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Does Television Make Toddlers Smarter?

By ilanawiles |

Mazzy’s favorite thing to do is point at things and ask, “What’s that?” It’s less about her finding out the answer and more about testing Mommy. Unfortunately, I have gotten the answer wrong, more than once.

We were reading a book which contained drawings of different animals. She pointed to one and said, “What’s that?”

“It’s a chipmunk,” I said.

“No, it’s not. It’s a beaver.”

I looked closer and realized she was right. Telltale flat tail perfect for building dams. When did she learn the difference between a chipmunk and a beaver? A skill I had clearly never fully developed.

Then a few days later, we were in a toy store and Mazzy was looking at a selection of animal miniatures. I told her she could pick one. She narrowed her options down to two.

“Do you want the giraffe or the tiger?” I asked innocently.

“That’s not a tiger. It’s a jaguar.”

“Oh … I think you’re right …” I said.

When we got home, I actually googled “difference between tigers and jaguars” so that I was sure to know the difference next time (stripes vs. spots, DUH). Although now I’m not sure I know the difference between a jaguar and a cheetah. Or a leopard for that matter. I should ask my daughter, I bet she could set me straight.

The thing is, Mazzy absorbs EVERYTHING. And although I used to know exactly where she picked up words and phrases (since she learned only from repetition), now I have no idea where she gets some of the things that pop out of her mouth.

Like this evening, we were reading a book before bedtime and there was a picture of a ruler.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“It’s a ruler.” I said. I wasn’t getting this one wrong.

“Oh,” she replied. “For measuring things?”

Again, I was floored. Who taught her about measuring? And how does she know to associate it with a ruler?

Honestly, I think it’s television. It’s the only place where she is constantly exposed to concepts that are more advanced than her two years.

I’m almost positive the reason my daughter can identify a jaguar is due to time logged watching “Diego.”

And I bet “Wonder Pets is somehow responsible for her knowing the difference between a chipmunk and a beaver.

I owe the growth of her imagination at least partly to “Abby Cadabby.” How do I know this? Because, every time something is broken, she tells me Abby can fix it with her wand. Her new favorite game is waving her wand over her father and me and turning us into various domesticated animals. “You’re a cat!” “You’re a dog!” Then she pretends to feed us treats.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if her constant questions about whether mommy is happy, mad or sad come from watching the highly emotional “Calliou.”

I know toddlers aren’t supposed to watch too much TV (if any), but is it wrong to think my daughter is benefitting greatly from it? Kid’s shows, like “Sesame Street,” are geared to a wide age range so I imagine she’s taught things a step beyond what she learned in her toddler transitions class— a class completely geared to kids just turning two.

“Sesame Street,” “Blue’s Clues,” “Sid the Science Kid” (maybe Sid taught Mazzy about measuring?)— they all offer a different kind of education than the people around her provide. After all, PBS Kids has been researching child development a lot longer than someone who just became a parent two years ago.

Obviously, television isn’t the be-all and end-all for child education. We are still sending our daughter to preschool next year and not just sticking her in front of a flatscreen. And we make tons of time for active play and interaction.

But I have to believe that time spent with certain children’s programs, programs created by people who have been studying the way kids’ brains develop way longer than most parents, can give kids an edge on learning, too.

Read more of Ilana’s writing at Mommy Shorts.
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About ilanawiles



Ilana Wiles writes Mommy Shorts, a humor blog geared towards new parents. She is one of Babble's Top 100 Mom Blogs and one of The Huffington Post's top 20 women to follow on Instagram. She lives in NYC with her husband, 2-year-old daughter and a newborn baby girl. Read bio and latest posts → Read ilanawiles's latest posts →

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9 thoughts on “Does Television Make Toddlers Smarter?

  1. Nani says:

    My daughter doesn’t necessarily watch tv, although she does watch tv shows that I download and have available for her on my ipad and tv. Things like Super why, between the lions, Bubble Guppies, Team umi zoomi I think really broadens their horizons the things she asks me about or asks about just amazes me. I always felt guilty with her watching tv but at least now I know she is learning somethings I doubt I could/or would have thought to teach her. (btw she starts preschool this fall as well)

  2. Jessie says:

    I take my girls to swim almost every weekend. My oldest is 5 1/2. My youngest is 2 1/2. On one of those trips my youngest kept saying a word in spanish then she would say Mommy “help me”. I finally figured out she was saying “ayudame” which means “help me” in Spanish. She has also corrected on me on the types of animals we see in her books we read at night. One night I said the animal was a hyena and she corrected me and said it was a coyote. She was right! She learns these things watching GO Diego GO. So I’m in favor of some tv time if there is a lesson involved. I mean I can guarantee she wouldn’t have learned ayudame just talking to the family.

  3. Erin says:

    Oh, Calliou, how I loathe thee. My son loves Calliou and I can HEAR Calliou in his voice when he says things like “Whyyyyy?” and “But I don’t waaaaaant to.” Calliou is a pretty whiny kid!!

    But I DO think some TV makes my kid smarter, absolutely! His other favorite show is Team Umizoomi and seriously, my kid, who is not even three yet, is REALLY good at counting things and identifying shapes and figuring out patterns, and a lot of that comes from that show.

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