By the time children grow to age 18, it is said they will view 200,000 acts of violence on television, including 40,000 murders. If a student never missed a day of school, he or she would still spend more hours yearly watching TV shows. Even pre-schoolers, whose notions about the world and their place in it begin to solidify long before you might imagine, spend 27 hours a week on average in front of the tube.
So we welcome Maryland Public Television's greatly expanded schedule for children's programming, which begins today. By the time the initiative reaches full throttle in mid-July, MPT will be offering 40 hours a week of children's programming, double what it was broadcasting before the expansion.
Popular shows for pre-schoolers, such as the ubiquitous Barney & Friends, clever Shining Time Station and pioneering Mister Rogers and Sesame Street, will be shown for up to five hours every morning. Shows geared more to school-age children, such as Reading Rainbow or Square One TV, will dominate in late afternoons.
The station has also raised money to train 600 registered day care providers, particularly in low-income communities, on how to use the show Sesame Street as a more active learning tool for the toddlers in their charge. MPT plans to package its new lineup as the "Vid Kid Club," with a comedic host offering short educational messages and the like between shows. The aim, though, is to move from show to show quickly so as not to lose the children's attention.
Children, of course, should not be sitting passively in front of a TV for hours on end, whether the output is educational or not. Little bodies need active play, not intensive training as couch potatoes. That's where parents and care-givers have to step in. TV can be the dessert in a child's development; it can't substitute for the meat and vegetables.
Even so, MPT should be highly commended for giving the million households in its broadcast region a place to turn for better TV for young people. We suspect the upbeat, gentle and encouraging message its new lineup will be beaming out will have positive repercussions for Maryland's education system, as well as for any Marylanders who have not yet made the acquaintence of Big Bird, Barney or Thomas the Tank Engine.