Learning with dinosaurs

Cover edit 3What are the best educational videos available for streaming? Mike Petrilli is making a list.

He’s been watching a BBC series, Walking with Dinosaurs with his sons, who are 5 and 3. Thanks to the series (narrated by Kenneth Branagh!), the five-year-old “has a rudimentary understanding of evolution (paving the way for many scientific and theological conversations in the years ahead) and has absorbed key vocabulary to boot (carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, Cretaceous, Jurassic, etc.).”

A five-year-old’s curiosity knows no bounds, Petrilli writes.

As E.D. Hirsch, Jr., has argued for a quarter-century, the early elementary years are the ideal time to introduce children to the wonders of history (natural and otherwise), geography, literature, art, music, and more.

By providing a solid grounding in the core domains of human civilization, we are providing two wonderful gifts for our children: A store of knowledge that will help them better understand the complexities of our universe as they grow older; and a rich vocabulary that will make them strong, confident readers in these early, formative years.

Petrilli hopes to identify the best streaming videos available to teach core content to early elementary-school children.

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  1. I’ll second the entire “Walking with …” series. Quite good.

  2. Our oldest watched and re-watched The Magic School Bus series when he was 3-6 years old (back when it was on PBC, which meant no commercials and an epilogue). Science concepts are a breeze for him. See it now on Netflix.

  3. He thinks watching videos will teach? ime no way. If that was the case we’d have a lot more preschoolers walking around spouting off the multisyllable vocab from Thomas the Tank Engine. There’s more to teaching than showing a movie.

  4. Ideally, none.

    If an adult’s sitting on the couch watching videos with his children, the time’s better put to use with books. Especially for young children, the ability to linger on a page, a picture, to look closely at something puzzling, is priceless. Children also fail to understand certain concepts while watching videos–they’re more likely to ask clarifying questions of the adult if they don’t understand something.

    Giving a child a toy to fiddle with, while you cook dinner, is also a better use of time. Screen time tends to creep in, displacing other parts of childhood.

    My kids enjoyed the DK Eyewitness videos (and the books are better.)

    Terry Jones produced some wonderful history videos with the BBC: Barbarians, The Crusades, and Medieval Lives. (These videos are not intended only for children. Much of history is fairly bloody, so adults should prescreen.)

    Architecture and history DVDs with David Macauley: Building Big, Roman City, Mill Times, Castle, Pyramid, Cathedral, Skyscraper, Bridges.

    Schoolhouse Rock.

    The best use of videos, though, is to set a family rule, “you can see the movie once you’ve read the book.”