One Teacher’s Permission: Turn on the TV and Tune Out the Guilt

By April 27, 2020 No Comments


You may have read my recent post re: screen time during Covid-19. Soon after posting, I was introduced to an outstanding teacher based in Brooklyn, New York.  Sarah Scheldt, veteran educator and parent coach,  had much to add to the conversation, including the amazing tips she shares with with all of us below.  Sarah uses the strategies from her classroom to empower and support parents with the academic, behavioral, social, and emotional development of their children at home. Her goal is to make parenting with confidence and peace of mind possible.

When you read her suggestions for embracing television as your friend and as an educational tool in your living room, her passion is clear. So now if you ask, can I ease my grip on tv screen time?, I can say, yes. Why? Because the teacher told me so. (Children spending more time online will be addressed in a separate post.)

Advice From Teacher and Coach Sarah Scheldt

If you would have asked me a few months ago about how much programmed TV time your child should be watching, I would talk to you about limits and boundaries, and maybe even give you a laundry list of alternatives, this is not that time!

NEWS FLASH: THIS IS A PANDEMIC, NOTHING IS NORMAL. Even pediatricians say families shouldn’t worry too much about screen time, but make sure it’s not interfering with sleep and relationships.

These days many of us are struggling to balance work life with teaching our children at home, leading to growing guilt about the amount of screentime, specifically television time, our children and students have been getting. As a teacher, I have been called upon to impart some wisdom around how much television our children should be watching these days.

The truth is I am a generational TV watcher. As a Christmas gift my grandma bought all of the grandkids their own small television set. I was eight. 

My grandma loved television so much that she would record shows on her VHS. She had a room full of video recordings, stacked three deep.  As kids we learned quickly to fast forward past the FBI warnings on HBO. Who needed Blockbuster when you had Grandma? She was like a DVR service before it was invented. If I had a school event that caused me to miss my  favorite show, I only needed to ask grandma to record it for me. Then I could watch it  “on demand”. She even knew how to “pause” the recording to skip over commercials. 

So as we  try to find some middle ground, between a few moments of peace and our children turning into zombies, let me give you my permission to plunk your kids down in front of the old tube. 

However, if you still feel the need to make your child’s time with the television more meaningful, below I have offered a few ways to help. 

Take In Some Culture

As the old saying goes, “the show must go on”, and with sites like BroadwayHD and Classic fm everything from Hamilton to Cats can now be seen without leaving your couch. 

You can also now explore some of the fantastic zoo exhibits, national parks, museums, and art galleries from all over the world. 

These virtual experiences make it possible for your kids to:

  • talk about what they are seeing, learning, or find interesting
  • act out or recreate the shows and exhibits through various art mediums, building blocks, or other items around the house
  • discover new places around the world, on a globe, or on a map

This will not only increase their ability to process and make new meaning, but it is great way to build vocabulary

You be the Writer 

It’s always a little sad when our new favorite show or movie comes to an end, but using the characters that we have come to know and love can be a great jumping off point to start drawing or writing our own stories. 

Encourage your child to think about writing:

  • their own sequel
  • a story that branches off for one of the characters
  • a new twist or a different ending altogether

Closed Caption

In countries such as Finland, children do not formally learn to read until the age of seven, and yet they consistently have some of the highest reading scores in the world. Much of this success can be attributed to reading subtitles in their home language. 

Subtitles and captions can help children with words:

  • identification
  • meaning
  • acquisition
  • retention

So when your sanity calls for putting your child in front of the television, be sure the closed captions are visible. 

Character Study

In most shows or movies, characters go through a transformation or journey. Some characters solve a problem, while others might learn a valuable lesson. 

Help your child to build their comprehension skills, by first using their favorite TV characters. 

Here is a list of what children can notice while they are watching:

  • What are the characters’ traits or characteristics?
  • What is the character mostly like all of the time and what are they like in this particular episode? 
  • What actions are the characters taking, and what is the impact of those actions?
  • What feelings go along with the plot?
  • What is the character’s motivation?

These questions can then be easily transferred into the books that kids are reading.

Compare and Contrast

Oftentimes what we watch is based on a book, or books are created based on some of our favorite movies and characters.  

Comparing and contrasting two pieces of work, or having conversations with students about what is the same and what is different, is a standard that spans grades K-12. 

Student can begin to compare and contrast:

  • What is the same and what is different when it comes to a movie versus the book version.
  • How are the characters the same or different in a series of episodes?
  • What other books or movies are the same or different than the one currently being watched?

You can even make a game out of it to see who can find and list the most items in each category. This will encourage children to watch with a purpose.

At the end of the day we all have a choice. We can either exist during this time with worry, stress, and negativity, or we can choose to live and  be grateful for the quality time we get to spend with our families.

Take time out from your busy day, pop some popcorn, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

You have my approval.

Sarah Scheldt www.sarahscheldt.com