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How do I start teaching media literacy to my preschooler?

Topics: News Media

Media literacy in the preschool years is about teaching kids how to think about the information that's coming through TV, radio, the internet, books, and so on. First, though, parents must help their preschoolers understand that the stuff they're seeing, hearing, and clicking on is information. Then you can progress to teaching the basics of media literacy: understanding that someone created those shows, words, and music, that they were created for a purpose, and that people can decide for themselves what to make of the things they hear, see, and interact with.

What's wonderful about the preschool years -- the innocence, the love of make-believe, and the emotional connection to characters -- makes teaching media-literacy skills a little tricky. But the amount of advertising, age-inappropriate content, and mature information they're exposed to (combined with the fact that they can't yet read) makes them vulnerable to misunderstanding, manipulation, confusion, and even fear.

Start teaching preschoolers media-literacy skills by using any of the content that they're exposed to, from TV commercials to movies. Just get them used to talking and thinking about things.

Use visual examples of the ideas you're trying to teach -- and back off if you sense they're not quite ready to give up their pretend world quite yet.

  • Start with what they know. Use ideas that they know are pretend, such as monsters or other fantastical creatures. Talk about how those things aren't really real -- they're just ideas we've made up in our heads.
  • Relate their media to the real world. When a character does something realistic or a scene is realistic, make the connection for kids: "That's how it would happen in real life."
  • Compare and contrast. Use items that they're familiar with, such as toy or food packaging, and ask kids to explain the similarities and differences between what's inside and what's pictured on the outside.
  • Talk about the differences between media and reality. When you're reading together or watching TV, ask what would happen if someone really did what's in the book or on the show.


  • TV shows: "What is this about?"; "What did you see and hear that made you think that?"
  • Commercials: "Did you recognize any of your 'friends' (characters that they know)?";"What did they tell you?"
  • Storybooks: "Who is telling the story?"; "How do you know?"
  • Movies: "What happened in the story?"; "What did you think about it?"
  • Online games: "What happened when you clicked on that?"; "Did you hear a sound when you clicked?"
  • Product packaging: "What is the picture on the box?"; "Is that what's inside the box?"
  • All of the above: "Did they show the character/toy/object close up or from far away?"; "Why?"
  • All of the above: "How did that make you feel?"; "What made you feel that way?"
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