June Lee
Brigid Barron
Publication Date
February 18, 2015

Sesame Workshop (Lee), Stanford University (Barron)


"In this study, we look at media access among Hispanic-Latino families, children’s use of content that parents considered educational, parents’ perceptions of their child’ learning from educational media, parents' own use of technology for their learning, and parent-child joint engagement in media use. We also describe ways in which media can encourage conversations and extend playful activities."

Part of the Families and Media Project (FAM) of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and following the results of a national survey in the United States of parents of 2- to 10-year-olds, this study seeks to extend knowledge of family media usage by enhancing understanding of how Hispanic-Latino families with young children use media for learning, including examining media use by platform and language group - families that speak only English, only Spanish, and those that speak both languages.

The report contains information derived from quantitative data and several case studies from ethnographic research to help illustrate the role that digital media plays in family learning. "Particularly important for us to understand from a design perspective was the role that media might play as a catalyst for children’s questions, their imaginative play, and their interests in related projects and activities." Technology adoption was found, through data from the Pew Hispanic Center, to be related to education level of parents, family income, English or bilingual abilities, and being "native-born" or having immigrated. The diversity of the Hispanic-Latino population is noted through the preceding categories and, as stated in the study, has bearing on understanding media design for family engagement.

Demographic tables show the sample for this study, including: age (5.98 years); parent education, income, and employment; citizenship (46% not citizens); main language in the home (35.2% non- or some English, 11.7% only non-English); and countries of origin (the majority being from Mexico - 58.1%). Further data show media usage and device ownership (98% TV, 74% computer, 73% cable or satellite, 66% game player, 62% smartphone; 51% handheld game player, 44% tablet, 38%iPod, 28% educational game device, and 16% e-reader). Most homes had more than one device for access; Spanish-only homes had lower access to home internet/mobile - in some cases, more than 50% less access (e.g., computer).

Educational content use frequency by platform and parents' perceptions about children's learning of various subjects through media content is also analysed, including by language groups. TV is the most frequently accessed (37.9% daily use and 37.6% several times a week) while online video, computer games, video games (offline), mobile games, and other computer activities are accessed several times a week by nearly 30% to over 40% of respondents. Educational media is accessed through TV (62%), mobile (24.2%), computer (18.6%), and video games (20.7%). For access to educational content by language groups, Spanish-only TV access is higher (95%) than English or bilingual access - but lower on all other platforms.

Media as a catalyst for learning is analysed through data, including English language learning and data on interest-driven learning opportunities for children (represented by 5 categories: initiating dialogue about something viewed, imaginative play, asking questions, teaching the parent something learned through media, and asking to do a project inspired by media). Among language groups, the three groups are generally within 20 percentage points on the 5 categories, with English speakers showing slightly more frequency except in the "teach you something" category, where Spanish speakers are leading.

Similarly, data are analysed on parent use of media for learning. Joint media engagement (JME) was analysed (time spent together, by language group and by platforms) because studies show that learning is particularly supported when parents discussed what they were jointly seeing (highest was TV engagement with a parent - done by 76% of children for an average of 104 minutes). Finally, data on parents' desire for information about media (recommended amount of time on various platforms, and types of media content) and about media locations (for child educational engagement) were collected.

Among the key findings are the following:

  • "Access differed by language, with Spanish-only families experiencing least access to digital technologies…." Educational content was accessed primarily through television.
  • "Most parents of children who were regular users of educational media reported that their child learned academic skills from media, particularly in reading or vocabulary. Most bilingual and Spanish-only families also reported that their child learned English from educational media…."
  • "…The regularity with which parents use the Internet to find information was closely tied to access to a high-speed Internet connection at home. Parents who often used digital technology for learning had children who used educational media more often, highlighting an important association between parents’ and children’s media use. This suggests that designing intergenerational learning opportunities can be especially powerful."
  • "Educational media often catalyzed other interest-driven learning opportunities for children, such as initiating dialogue, imaginative play, and asking questions. For parents from Spanish-only homes, educational media also enabled their child to teach them something new. The more often children used educational media, the more often these activities occurred." JME was more frequent with television, less with computers/gaming, etc.
  • "Hispanic-Latino parents - especially Spanish-only speakers - want more information about media for their young child." 

Recommendations include:

  • Family educators and practitioners can advocate for technologies in libraries, schools, and after-school programmes to increase access, as well as form partnerships with organisations serving Hispanic-Latino families to provide resources that include both Spanish language digital resources and non-digital formats (print, DVD, TV, and radio). New approaches to parent education are needed in both English and in Spanish, including "how to use digital media to advance their children’s learning and interest development as well as help identify high quality content."
  • Media designers and producers can provide more content for diverse audiences, including more mobile learning content in both languages for Hispanic-Latino families and continued "strong educational content on television, particularly with children in bilingual or Spanish-speaking families in mind." Media content should "spark children’s interests and encourage... them to engage in conversations and other activities based on what they saw or played." Themes, e.g., cooking, can promote this kind of JME - especially needed in non-TV platforms.
  • Researchers can increase frequency, methodology, and approaches for studying these families, including by engaging them in research design. JME needs better understanding and research attention and particularly in the realm of language learning for both parents and children. "These results call for new research that investigates how to design media that spark interest, conversation, questions, and play. Understanding how these forms of engagement are related to learning outcomes is also important and suggests the need for research that can track the evolution of media-supported learning over sustained periods of time and across settings."

Joan Ganz Cooney Center website, June 10 2015. "Sesame Street" excerpts provided courtesy of Sesame Workshop (New York, New York) © 2015 Sesame Workshop. "Sesame Street" ® and associated characters, trademarks, and design elements are owned and licensed by Sesame Workshop. All Rights Reserved.