Parents Say Most Young Children’s Media Use is Educational, But Use of Learning Media Drops Sharply After Age 4

January 24, 2014

New York, NY, January 24, 2014 – What do parents really think about the educational value of their children’s screen media use? A national survey of more than 1500 parents of children ages 2-10 by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center finds that more than half of parents (57 percent) believe their children have learned “a lot” from educational media, but that learning from mobile devices falls short compared to other platforms.

The study, Learning at Home: Families’ Educational Media Use in America, also documents an alarming drop in educational media use after the very earliest years.  As screen media use goes up, the proportion devoted to educational content goes down, from 78 percent of all screen media among 2- to 4-year-olds to 39 percent among 5- to 7-year-olds and just 27 percent among 8- to 10-year-olds.

“While young children are spending much of their media time with educational content during their preschool years, their learning opportunities drop significantly as they get older and spend more time on mobile platforms,” said Dr. Michael H. Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “As we work to raise education standards and improve students’ success, we must provide higher quality media options—especially on mobile—that will help engage and educate today’s older children.”

The survey indicates that 80 percent of kids use educational media weekly (including 34 percent who do so daily). Parents say that their children’s learning experience goes beyond the screen, with many weekly users talking about (87 percent), asking questions about (77 percent), engaging in imaginative play (78 percent), and wanting to do projects (61 percent) based on something they have learned from educational media.

Key findings of the Learning at Home study include:

  • Two- to four-year olds spend more time per day on educational media than any other age group: 1 hour 16 minutes for ages 2-4, 50 minutes for ages 5-7 and 42 minutes for ages 8-10.
  • Television continues to dominate, according to parents, with children spending an average of 42 minutes a day with educational TV compared to 5 minutes with educational content on mobile devices and computers and 3 minutes with educational video games.
  • Even among those who use educational content on each platform weekly, learning from mobile lags behind TV: 39 percent say their child has learned “a lot” about any subject from mobile compared to 52 percent for TV.
  • Children are reading an average of 40 minutes per day, including 29 minutes with print, 8 minutes on computers, and 5 minutes using e-platforms. The majority (62 percent) has access to e-readers or tablets, but less than a third (31 percent) use them, often because their parents prefer printed books to the digital form.
  • There are significant differences among racial groups: across almost every subject area and platform, Black parents were most likely to say their children had learned from educational media, with Hispanic parents least likely to think so. For example, 91 percent of Black parents said their children had learned a lot or some about math from computers compared to 79 percent of Whites and 63 percent of Hispanic-Latinos (among those whose children are weekly users of educational content on computers).
  • Both Black (60 percent) and Hispanic-Latino (52 percent) parents are more likely than White (37 percent) ones to consider interactive media a very or somewhat important source for the lessons their children most need to learn, and they are more likely to say they want more information about how to find quality educational media for their children, especially Hispanic-Latino parents (74 percent, compared to 57 percent for Blacks and 46 percent for Whites).

“This is the first study to quantify the portion of screen time that is educational,” said Vicky Rideout, a national expert in children’s media use and president of VJR Consulting. “Right now, mobile media are not living up to their potential as a source of learning for kids, at least according to parents’ reports,” she added.

The study also finds differences in what parents say their children are learning from educational media. More parents report that their children have learned a lot about reading (37 percent) and math (28 percent) from educational media than science (19 percent) or the arts (15 percent). “Parents are telling us we need to do a better job in creating science-based educational media,” said Levine.

Typically in the U.S., companies that produce children’s media are the ones that decide what is labeled “educational.” In this report, it is parents who assess whether the media their children use at home is educational or not. Educational media was defined broadly for parents as media that is “good for a child’s learning or growth or that teaches some type of lesson, such as an academic or social skill.”

The national study was directed by Vicky Rideout of VJR Consulting for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop as part of the Families and Media Project. Fieldwork was conducted online by GfK with a nationally-representative, probability-based sample of 1,577 parents of children ages 2-10 years old, including large over-samples of Black (290) and Hispanic-Latino (682) parents. It was supported by the Bezos Family Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, AARP and the LIFE Center. The full report can be downloaded here.

The findings of the survey will be discussed at a January 24, 2014 Cooney Center forum in New York that will feature FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

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The Joan Ganz Cooney Center investigates the potential of digital media to help children learn, and collaborates with educators, media producers, policymakers and investors to put this research into action. An independent nonprofit organization, the Center addresses issues of digital equity and aims to strengthen connections between formal and informal learning environments. Learn more at www.joanganzcooneycenter.org.