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Are television and audio hurting or helping literacy?

We are continuing with the summer book study of  “The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition” by Jim Trelease with a review of Chapter 8: Television and Audio: Hurting or Helping Literacy?



Talking about how much TV children watch can be a hot topic.  And with the introduction of more and more “screens” in our lives (computers, electronic games, iPads, etc.) – monitoring a child’s screen-time can become a full time job for some parents.  And parents not only need to consider the amount of TIME spent on these devices or watching TV — but the CONTENT has to be monitored as well.  Mr. Trelease starts this chapter by asking about the presence of TV in the family … is it positive, negative or null and void?


Mr. Trelease mentions that television can play a positive role for information sharing and raising public awareness (think in terms of reporting on wars, 9/11 and natural disasters).  And he also talked about the positive impact that Oprah’s Book Club had on reading.  Television as a form of entertainment and information sharing can be harmless … (but here’s the key) … only in the right doses.  Just like anything else that can be considered harmless or even good for us; in excessive doses those same things can become harmful. Children need our help in controlling how much TV and other “screen-time” they have so that the affects do not become harmful to them.  I like TV.  My kids like TV.  But finding the right balance is important.


It is not so much what children are doing while they watch multiple hours of TV; it is the experiences they are not having that make the viewing so dangerous.  — [pg. 183]

I love that statement, because it is so truthful in it’s simplicity. To drive that point home, Mr. Trelease shares the incredible story of Sonya Carson (mother of Dr. Ben Carson) and how she controlled the dosage of TV for her children, and thereby affecting their lives in a positive way.  You can read that synopsis of the story in this chapter or check out “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” by Dr. Ben Carson.

Does the amount of TV viewing affect literacy and learning?  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a limit of 10 hours a week, and no TV for children under age 2.  Mr. Trelease states that research findings show that school-age children, who watched up to 10 hours a week of TV showed no detrimental effects on learning.  BUT, for children who watched more than that – scores began to decline (and the average student today watches three times that amount). 


And again, he is quick to point out that in looking at the AMOUNT of TV viewing a child does … the academic damage that is being done is in what the child is NOT doing during that time.

While a child is watching TV, he/she is NOT …

  • playing games
  • doing chores
  • drawing
  • working on a hobby
  • playing with friends
  • doing homework
  • doing physical exercise, such as bike riding or throwing a ball

All those things listed above are important for a child’s development – socially, emotionally, physically and academically.  So again, in the simplest terms possible – if the TV is turned off more often – it frees up children to do other things that are important for their development.  There are great examples of families who took control of TV viewing that you can read about in this chapter.  I recommend giving it a closer look and taking away strategies that may work in our own homes.


This part is near and dear to my heart.  My youngest is fanatical about books-on-tape.  She listens to one every night (after her own reading or story read to her).  So the question raised in this section is “are stories on tape OK for children?“.

If the audio is used as a full-time substitute for a literate parent, no, they’re not okay.  But if used to supplement your readings or used by children whose parents are illiterate or unavailable, they are excellent!” – [pg. 196]

Whew!  Again, it’s all in how the technology is being used.  Mr. Trelease points out that as Americans spend more time in their cars listening to iPods; audiobooks have become more popular. This is a great example of how technology can be used to promote literacy.

Even when the audio story is used as “background noise” during a child’s play, they are hearing and learning new vocabulary.  You can even take the available technology to another level by recording stories in your own voice, or having distant relatives do the same to add a personal touch to a favorite story (what a wonderful idea!).

Will audio books make children “print lazy”?

Mr. Trelease points out that it’s just the opposite – and that the biggest users of audio books were the most literate people in America.  Thinking to all we’ve learned from previous chapters about how children can listen to a story that is at a higher level than what they can actually read on their own — it makes sense that a person who spends time listening to an audio book will continue to increase their vocabulary and story comprehension.

It makes me think back to this quote from Chapter 2 …

Listening comprehension feeds reading comprehension.“ – [pg 67]


I hope you enjoyed this Chapter review.  I am really learning a lot from this book and following along with others on this study.  What do you think about Chapter 8?  Is there anything you will do differently or will start to do in regards to your families’ use of TV and audio?  Feel free to share your comments below!


Follow the book study

New to the book study?  Visit the overview of the book study at Pre-K Pages.

Looking for next review?  Next up will be a review of Chapter 9 from Matt at Look at my Happy Rainbow on August 5!

I have also put together a post with a timeline for the book study, so check that out as you read along with us!




  • Vanessa @Pre-K Pages

    Great review of chapter 8 Laura! What Jim said on pg 196 about using audio recordings with children whose parents are illiterate or unavailable was very powerful for me. Having worked exclusively in Title 1 schools this has always been an obstacle. Our parents are often illiterate in their native language and English, each parent works 2 or more jobs so they are completely unavailable. Several years ago we wrote a grant for iPods. We recorded our own voices reading the most popular children’s books and sent the iPods and books home with the kids (one each night.) It was a huge success because these were the kids who didn’t have any print in the home and weren’t being read to. I just love this book!!! Thanks for joining us, I can’t wait to read what others have to say about this chapter.

    • Laura Eldredge

      Wow Vanessa .. what a great use of a grant to promote literacy! That is fantastic, and I think something teachers and family members could easily do. Our preK always tries to get new books on tape/CD each year from Scholastic (after our bookfair) to have in the classrooms for children to be able to listen to – but I think it would also be great to lend those out more to families as well.

  • Carol Belanger

    I have to admit I am behind in my reading, but after this great chapter review I will get on it. From the review what stuck out for me……..everything is good for us in moderation.

    • Laura Eldredge

      Thanks for commenting, Carol! I liked this chapter as it really hit home for me as a parent. Yes, everything in moderation – I know that TV and screens can be so addicting to kids (and adults), so we have to help children monitor their viewing.

  • Lorrie Looper

    We got the Ben Carson story on Netflix recently and I really enjoyed it. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it is worth watching for sure! As a grandmother of two young children, I want to be sure that I have a positive influence on my grandchildren by letting them see me read more than seeing me sitting in front of a television. I think my 5 year old grandson already likes TV too much, so I plan on changing what occurs when I spend time with him to ensure that he spends more time with books and other interactive activities. I know my daughter does limit his time in front of a TV screen and both parents read to him daily, but I want to make sure she knows the facts about TV and young kids, so I want to share the information from this chapter with her. Laura, your recap was wonderful. Thanks for bringing out those high points.

    • Laura Eldredge

      Thanks for your comment, Lorrie! I loved the story about Sonya Carson … definitely drives the points of this chapter home. That is great to share the info from this chapter with your daughter – I know that as I read it, it gave me pause and will help me shape how I continue to monitor the TV viewing of my own kids.

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