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Choosing the Right DVDs for your Toddler and Younger Child
The toddlers in my life love to watch television. As long as parents use TV as an interactive tool, I am sure television can be a valuable part of the child's education and development. I also think parents have to make the choice to invest time in intelligent and informed options when purchasing DVDs for their child's library.
Child Development and DVD Choice
First off, DVDs should be more-or-less age appropriate. A 2 year old cannot process a story as sweet as Charlotte's Web or adventurous as James and The Giant Peach even though they are great stories. Children do not understand the idea of sequential narrative or plot until they are closer to 3 (when they have some idea of beginning, middle and end). The idea of character development and motivation does not play well until the child is 4, and connections between story and real life values do not come until 5.
However, there are many products available to suit the little ones' needs:
Many parents have discovered, with some excitement, the value in teaching children to use sign languagefrom the earliest stages of infancy. It has become very clear that infants want to communicate verbally well before they develop the neuromuscular skills to vocalize. Alert parents recognize the frustration in their baby when s/he cannot communicate. So, sign language can bridge the transition between towards vocalization and, subsequently, give a child an alternate means of communication. Sign language DVDs and DVDs that emphasize toddler learning are great choices.
Top DVD Choices for Toddlers
- • Signing Time DVDs offer interactive formats requiring the participation of parent and child. The words are enunciated, spelled, pictured, and sung. Early DVDs focus on first words and later sets develop concepts on sharing feelings, colors, and community. Children want to move about the same time they want to talk. Parents should want them to move as well, to develop some sense of balance, grace, and coordination. There are DVDs that stress coordinated physical activity that require active parental participation as well.
- • Pretend with Miss Kim is one of several short DVDs that teach motion and entertain with music and dance. No one is trying to create ballerinas here, but the videos do play to a child’s developing sense of rhythm and movement. It doesn’t hurt that there is some exercise required. By age one, children are recognizing and naming colors, shapes, and numbers. This recognition is not the same as understanding, but intellectual connections are being made. This is a good time to explore the Baby Einstein DVDs. The Baby Einstein program has come under some criticism for making unsupported claims to success they do not always deliver. And, they remain rather pricey. However, if you understand the program limitations, your child will still find them enjoyable, entertaining, and, to some degree, effective. Using simple graphics, primary colors, and real world images, they invite children to dance, clap hands, and sing along. The underlying soft, often classical, music encourages parents and older siblings to participate. The price may discourage you from buying the whole set, but you can shop and select modules on-line.
- • Bumble Bee DVDs come with accessories, such as flash cards. These are also expensive, but thy offer a structured program for parents to partner with their toddler. The videos match visuals with words. Again, the “learning” here is not comprehension so much as it is process of identification and recognition. However, this process is a prelude to the understanding that will follow in later months. It builds vocabulary and prepares to pre-school methodology. Some Bumble Bee videos show how words are formed from linking sounds and move towards recognizing upper and lower case letters.
- • Babar has a number of videos available through Disney. The youngest children will have no interest in the values laden stories, but there are the simple colors and soothing voices entertain repeatedly. Handy Andy and Chuggington are more effective than the more complicated plots of Finding Nemo and Cars.
- • Some videos appear mindless to adults but become iconic to the new generation. Yo Gabba Gabba follows “adventures” of characters costumed strangely in primary colors. They dance and sing providing repetitive rhythms and movement. With SpongeBob SquarePants, children are less likely to be interested in story and more in the sounds, colors, shapes, and capers of the characters.
- • The Nick Jr. network includes ni hao, kai-lan. Brightly colored characters broaden children’s ethnic interests with Asian characters who teach sharing and cooperation and even introduce some Mandarin vocab. Episodes of Dora and Diego do the same for the Latino experience. The network’s Wubbzy’s follows oddly shaped characters on values based adventures and Moose and Zee instruct in shapes, counting, and matching.
- • Videos, such as Nick Jr.’s Olivia are more sophisticated visually and story-wise. The network also supports The Backyardians, animal characters without obvious ethnicity but using ethnic voices. Like The Wonder Pets, the Backyardians solve problems by breaking problems down and solving them with teamwork. More specific in its analytical approach are The Busytown Mysteries, a richly detailed animated series. This Cookie Jar franchise is complemented by Hooray for Huckle and his team and the Care Bears, colorful and cuddly colors and shapes.
- • More mature two year olds, and those pushing three, seem to love Arthur and its picture of family life, also found in the Babar series. They are also ready to process action and adventure – even if they do not understand story. For example, the Thomas the Train franchise remains hugely popular with its easy to follow stories and themes of virtue and persistence. Phineas and Ferb, another Disney product, is zany and frenetic, but they make toddlers laugh out loud.
- • The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse videos are worth exploring, but browse and shop before you buy. The Disney characters assume a certain familiarity and display a certain self-satisfaction that does not involve. Still, because children have such familiarity at an early age, accepting that the characters are real, they tend to follow the stories.
- • Every child is an Elmo devotee by the age of one. A dozen or more Elmo videos are available at the Sesame Street site. The site lets you browse by theme, character, and subject. The Sesame Street methods, lessons, and effectiveness may be without comparison, always a worthwhile investment.
Now, all of these recommendations come with attendant merchandise. This is a warning more than a recommendation. Educational tools, such as flash cards, workbooks, and counting tokens can help with learning and development. That does not mean you have to buy every toy or game in the inventory.