing her ABCs” and our daughter said, “in spanish too” and then sung them.

  6. On the question of spelling, my parents gave us this board book with magnetic letters called “First Words”. Each page has a word with a picture above or below it spelled out as outlines. The idea is to find the corresponding magnet and place it over the right letter to spell the word. My toddler can do this one all day. Too bad we lost the ‘i’!

  7. Oh, jeez, don’t get me started on spelling. It’s a waste of time. Good readers are good spellers. “Teaching” spelling, especially w/ out of context lists-is a waste of time.

  8. I can’t be the only one amused by the irony of turning off the TV to learn the letters THX and A&E, can I? Or is that just evidence that I need to get outside more myself…?

    We limit our 2.5 year-old to a half hour of TV after breakfast and a half hour after dinner, and are very strict about content. So far we’ve been able to convince him that Spongebob only exists on Jet Blue flights – the TV at home only plays Dinosaur Train and Super Why.

  9. The History Channel and TLC, A&E, TLC before they went mainstream are why I am working on a PhD in history.

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