Going Commercial: Turning the Scourge of TV into Educational Opportunity

Ever feel like television offers more commercials and less and less programming? You’re not alone, and you’re actually correct. Studies have shown that the ratio of commercials to programming has been steadily increasing for years. Every half hour of television time has eight or more minutes of advertisements. We will soon reach the point where there is more commercial time than programming time in every show. And all of these commercials are aimed at selling something, often to your child. Parents need not only to monitor program content, but also work to sales-proof their children.

At last, here are some practical suggestions to take advantage of the situation. You can make use of commercials in your efforts to educate your child! Each commercial presents an opportunity to teach your child many different things. You can use the commercials to nurture math skills, memory skills, language skills and critical thinking skills. Television advertisements can be used to build academic readiness skills and data analysis skills. You just need to look at the commercials with an eye for what can be learned from them. Try these ideas for starters, and then put your creative mind to work to come up with other activities that will support your children’s academic growth.

For the youngest children (preschoolers on up), try taking advantage of the large number of different products that are advertised. Make a chart for your child with names or pictures of products that are commonly advertised when he or she watches television. Have the child put tally marks by each when a matching commercial is seen. You will be helping the youngster build recognition and matching skills. Math skills come into play when you compare the outcome of the survey. Which product advertises the most heavily? This is also good information to use for graphing, as well. Make a simple bar graph to compare the advertising for various products. Understanding graphs and other visual representations of information is crucial to understanding the world around us, and even preschoolers can begin to build this knowledge.

Exercise memory and prediction skills by playing the Commercial Game! Who can be the first to identify the product being sold in a commercial showing on television? It’s not as easy as it sounds! Try it yourself. Many modern commercials don’t mention or show the product until the very end. It can be quite challenging. It’s also good memory exercise to try to recall commercial jingles or dialogs. How many different commercials for the same product can be recalled? It’s fun to see how many different slogans or jingles can be recalled for each product from past seasons. Speculate with your children about why they might have been changed, while you’re at it. Sometimes, you can even see the evolution of advertising campaigns. What aspects about each iteration have changed? How did the change improve (or detract from) the commercial’s effectiveness?

Try surveying how many commercials are aired during different hours and programs. Is there a difference in the number of commercials during comedies and movies, for example? Are there more commercials during news broadcasts or dramas? Check the number of commercials per half hour during prime time, morning programming, and other times during the day. How do the different channels and networks compare with one another? Have your children speculate about the reasons for the differences that they find. Do they think advertising dollars are more or less productive during the different time slots or on the various stations?

Have the children think about the intended audience of the commercials that they see. What clues can they find about who the commercial is talking to? They will discover that commercials aimed at younger children often depict little kids in fun situations. Commercials that advertise products for cleaning the home show efficient, productive housewives. What clues can they find in other commercials about the intended audience?

Older children will benefit from identifying the sales tactics being employed in each commercial. This is an important life skill: recognizing the attempts of the advertisers to manipulate the consumer. Many commercials use celebrity endorsements, statistics, songs or dances, appeal to the age group, leaving the impression that everyone is using the product, and more. Children need to become aware of the various strategies that advertisers use so that they can make conscious choices instead of being unduly influenced.

So, instead of being annoyed with the amount of commercials on television, put them to work for you. Take advantage of the educational opportunities that they provide! Commercials can be a valuable resource if approached with an eye for how they can be used to help your child exercise and practice academic skills.

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