Choosing Media for Young Children


A Checklist

There are no simple shortcuts to finding great media for kids. Over the years, research by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and others demonstrates, an “education” label is no guarantee of quality or of educational value. And even recommendations from your best friend, reliance on a trustworthy source like PBSKids, or reviews by well-respected organizations like Parents Choice or Common Sense Media can’t guarantee that every highly rated app or video is right for your child.

The best way to find great media for children is to learn what to look for.



۝  Reflect or reinforce values that you want to teach.

⃝ Feature characters that are good role models. Characters, especially main characters or heroes, behave in ways that you want children to behave.

⃝ Reward characters’ positive behavior and show clear, negative consequences for bad behavior.

⃝ Limit dialogue to words that you wouldn’t mind children using.

⃝ Show problem solving strategies that children might actually be able to copy (as opposed to always needing magical powers to solve problems).

⃝ Leave children feeling and behaving in ways that are engaged, calm, or cooperative rather than antsy, withdrawn, upset, or aggressive.


۝ Value children as learners and community members rather than as potential consumers.

⃝ Provide positive characters that your child can identify with (e.g., shares your child’s interests or personality traits, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or body type).

⃝ Introduce your child to positive characters from groups that they may not otherwise encounter (e.g., from other places, cultures, or religions).

⃝ Show how to be a good friend.

⃝ Model judging people for what they do, not for what they own or wear, what they look like, or which groups they belong to.

⃝ Avoid repeating negative stereotypes.

⃝ Do not directly ask your child for private information or prompt children to ask grown-ups to buy things for them.

⃝ Are not created in order to sell a toy, brand, or junk food.


۝ Are Age-Appropriate

⃝ Use rules that are easy for children to under­stand and follow.

⃝ Use an interface that is “intuitive” (children can use it without much help); it is challenging but not frustrating.

⃝ Focus on topics that young children find interesting and skills that little ones are capable of mastering.

⃝ Present complex or sensitive subjects in ways that are simple without being simplistic. They use language and examples that children can understand without being patronizing.

⃝ Use words that young children understand, and also intentionally introduce a few new words that help children stretch their vocabulary.

⃝ Pace the action and editing slowly enough for little ones to follow and understand.

⃝ Avoid content that is gross, scary, or graphic in ways that might disturb children. Keep in mind that young children tend to be fright­ened by things that look scary. Older chil­dren tend to be frightened by things they think could actually happen.

⃝ For children three and younger, avoids showing actions that would be unsafe for a child to copy. For children ages four and up, unsafe actions are clearly described as off-limits for real children or clearly shown as un­desirable.

⃝ Free of sales pitches (including product placements or in-app sales) presented directly to children.

⃝ Keep age range recommendations reasonable. Though there are some family media that everyone can enjoy, in most cases it is unlikely that what’s appropriate for your twelve-year-old will also be appropriate for your preschooler and vice versa.


۝ Merge Education and Entertainment

⃝ Give children interesting things to talk about.

⃝ Take advantage of the unique functions of the technology (e.g., not just a workbook on screen).

⃝ Encourage social interactions with adults and other children.

⃝ Get children excited about developing new skills and/or exploring new things, people, or places.

⃝ Encourage children to be creative.

⃝ Include key messages and concepts in the images, not just the words, and use visuals to focus attention on important content (for example, put the important thing in motion when everything else is still).

⃝ Require players to learn, practice, and demonstrate mastery of key learning concepts in order to succeed.

⃝ Scaffold children’s logical progression from easier to more complex skills and concepts.

⃝ Present problem-solving opportunities and include pauses before providing answers to allow time for viewers or players to figure out answers for themselves.

⃝ Provide evidence of specific educational design and sound pedagogy (there is a coherent theory of how children learn from this particular activity).

⃝ Provide activities or stories that children enjoy. It also helps if grown-ups enjoy themselves, but sometimes what makes media age-appropriate for young children can bore adults, so this isn’t a requirement.


No media include all these things, but the suggestions give you an idea of what to look for, especially if you are selecting media options for children aged six and younger.

It’s also helpful to understand your child’s preferences. Just like you, your child likes some types of media more than others. See if you can correctly fill in these blanks:

THIS MONTH, my child’s favorite show, video, movie, book, app, or game is ______________________________________________________.

They like it because ______________________________________________________.

It says “this month” because just as young children’s physical bodies change at a rapid pace, so do their media preferences.

You’ll have to verify your accuracy with your child, of course. So, consider making conversations about media a regular feature of your family’s routines, even if you can’t be with your little ones every moment that they are viewing, listening, reading, or playing.

May be reprinted for educational, non-profit use 
with the credit: From the edublog 
“TUNE IN Next Time” by Faith Rogow, Ph.D., 2021