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TV & Movies: Grade Schoolers

Father and son at a computer

At the age of six or seven, children begin to understand that people hold differing views. Around eight or nine, they start to discover that people have "inner lives"—that is, a person may think one thing but do another. Both of these developments make it possible for your child to begin thinking about television—and other forms of storytelling—in new ways.

Instead of zoning out in front of the set, your child can become an active viewer. How? By learning to ask questions about what he is seeing and hearing. Even if you don't know all the answers, wonder out loud with your child about the shows you watch together. This will let him know that TV shows don't have to be any one way. Instead, each show is the product of many decisions that people made along the way.

8 Ways to Make Your Child an Active Viewer

  1. Ask your child questions about what he sees and hears on TV.
    Take advantage of the control you have with a VCR. Or use commercial breaks to ask "why" and "how" questions rather than yes-or-no questions: I wonder why the writer had the actor say that? Did you notice that the scary music started to play just then?
  2. Talk to your child about why he likes certain characters.
    Your child may be looking for role models. You won't know why he finds certain characters appealing until you talk to him about what he thinks of as courageous, admirable or smart: Who do we know that does that? Is that character truly admirable or does he just look cool?
  3. Inspire your child to create images of her own.
    Remind your child that all images—on TV, websites or the side of a bus—are created by people. Then close the circle by pointing out that she can create pictures, too. Get her to take photographs, paint, draw or doodle—anything that spurs her to tell stories with images from her imagination. Keep pencils, crayons and other art materials near a table so she can express ideas that occur to her while watching TV. This is the first step in helping your grade schooler discover the value of the visual arts firsthand.
  4. Let your child peek behind the scenes of movies or TV.
    Your grade schooler may not realize how directors use camera angles, digital animation, stunt doubles, miniature models, make-up, costumes and other tools to create a fictional story. Talk together about these elements. Wonder aloud how various programs were made.
  5. Help your child create "fall-back" activities — including physical ones.
    Rather than flipping on the set at random, teach your child to select programs in advance. (Try to do the same yourself!) Help your child start some long-term projects—a collection, a puzzle, a scrapbook—that he can return to when bored. If the project requires a table or a special shelf to store materials, set aside space you won't need to disrupt.
  6. Attune your child to the sound of TV.
    Ask your grade schooler questions such as these: What music is used—and when? How do the voices of different characters sound? How is silence used? (Possible answers include to build suspense,to show that someone is deaf; to change the mood.)
  7. Make a game of "close viewing."
    See how many voices or accents, how many types of clothing or how many places you and your child can identify. This can be a good way to start a conversation about stereotypes; who is portrayed on TV? Who is missing?
  8. Avoid programs in which characters use violence to solve problems.
    When a character hits, kicks or bites his way out of a problem, point it out to your child. Ask him to come up with another way to solve the issue, such as negotiation or discussion. Explain that violence has very real consequences, but cartoons rarely show these.
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