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My overachievements in parenting…thanks to television

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Once upon a time when we retrieved my then-3-year-old daughter Hadley from preschool, her teacher pulled me aside.

“I need to talk to you about Hadley,” she said in that voice. The same cautionary voice my third-grade teacher used right before she wrote on my report card that I had “verbal diarrhea.”

Shockingly, the report was positive.

“Hadley is doing such a great job with her letters! Not only is she really advanced on sounding them out but she is already piecing them together in words. You must be regularly working on them with her at home?”

After retrieving my jaw from the floor, I paused long and hard. Should I tell her that my kids were addicted to “The Letter Factory” DVD by LeapFrog? And that perky tadpole Tad was even inspiring my then-1-year-old Bode to sound out his letters, like a stuttering infant prodigy, with very little help from me?

“Why yes, we have been working on them at home. Regularly. Nice to know it is paying off.”

Note: This was not a complete lie. I just failed to divulge who “we” included.

This is not the first time one of my children has been taught and inspired by television. When Hadley was 23 months old she acquired a new best friend I despised. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not some snobby mom who doesn’t let her kid play with a certain sort of people. But this friend? Well, he’s purple. And he’s a dinosaur, fer heaven’s sake. And he’s annoying.

Yes, Hadley was obsessed with Barney – the very show I vowed I’d never expose her to. And I didn’t. The blame goes to Grandma who innocently introduced her, obviously not knowing the ramifications. Who could’ve known he would be the ONLY one in the whole world who could calm her down when she woke up moody from her naps? Or that his love song to her at the end of the show “I love you, you love me,” could make her combust into a fountain of tears because she knew their time together was drawing to a close. Or that she would lie awake at night wondering what her offspring would look like if she and Barney ever had babies together.

After watching Barney one day, we went to run some errands. For months, I had been incessantly reciting 123s and ABCs wherever we went. She would occasionally list off a number just to shut me up but really, her attentions were focused on learning the alphabet. So when I was in the car with her, I turned my focus back to numbers as I attempted to teach her how to say she was “2 years old,” in honor of her birthday at the end of the month.

She gave me her typical teen-aged “Why are you bothering me, Mother,” look and then casually blurted out, “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10.” I stopped, shocked. “Did you just count to 10, Hadley?” She repeated herself, this time throwing in the number 11 for good measure. Showoff.

I was practically jumping for joy! Finally, all those countless hours of teaching her, of slaving over her growth had finally paid off! I had a glimmer of hope that I was making at least some difference in her life! Bursting with pride, I wanted acknowledgment and gratitude for my efforts. “Hadley, who taught you to count to 10?”


Please tell me I am not alone! What have your children learned from their favorite shows?

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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  • comment avatar Heidi April 7, 2008

    My children are in love with their electronics, and especially the DS. Benjamin plays this nation building game, and it’s hilarious how much he knows about what a society needs to survive – food, education, armies, government. I mean, he’s 7 years old! I’m not sure he really understands how these elements work together, but he knows they are necessary. 🙂

    Oh and Barney – I dislike him, too. Intensely.

  • comment avatar Tonya April 7, 2008

    Nope, you are not alone. My son learned his primary colors in relation to the Wiggles. For awhile, things were not red, they were “Murray” or yellow things were “Greg”. I say whatever works is fair game.

    You can’t help it if your child is brilliant.

  • comment avatar dana April 7, 2008

    My two year old walked down the stairs and greeted our kittycat with, “Hola, Harry!” Guess who’s been watching a little too much Dora?

  • comment avatar Melissa April 7, 2008

    We have a little Spanish in our house thanks to Dora. Baby Girl is starting to sound things out because of Word World and Super Why on PBS. And all my kids learned some sign language from Signing Time

  • comment avatar Melissa Howell April 7, 2008

    I join with you in detesting Barney. My kids know that he is forbidden and get very upset if he happens to be on. I trained them well. On the other hand, we love Blues Clues, and my kids surprised me by describing a “crescent” moon one night.

  • comment avatar Angie April 7, 2008

    I credit Letter Factory for much of both my boys’ letter and sound recognition.

    My kids corrected my Spanish word for red the other day thanks for Dora. My Grant has informed my what red eyed tree frogs eat thanks to Diego. I am not sure how that will advance him in life, but hey. Thanks to Power Rangers they can beat the crap out of each other no matter where they are. That one will help them if ever they are mugged. You gotta look for the positives, you know?


  • comment avatar MommyTime April 7, 2008

    I could go on and on about this. (Actually, I did, HERE, if you’re interested…) In short: counting, that not all the world speaks the same language, and the existence of many endangered animals (thanks, Diego!) are just a few of the many things they’ve learned. I still monitor what they watch carefully. And I, too, detest Barney (strangely, our set won’t receive that show…). But I do think a little TV is not a bad thing. Son routinely hums classical music thanks to HBO’s Classical Baby. That’s not all bad!

  • comment avatar Lizzy April 7, 2008

    Yeah, everyone thinks my kids are early readers because of my amazing homeschooling. I really owe it to Rusty And Rosy and our Sesame Letter and Learning to read taes, and we also use the same leapfrog tape as well. But no one else needs to know that. =)

    My favorite, though was when someone asked my then 6 year old son if he knew about food chains. He said, “Yup, phytoplankton get eaten by zooplankton, which get eaten by anchovies, which get eaten by tuna, which get eaten by humans.” THANK YOU Magic School Bus videos!!!

  • comment avatar Guinevere Meadow April 7, 2008

    I remember learning a lot from Sesame Street…

  • comment avatar An Ordinary Mom April 7, 2008

    My kids, especially my son, have learned a lot from TV. It is all about the shows you choose to show them. We tend to stick to more preschool aged and educational ones. Even my son’s speech therapist says TV is a good learning medium for him 🙂 !!

  • comment avatar Richelle F April 7, 2008

    My son love the Leap Frog Letter factory DVD, too, as well as the fridge magnet that sings the same song. 🙂

  • comment avatar kelly from MyOriginalSelf April 7, 2008

    I feel like I could have written your post! My daughter, nearly 4yo, is now starting to “S-P-E-L-L” (as she says) thanks to Super Why and World World. I detest Barney as well, and swore I’d never let my kids even know he existed, but I left PBS on one day when I was in the other room putting her brother down for a nap and now she’s hooked and cries if I try to turn it off (if I can’t get to the remote before she hears the intro song). I try to look at the positives — at least they don’t speak rudely to each other and they learn things like sharing and cleaning up.

  • comment avatar Lauren April 7, 2008

    Oh, you aren’t alone! I love those Leap Frog DVD’s !

    Sad that she cried when Barney was singing his goodbye song.

    Barney used to get on my nerves, too but Cailou really bugs me more with his WHINEY voice!!!

  • comment avatar Tina April 7, 2008

    My kids definitely watch way too much Dora and Diego because they speak Spanish better than I do.

    Before Christmas they came to me and said they needed to call Abuela. What the freak is Abuela? Turns out it’s Grandma! We called her.

    Another time, my little girl was riding the horse at King Soopers and we were going thru all the colors on the horse. She had them all. Just for fun (and thinking I would stump her), I asked what color was the saddle in Spanish. Without hesitation, she replied rojo! You nearly had to pick me up off the floor!

  • comment avatar Ana April 7, 2008

    My dear you are in a league of many. I wish i could take credit for my son’s sassy, facey, in your face personality, but unfortunately I…..wait a minute…I regretfully take full responsibility for that..


    Yes, barney, dora, diego, etc take credit for all the good academic stuff.

  • comment avatar Greenstylemom April 7, 2008

    Yup! My kids learned their letters and sounds from Letter Factory. I then promptly went out and bought Word Factory and Math Factory!

  • comment avatar LAHansen April 7, 2008

    Oh of course my children learn from TV…I always thought I’d be the kind of mom to outlaw such stuff in my home, but who knew that kids learn amazing things from amazing programs! I love educational TV shows and so do my kids.

  • comment avatar Amy April 8, 2008

    To love reading and to view the library at a launch pad for innumerable adventures . . . thanks Reading Rainbow!!

  • comment avatar Crunchy Domestic Goddess April 8, 2008

    you aren’t alone. 🙂
    we’ve got letter factory and word factory here too. how can we be blamed if little green frogs inspire our kids to learn? 😉

  • comment avatar Damselfly April 8, 2008

    Wow, counting to 11! Before age 2!

    Fly can now read the word “hi” because of the Your Baby Can Read DVDs and flash cards.

  • comment avatar Amz April 9, 2008

    I totally know what you are talking about. My 3rd, learned her letters by sight and sound, single-handedly from the Letter Factory! Don’t know if I should be happy or sad. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  • comment avatar chel April 9, 2008

    I’ve heard a lot about the Leap Frog DVD’s.. maybe I should invest.
    I think TV can be a good thing… in moderation and of course the right shows… I could go on and on about all the wonderful things Jak has learned from TV alone. I won’t use it as a babysitter, but I will use it to learn from!

  • comment avatar Allie April 9, 2008

    I think that I need to go and get one of those Leap Frog devices!

    My son too was a devote member in the Barney fan club and because of the purple beast, he ensured that my son never crossed the street without looking to the left and to the right (can’t you just hear that song singing in your head now?) He would also indignantly inform anyone who questioned him on a manner or a “rule” that Barney told him that was the way that it was.

    Since the arrival of his diva sister, the two of these kids get to watch a lot of Treehouse, especially at 7:00 am but I find that Treehouse has good quality children’s programs that at least have consistency about rules that parents would want to teach their kids.

    I am though at little nervous at what my sponge like daughter will soak up and who she will take to. But because she is a true diva at heart, it will probably be a Mariah Carey spin off or something …..

  • comment avatar Jenn April 11, 2008

    I’m on the learning bandwagon too. Lucas has learned lots from watching TV. We have a retro cartoon channel and I am surprised about how educational shows these days are. Even my sister who is in her 3rd year of university was talking about changing color octopus. Lucas says I know Diego helped to rescue them. She was so surprised.

    It’s good because he makes me feel less guilty as a parent when I do let him watch TV>