Sunday, February 21, 2010

Elmo is so Happy to See You; An Exploration of Literacy in the Toddler World


Lala Lala. Lala Lala. Elmo’s World. Lala Lala. Lala Lala. Elmo’s World. Elmo loves his goldfish, his crayons too. That’s Elmo’s World!

Hi! This is Elmo’s World. Elmo is so happy to see you…

For parents with young ones this dialogue is very familiar. Many parents might find his high-pitched voice grating. However, you have to admit, the kids love it. In fact Elmo’s World is so well received it practically saved the Sesame Street franchise from extinction. Subsequently, every Sesame Street episode airs a minimum of 18 minutes of Elmo content. Elmo also appears in a number of additional skits throughout the hour-long program. With this in mind, why do our children relate to Elmo so well? Is it his fur? Is it his singing? Is it Mr. Noodle’s silly antics?

More importantly, is Elmo good for your child? Fortunately, Elmo’s World is based on tons of research. The show always starts with his song and salutations. Elmo then introduces the topic that will be discussed and shows a quick video montage of the concept. He then proceeds to ask Mr. Noodles or one of the Noodle siblings for assistance followed by asking children to elaborate on the concept. The topic idea is then reinforced through cartoon shorts and other types of media. Young kids love the Elmo’s singing and use of exaggeration to demonstrate a point. They also love the fact that the show is routine oriented, which makes it easier for learning to take place.

So… can Elmo really help my child? I think this largely depends on your child’s learning style. After all, literacy is a funny thing. Some children are born, start speaking, and never stop. Some children are slightly delayed and some children are well… developmentally delayed. Many of us wonder why does one child start copying the words around him/her and the other one does not? Many educators, psychologists, neurologists, and other so-called experts have postulated a number of causes for this calamity. And so it is. We diagnose the child and try to rule out the more severe problems such as hearing, severe neurological disorders, and so on.

While the diagnostic is an important starting point, it is in fact… just a starting point. Ultimately we must inspire children to get excited about language. How does that work? In short, the text must have meaning; the text must matter. In the great tradition of Froebel and Montessori Elmo’s use of visuals and cute songs can help bring meaning to words, concepts, and language. Like all media materials, it is important that the parent/educator takes the time to review the materials, watch how their child responds to the stimulus, and conduct the follow up activities at a later time.

For example, if a parent were using the potty segment, he/she might want to discuss that word and associated words prior to the video viewing. After the video viewing, the parent might want to ask some related questions, take the child to the potty, or read a book related to the subject matter. The same holds true with Dora the Explorer. Dora’s show is also research based, teaches problem solving, is great for ELL students, follows a sequential pattern, and takes many opportunities to reinforce the lesson of the day. However, in the end the parent/educator/caregiver has to determine if this program helps bring meaning to the text and must conduct the appropriate pre and follow up activities. Luckily Elmo’s web site has loads of resources. The following is a list;

Elmo Brushes His Teeth

100th Day of School (free e-book)

Parent Tips for Potty Training

Healthy Eating

I hope this has been helpful and now its time to sing Elmo’s song.

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