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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 12:40 GMT
New media 'help toddlers learn'
children watching TV
The study found TV viewing was mainly a social activity
Parents think electronic media can help children under the age of six to learn vital skills, research suggests.

A Sheffield University study of more than 1,800 parents, part-funded by the BBC, said the media could have a positive impact on young children.

Other studies have said TV is damaging. The Sheffield team said people often saw new technologies as "unhealthy".

But parents it interviewed found that - used in a measured way - they could be "extremely useful tools".

Parents' views

The study, led by Dr Jackie Marsh, said children were "growing up in a digital world", immersed in new technologies and the media from the day they were born.

Parents said their young children generally led well-balanced lives in which popular culture and media were only part of their leisure activities.

"Engagement with media is generally active, not passive, and promotes play, speaking and listening and reading."

It was primarily a social, not individual, activity, taking place most often with other family members.

Parents felt their children learned a great deal from film and television and that they had "a positive impact on many aspects of their lives".

They also felt media education should be included in the school curriculum from a very young age and that schools should be doing more in this regard.


Staff in the early years centres visited for the study were also positive, although they did have concerns about "the perceived amount of time children spend on these activities".

They wanted more training in the use of information and communication technology, media and popular culture.

Staff felt the use of such media had "a positive impact on children's progress in speaking and listening and literacy" - although this study did not seek to check that.

Resources were generally better in state-maintained centres than in the independent sector, the report said.

It suggested better training was needed for early years staff, and support to acquire such things as digital cameras and interactive whiteboards.

On Thursday, the government announced an extra £125m of eLearning credits for schools.

They can put the credits towards such things as virtual theatres, specialist communications for children with speech difficulties and online multimedia newsrooms.

'Positive factor'

The Sheffield team said one of the implications of its research was that family literacy programmes could be made more relevant and interesting, given families' knowledge and use of new media.

Likewise, software developers and TV and film producers should work more closely with early years educators.

Dr Marsh said: "Children are immersed in popular culture, technology and the media from a very early age, and the study suggests that this influence can be a positive factor in development and learning.

"All too often people make the assumption that children's use of media and new technologies is in some way 'unhealthy', but the parents and carers I surveyed found that when used in a measured way, they can be extremely useful tools to teach vital life and social skills."

  • Digital beginnings: Young children's use of popular culture, media and new technologies, by Jackie Marsh, Greg Brooks, Jane Hughes, Louise Ritchie, Samuel Roberts and Katy Wright, Literacy Research Centre, University of Sheffield.

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