Don't ban young ones from TV it can inspire play

17th August 2007 at 01:00
The latest series of Doctor Who has been a big hit with a new generation of viewers and also with those of us who are old enough to remember the programme when the scenery was a bit more wobbly and the special effects were less convincing.

Thirty years on, I find myself reliving my childhood in more ways than one.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that my three-year-old son would catch the bug and begin watching Doctor Who as avidly as his dad. Even more delightful is the fact that I now find the highlight of my day to be trips to the park, where I accompany Alan as his assistant while he pretends to crank up the Tardis only to find himself transported to the dreaded Skaro, home planet of the Daleks.

Alan's ability to enter a world of fantasy, where he travels to a mysterious planet and makes decisions about how to combat his latest foes with his "sonic screwdriver", brings back all the atmosphere I used to create for myself when I was his age.

This has led me to the conclusion that it is a good idea to let infants watch television programmes like this, if parents are prepared to encourage them to initiate imaginative forms of play that are stimulated by their content. Recent reports have suggested that children who sit in front of a TV set are being deprived of the opportunity to engage in social play and interaction, and the psychologist Aric Sigman has argued that children under 3 should not watch any TV at all.

A recent survey by Save the Children found that 70 per cent of Scottish teachers believed that technology and screen media was creating a generation of loners who found it difficult to socialise or to engage in imaginative forms of play.

I argue that a balance be sought, and parents who are careful to expose their children to programmes that stimulate their imagination, watch with them, talk about the content and encourage them to make links between what they see on the screen and the content of their play, can do much to foster creativity, decision-making skills and opportunities for problem solving.

A Curriculum for Excellence is challenging us to place play firmly at the heart of our planning for children in the early primary stages and to provide a particular emphasis on child-initiated play, in which children take the lead and the adult travels with them on their learning journey. By enabling children to control the direction of the play, we can equip them with skills to participate in citizenship.

Education for citizenship is about creating a sense of belonging, the opportunity to exercise rights and responsibilities, as well as the ability to communicate opinions and participate in decision-making. By engaging young children in child-initiated play, we can equip them with the skills to respond in imaginative ways to social and moral challenges, to imagine alternative ways of doing things and to become aware of their own creative abilities and how to use them.

Such play can be stimulated through reading stories and outings, but can also be brought about by exposing children to moderate amounts of fantasy-style TV.

Alan has started in playgroup and will go to nursery next year, and I feel safe in the knowledge that child-initiated play is so common in these early years settings, where staff are already so successful at supporting children to be successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. By combining the experiences Alan has in these settings with our trips in his imaginary Tardis, I feel sure he is preparing himself to play an active role as a citizen through his "playful learning".

Ross Deuchar is a senior lecturer in Strathclyde University's education faculty

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