Lucy Le Bohec U0901182
Blue’s Clues Ad.: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/30891947421648273/
I decided to investigate the well known, slightly outdated television series, Blue’s Clues, an educational program that dynamically combines animation and live action for preschoolers. As a 4 and 5 year old, I regularly watched this program and found it fairly fascinating, though I do not remember feeling particularly enlightened after having watched my allotted one episode per day (if that). As we all know, there is immense debate over the effects of exposure to television on infants, from how much exposure is healthy and at what age exposure is acceptable, to which programs are okay to let children watch and what their effects on children may be. These are all valid concerns; as Bornstein states in Development in Infancy (5th edition), the age bracket these programs are targeting is extremely sensitive to sensory and cognitive input with regards to development of attention and social skills and visual perception. In the context of the television debate, attention skills are of supreme importance. They dictate what cognitive and social information the infant absorbs as the infant’s attention is attracted to various stimuli. In other words, even from a very young age, infants’ attentions filter through information, and the information that captures an infant’s attention may have a significant impact on the infant’s development of cognitive and social skills. In the words of Bornstein, “attention is the gateway to perception” (142).
In the article, “Media and Young Children’s Learning”, the authors review research pertaining to the effects of television on infant development. It turns out, such effects are highly variable and depend on a host of factors including age, quantity of exposure, and content. The authors walk the reader through a brief history of theory and research about children’s exposure to media, which leads into a breakdown of the specific areas of cognitive development that are involved in viewing media; these include perception, the ability to learn and attention skills, which the the authors relate to research done about specific shows, one of which is Blue’s Clues. As the authors go through research, it becomes clear that the most important factors in developmental effects of media on children are content, followed by age. Educational programs (versus purely entertaining ones) at the right age are positively correlated with later academic and social achievement. As for age, research shows that children younger than two struggle to distinguish between reality and what happens on a screen, and furthermore cannot distinguish between program content and commercials, meaning they cannot truly perceive programs and absorb the potential positive effects, rather they are left with the issues conventionally associated with media exposure, namely poor attention skills. From here, the article explains techniques that both parents and producers of programs can use to maximize the positive results of media on infants based on the reviewed research, such as greater integration of educational and narrative content, repetition of ideas and themes, consideration of viewer demographics and parent coviewing. The article also addresses difficulties with research in this domain. It is often hard to separate the effects of media from the effects of family composition and socioeconomic status because children from different backgrounds are more or less likely to be exposed to different kinds of media and different quantities and types of engagement with media; for example, a child from lower socioeconomic backgrounds is more likely to watch programs designed purely for entertainment as he/she is more likely to be left to his/her own devices while his/her parent(s) is working. So research about media effects on infant development must be considered carefully.
The specific research the authors present regarding Blue’s Clues is relatively simple but has significant entailments for the value of the show. As a program that focuses on problem solving, it is natural to test whether children who watch Blue’s Clues have better problem solving abilities than those who don’t; researchers led by Jennings Bryant monitored two groups of preschoolers who either did watch the show (Group 1) or did not (Group 2), making sure that the two groups did not differ in problem solving skills prior to the study. After two years, Group 1 faired much better than Groups 2 in a variety of aspects, particularly problem solving. In another study, children were assigned an episode of Blue’s Clues to watch either once or five times (once daily for five days) or not at all. This study showed that those who watched the episode once outperformed those who did not watch it, and those who watched the episode five times showed better comprehension than those who watch it only once. Both studies show that Blue’s Clues does positively impact learning in young children, particularly in the domain of problem solving, and does so even more for those who watch regularly.
I guess Blue is indeed “a puppy every parent can say ‘yes’ to”.
- Kirkorian, H. L., Wartella, E. A., & Anderson, D. R. (2008). Media and Young Children’s Learning. The Future of Children, 18(1), 39-61. doi:10.1353/foc.0.0002
- Bornstein, M. H., Arterberry, M. E., & Lamb, M. E. (2014). Development in infancy: a contemporary introduction. New York: Psychology Press.