Yes we do use documentaries as a form of learning. And please before I go further it is ONE of many forms of learning. If you read the blog you will know we LOVE our books and I think have quite a BOOK RICH learning style with the kids. But documentaries can also be a powerful tool.
I have never banned TV or screens, I always had a motto of everything in moderation (well most things). And we realized quite early on that screens actually ended up overwhelming our sensory kids so we have always monitored it and these days my oldest actually limits her screen time herself because she can tell when she has had enough.
When my daughter was younger I read an article (sorry can’t remember who wrote it) that basically urged parents to treat screen time like you would reading time – in other words, sit with the kids on the couch, watch together, talk about what you are watching, have a cuddle. And this really made sense to me. Of course there have been times when I have been so sleep deprived or sick that I put something on for the kids to watch so I could have a break – it happens and I have done that. But I tried not to make that the norm and now when we watch documentaries for learning topics we do the same. We sit together, watch together, chat about it, often pause part way through to check everyone understands or look-up something that was mentioned. It works for our family because if I join in with the kid we all end up talking about whatever we have watched and it normally ends up extending into extra reading or even a new topic.
Animal Documentaries have always been popular with our family and lately we are moving onto more specific animal ones – like hunting patterns of sharks – but for the most part we find animal documentaries safe. Although my kids are highly sensitive about a lot of issues, animals hunting each other and animals eating other animals have never been an issue.
We have moved onto Historical documentaries lately but these can be tricky so either my husband or I always watch them first (I have taped a few which I thought were going to be brilliant and ended up being very gruesome to the point of nightmare potential so they were deleted). But we are finding with our daughter adding appropriate documentaries to go along with all the history books she has been reading is working really well and if anything actually ends up encouraging her to read even more.
And the big surprise for me was how my son has reacted to the History documentaries, he often complains about “more history” – because his sister is so history obsessed he can find it a bit much. But he got so involve in our latest history documentary – 1066 A Year to Conquer England – that he actually asked to watch it again and has been talking about the mistakes made during the different battles, something which really took me by surprise. But I am realizing with my son if we are watching documentaries which include re-enacting scenes, or discussion about battle plans he really enjoys them and gets really involved in the events.
So Yes, we do watch documentaries as part of our home education and Yes, I do think they can be a powerful learning tool but No, they aren’t our only learning tool.