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Evaluating Educational Value of Children’s Television and Media

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I am author of 'Children, Film and Literacy' (2013) published by Palgrave Macmillan. My research focuses on the relationship between the narratives created for children, in different media, and those they themselves create. I research using creative and collaborative methods in formal and informal learning contexts, drawing on sociocultural theories of literacy, identity and learning.


‘Grandpa in my Pocket’ is a live action drama for young children aged 4 – 6 yrs. First produced in 2008 with subsequent series in 2009, 2010 and 2013 the programme was created by Adastra Creative for CBeebies, and also has a website, several games and a theatre production. Screened in over 104 countries, winning one Bafta award and nominated for three more, certainly the programme is a success in terms of audience reach and peer recognition. However, Adastra’s Development Producer, Martin Franks asked me to review the educational value of the programme to children and it’s to this that I turned my attention.

Young children play and through that play they learn about themselves and about the world. Stories and especially television and film stories provide children with important resources for imaginative play (Marsh, 2000; Parry 2013). Imaginative or socio-dramatic play enables conceptual, linguistic, social and emotional development in young children (Moyles, 2010) and therefore, regardless of medium, the stories, they base their play on are of great significance. However, as we have heard in the news headlines this week children’s live action drama and, indeed, children’s television in the UK is under threat and children’s film production is almost non-existent.

In such a challenging market place the educational value of children’s media is high on the commissioning priorities. Yet, all too often, the educational value of children’s media is measured in literal and reductive notions of didactic learning. Programmes are expected to include overt teaching of counting or colour mixes, for example. As Buse elaborates:

‘I think broadcasters have a tendency to want the “learn” of any show to be very obvious. Parents also like this. They like to think that time their children spend in front of the screen will result in some kind of concrete “learning” of letters, numbers, how to make things or learning about nature etc. It makes parents feel more comfortable about screen time and the channel will get parental loyalty.’

However, just as with a good picture book or indeed a folk tale or fairy story, the most value in terms of children’s learning is within the fabric of the story (Meek, 2011). In this context I undertook an evaluation of the educational value of ‘Grandpa.’ The findings of this analysis highlight the importance of familiar and repeated plot structures to the development of children’s ability to read and understand stories, equipping them with the ability to anticipate and predict - a key skill for reading in all media. The inventive use of humour, visual style and language are also found to be key contributors to the educational value of the programme. The role reversing representations of children and adults, puts children at the centre of the narrative as active problem solvers who can think for themselves.

The full report is freely available at the link below. I would be very happy to make the draft framework for evaluation of educational value to anyone interested in undertaking their own review.

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