How did you learn the alphabet? Did you just memorize the order of the letters by brute forcing the order into your brain? Or did you learn the alphabet song? Moreover, raise your hand if you still sometimes sing the song to yourself when you’re trying to alphabetize something and your brain hiccups!
The reason the alphabet song helped us learn our letters was because it was fun for us. The song’s melody is easy to pick up and the rhythm helps cement the memory in our brains. Moreover, while simply reciting the letters over and over again is boring to even the most easily entertained among us, singing a song is fun! And, of course, there’s the fact that music has been scientifically proven to affect our brains in positive ways. Kids who study music do better in school, in their interpersonal relationships and are more likely to have sustainable success into their adult years.
When we separate education from entertainment, we work against our kids’ better interests. This is particularly true when our kids are young and they are still learning how to learn! And with the plethora of affordable educational programming and entertainment-based educational materials–for example, even the packages with the lowest DIRECTV prices offer you practically an entire digital classroom for your kids to play in–there’s no reason we shouldn’t be using education based entertainment to help our kids learn.
But It’s So Cheesy
Look, nobody is going to try to argue with you that Dora’s voice isn’t annoying sometimes or that Spongebob isn’t going to make you feel like punching things once in awhile. But remember: this programming isn’t meant to be appealing to you, it is meant to ping specific instincts in your kids’ brains–intellectually and empathetically. Children’s programming uses bright and simple melodies because they’re easy to remember and that catchiness isn’t an accident. That’s the whole point! The more often your kids sing these songs–especially on their own–the better able they will be to retain the information contained within them!
But Video Games Are Still Bad, Right?
No! Okay so maybe letting your second grader take a virtual stroll through Resident Evil 7 isn’t the best idea, we’ll grant you that. Even so, there are plenty of great games that are designed to engage your kids and help them learn, often in spite of themselves! There are simple word and math games that are obviously educational (but still fun). Then there are the more subtle games that teach concepts like strategizing (hello Minecraft) and even get your kids up and moving in spite of themselves (thank you forever, Pokemon Go).
Limiting Screen Time
It’s natural to feel some hesitation about plunking your kids down in front of a TV or computer screen and letting them have at it. We’ve been taught our entire lives that screen time should be limited. Thankfully, educational entertainment isn’t limited to screen-based absorption.
Never ever forget the value held within the pages of a book. From the very simple picture books that use fun rhyme schemes and rhythms to help kids learn their numbers, colors, and simple math and spelling to the more subtle books they’ll read in their later grades of elementary school like Walk Two Moons, Harry Potter (don’t laugh, there’s a lot of great stuff in there!), Sign of the Beaver, Frindle, etc, books are a fantastic way to help kids learn without them realizing that’s what’s happening. Family board game night is another great way to sneak in some educational entertainment. Fun games like Trivial Pursuit, Headbanz, Mastermind, Robot Turtles, etc. help kids learn strategizing, logic, memory skills, etc.
The point is this: learning doesn’t have to be boring! It can be fun, you just have to hide it within something disguised as pure fun first (sometimes).