Early Learning and Closed Captions

screen showing closed caption text

No matter where you turn, there always seems to be a debate about screen time for young children. Most research suggests that limiting screen time with children under the age of five is a smart idea, but that’s become increasingly difficult in recent times. Education technology and research is always evolving, especially with the concept of distance learning during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. What if we told you that there was a way to enhance literacy and language comprehension skills of young children with the push of a few buttons? 

In recent years, research shown a drastic improvement in literacy, decoding skills, and vocabulary/language comprehension amongst young children simply by enabling closed captions on visual media. According to TOTS, a British advocacy group, conducted a study in India that showed illiterate children given captioned media over a 5-year period had a 70% literacy rate at the conclusion, versus 34% amongst the children that were not given captioned media. 

So, why should you flip the captions on in your kid’s media content?

  • Captions are an instant, easy way to introduce some learning and skill practice to children’s growing amount of screen time. Since all television content in the United States is mandated to have closed captioning, there is no shortage of captioned content both over the air and online. As accessibility awareness continues to grow online, an increasing amount of self-hosted and self-published online content is becoming captioned as well. YouTube has seen a surge in early learning content creators in the last few years, and many of those channels include videos with closed captions. 
  • Well, COVID. Even though research has been indicating the advantage of captioned content for early learning for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has become the perfect proving ground. With distance learning becoming the new norm and social events shut down, children are increasingly turning to screens to fill their entertainment, education, and social needs. Introducing closed captions in these environments can give a much-needed boost of language skills practice to their time spent away from learning. All of these benefits apply to other forms of visual media as well; positive outcomes and effects have been reported with closed captions in video games and foreign-language media.
  • Practice makes perfect. The more your child reads, even through an automatic reading response, the greater opportunity for the neurons to work together to create fluent reading skills. And this works even more efficiently when the content being read is something the child is particularly interested in, such as a television program or video game of their choice.

Turning on closed captions isn’t a magic bullet to ensure your child will be reading the Odyssey by age 7. However, during a moment in history where parenting requires a significant amount of problem-solving, enabling closed captions for your children can be a way to enhance your child’s reading and language skills with minimal effort.