Family Engagement

Using Multimedia to Foster Young Students’ Learning at Home

Early childhood teachers can recommend high-quality media resources to help spark intergenerational learning at home.

September 21, 2023
FG Trade Latin / iStock

Partnering with families to support children’s development and learning at home and school is a key component of an early educator’s role. Teachers often hold open houses, distribute family newsletters and resources, and meet with families individually to learn about children’s languages, cultures, routines, and interests. However, an effective strategy for fostering family partnerships is often overlooked: sharing high-quality media resources that support intergenerational learning (IGL).

IGL happens when adults and children engage in shared experiences, interact and talk with each other about what they are doing or viewing, and learn from and about one another. Similar to serve-and-return interactions that foster connection between infants and their caregivers, IGL experiences are bidirectional and contribute to children’s brain development. They also promote children’s cognitive and social and emotional learning (SEL) and school-readiness skills

Even small moments of IGL can have big impacts on young children’s development and learning, and media resources can help foster these powerful interactions. Below, I share the types of videos that elicited demonstrable IGL results, followed by recommendations for finding and sharing media resources that will spark such connections among your students and their families.

Intergenerational Learning and Children’s Media

Children between the ages of 4 and 7 spend an average of two hours a day interacting with media—watching shows, using apps, and playing online games. Researchers at the Center for Children and Technology at the Education Development Center, where I work as a science educator and teacher researcher, evaluated the impact of media resources on children and made recommendations about choosing, using, and assessing children’s learning from media in ways that honor development. 

The center recently partnered with families of 4- to 7-year-olds across the country to study PBS Kids Ready to Learn resources to learn more about the characteristics of children’s media that promote co-viewing and playing, extended conversations, and off-screen activities between children and families. We found that media resources, including animated and live-action videos and digital games, are more likely to prompt IGL when they comprise the following characteristics.

Focus on family, heritage, culture, and/or social issues 

After co-viewing the live-action video PBS Kids Talk About... Relationships and Family, in which children, parents, and grandparents discuss what makes their relationships special, parents reported having rich conversations with their children around the question, “What makes a family?” 

A clip from the show Molly of Denali, in which Molly and a friend proudly describe their heritage, and the digital game Molly’s Winter Kitchen, in which the player helps Molly and her mother preserve foods for the Alaskan winter, sparked lively family conversations about traditions as well as the practices of families from other cultures. 

Parents also reported that Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum (I am Harriet Tubman) helped them talk about slavery with their young children and introduce an important historical figure—one who resonated with them from their own school years and served as a model of bravery and persistence.

Center SEL and family/community roles and routines 

Resources that focus on SEL align tightly with many families’ priorities. Our recent study revealed that the Daniel Tiger Neighborhood video Little Helpers and the game Sesame Street: A Job for Me prompted families to create job charts, role-play different jobs, and encourage children to contribute more to household tasks. 

Animated videos such as Flying Flapjacks and the game Ruff’s Cookie Creator launched ongoing family cooking routines. The live-action video PBS Kids Talk About... Self-Confidence and Determination prompted conversations about strategies, such as practicing, that can support self-confidence. And parents reported that animated Jelly, Ben, and Pogo resources sparked conversations about dealing with difficult emotions and the importance of owning up to and fixing mistakes.

Model open-ended activities 

In our study, how-to live-action videos related to building and creating launched extensive off-screen family engagement, critical thinking, and problem-solving. The videos Build and Test Paper Bridges and Explore Gravity and Friction with Marble Ramps intrigued parents and children, stimulating strategizing. Many parents were responsive to children’s art interests and enjoyed viewing and playing Pinkalicious & Peterrific and Scribbles and Ink, which encourage children to take the lead in creative activities as caregivers play a supportive role, building agency. 

Recommendations for sharing media resources with families

These media resources and the findings our study elicited give way to generalizable best practices for sharing media resources with families at school. First, recommend media resources sparingly, and ensure that families don’t perceive them as homework. Instead, stress the critical role that families play in supporting their children’s learning, including learning from media, and be explicit about how a resource supports a parent priority: SEL, critical thinking, problem-solving, etc.

You might make direct connections between the focus of a media resource and your standards-based learning goals or provide tips to leverage the IGL potential of media resources by suggesting questions parents can ask to stimulate conversations (e.g., “What makes our family special?” or “How can we work together to get our chores done?”). 

Sharing strategies that activate off-screen activities, such as “Introduce your child to a helper in your community” or “Help your child build or create something using materials you have at home,” further promotes interactivity. And adapting activities modeled in media can make them more relevant; for example, rather than making cookies, suggest making a favorite family recipe. Throughout, encourage caregivers’ introducing and using new vocabulary—presented through the media—repeatedly over time to boost children’s understanding.

Sharing high-quality, research-based media resources has the potential to foster IGL within families, adding another tool to your toolbox of strategies for building and supporting rich home-school partnerships that feel meaningful to all involved.

Author’s note: I would like to thank my colleague, Regan Vidiksis, for her contributions to this post.

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  • Media Literacy
  • Pre-K
  • K-2 Primary

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