Traverse City Record-Eagle

Evelyn Petersen: Ask Evelyn

June 25, 2011

Ask Evelyn: DVDs build couch potatoes, not readers

Q: Recently I saw an ad about buying classic children’s stories on DVD so they could watch them on the TV. I wondered what you think of this in terms of getting preshoolers interested in reading and developing prereading skills. — A.G.

A: Kids who watch DVDs, no matter how interesting, are more likely to become couch potatoes than good readers.

Reading is what grows active readers; television grows spectators. We need to help children get their brains working by using their own imaginations. DVDs don’t encourage the use of imagination during a story.

Sometimes children’s videos are just a way for parents to avoid talking, listening and reading to their children. Putting kids in front of a television or computer screen that tells “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is a poor substitute for hearing that story on a parent’s lap, complete with facial expressions and voice changes. In addition, parents can make comments during the story to provide further insight or share their own values and ideas with children. Here are some tips of growing children who enjoy reading.

  • Read to your children every day. Ask them about the story and intersperse comments to help them learn to “read in between the lines.”
  • Let them see YOU reading and enjoying what you read.
  • If you have older children, encourage them to read to the younger ones.
  • Get each child a library card and go there regularly. The librarian can help you pick out great books for each child. Ask for some books without words too, so children can look at pictures and tell the story. (Example: “The Boy The Frog and the Dog.”)
  • Find books, magazines and pictures about your children’s special interests, like the sea, animals, forests, birds, etc.
  • Try children’s poetry books or audiotapes with rhymes and songs. Songs and rhymes make children more aware of word sounds. Sing together and use audio stories in the car when you are driving.
  • Children love to hear stories about you or about themselves when they were “little.” They want to hear them over and over. If you can, try making scrapbooks of these stories with photos and illustrations so that children can tell the stories back to you.
  • Let your children play dress up and act out stories they know or stories they make up. It’s fun and creative and it helps them practice new words and language skills. If they make up a story, type it into your computer, file it and print out what the children said so they can see their own words and ideas in print.

Coming next month: Prereading tips and children’s summer reading ideas.

Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at

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