It goes without saying that kids’ attention is not focused where it used to be. Children are more apt to sit in front of the television screen watching shows or playing video games than to read or write. Luckily, there are many ways to incorporate television into educational activities, encouraging children to learn in fun ways. Many popular children’s shows were originally book series. Scholastic offers a helpful list of ten book series that they published. Random House is celebrating the 50th anniversary of their publication of The Berenstain Bears, which was later adapted into a popular children’s series. The television schedule for this and other PBS Kids shows can be found online. Other popular books that have their own television spinoffs are ArthurLittle BearMax & Ruby and Babar the Elephant.

How does reading and watching television build literacy? By sitting down with children and interacting with stories, educators and parents can provide a happy, healthy environment for children to learn and to grow their love for reading. Asking children to summarize a story hones their narrative skills and keeps them engaged in the characters and plot. In an article about increasing literacy in young children, Daniella Giammarino, a licensed speech-language pathologist, explains that “reading to children promotes communication and speech sounds, and it introduces many concepts. It builds listening, memory, and vocabulary skills, and gives children information about the world around them.” These skills can be further emphasized when followed up with an on-screen adaptation.

When you read a book and then watch the show or movie, you naturally compare the two for differences in plot and narrative style. Children should be encouraged to do the same when reading and watching the corresponding show. By recognizing the differences, kids are building their comparative reasoning skills, something that will be instrumental to their education and careers. Watching the shows is also a great way to encourage children to write scripts of their own. Using their imagination and household or classrooms props, they can tell their own stories, expanding on the universe of their favorite books and shows. By interacting with the stories, they will be even more excited to continue to read about the many adventures of their favorite characters.

Picking books and television programs that relate to the season or holiday is another way to bridge the gap between reality and fiction and open children up to learning while having fun. When kids feel connected through experience to the characters, they will want to read more. Learning from the book can also go beyond television to other connected activities. Many children’s shows have websites with free games and printouts for activities. From there the possibilities are endless: acting out a favorite scene, even illustrating and binding their own book! One helpful website, Get Ready to Read!, lists these and many other helpful games kids can play at home or in school.

When young children are introduced to habitual reading, they can form early, positive associations with reading. The most important thing about reading with young children is that they enjoy themselves and the stories, and oftentimes television shows or other adaptations emphasize that enjoyment. While some may prefer to stick to reading alone, the approach is not really what matters in the end. It is more important that children have a happy and healthy association with reading so they can continue to improve their literacy throughout their lifetime.

Did You Know?

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, as well as Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, were also so popular as to be adapted for the big screen. Although still meant for young readers, they are aimed at a slightly older demographic.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are characters in both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, causing many movie producers to combine the storylines of the books. The first was released as a silent film in 1917; it was titled Tom Sawyerand was intended as the first introduction of a two-part movie series. The second was released under the title Huck and Tom in 1918, setting up a third film for the trilogy, released in 1920: Huckleberry Finn. Paramount Pictures produced all three under the direction of William Desmond Taylor. The two most recent adaptations of the books took place in 1993 and 1995. Elijah Wood starred in “The Adventures of Huck Finn,” while Jonathon Taylor Thomas starred in Tom and Huck.

Finally, Anne of Green Gables had its movie debut with a silent film in 1919 and is now considered a “lost film,” meaning that it no longer exists in any archive. This was followed by two different black-and-white versions in 1934 and 1940, each starring Dawn O’Day as Anne Shirley—who changed her name to Anne Shirley after her involvement in the 1934 release. After that, many adaptations of the famous novels were hosted on television, as miniseries or made-for-TV movies.