Topic outline

  • Introduction

    (Digital) media are very relevant to younger children’s interests. Even the youngest ones are playing on tablets or smartphones and enjoy the funny sounds and moving pictures. For children between the ages of three and six, media are especially storytellers or toys. Children are usually unable to assess and predict the impact and consequences of their use of media. It is therefore important to include the topic of media in early childhood education and care (ECEC) in order to introduce preschool children to a competent and critical approach to media at an early age.

  • About this Module

    When studying this course you will…

    • Gain knowledge about the media world of children between 3 and 6 years
    • Identify different types of media and how they are perceived by children
    • Identify characteristics of media offers suitable for children
    • Understand why media content can be overtaxing
    • Know how to support parents

    In this module…

    • Practical advice will be given
    • Activities will support you to better understand the content and to prepare for the assessment
    • Further links will guide you to more information
  • Media Childhood

    Every day, children experience a wealth of media: the constant view of an adult's smartphone, reading the newspaper in the morning, listening to the radio during dinner or watching television news. In most cases, these media offers do not address them directly, but are used by others in their presence. They only observe the actual user.

    It is a fact that media often structure everyday life in the family. Which media children use and know about, what content they are interested in and how long they spend on it depends largely on the usage habits in their families. Parents and siblings are important role models for preschool children.

    In the case of preschool children, the constant and active support of children in their media use by educational specialists and parents plays an important role. Parents and ECEC professionals, for example, protect children from age inappropriate content by selecting appropriate media offers. In other words, they support children in understanding media, consciously using them and controlling their media use.

    Preschool children also need help from parents and pedagogical staff in dealing with (overburdening) media experiences and developing their own processing strategies. It is crucial that adults know what content can overburden children, why this can disturb or frighten them, for example, and what methods are useful in dealing with negative media experiences.

  • Support in ECEC Centres

    ECEC centres offer both children and parents important support in the form of media pedagogy. ECEC professionals can, for example, advise parents regarding questions and difficulties in everyday life with media or help them with the evaluation of media offers as well as with the developmental and age-appropriate media use. ECEC professionals can familiarise children with the topic of media in a playful and age-appropriate way and systematically accompany them in the processing of (negative) media experiences.

    In supporting children's media use, ECEC professionals can contribute with their expertise so that, for example, important scientific findings and developmental psychological aspects are also taken into account. In this way, ECEC centres extend and supplement parents' support with their work and strengthen children's media literacy at an early age.

  • Media for Children between Three and Six Years of Age

    Studies have been carried out which provide helpful and important insights into identifying trends and understanding the current media behaviour of children between the ages of three and six.

    For this particular age group, only few results on media experiences and the extent of media use are available to date. However, the available studies show how media use develops among children between three and six years of age and which aspects play a role in this development.

    • Some of the results of the MiniKIM study are presented in this module. The detailed results of the study can be found on the homepage of Medienpädagogigscher Forschungsverbund Südwest (in German).
    • For a further study, six German publishing houses have joined forces to explore the life and media reality of children between the ages of 4 and 13. The current report for the year 2018 is available on their homepage: Kinder-Medien-Studie (in German).

    Media at Home

    The majority of families with children between the ages of three and six in Germany are comprehensively equipped with a wide variety of media. The media are omnipresent in households, even though most three to six-year-olds do not yet have their own media devices.

    Children’s Equipment

    If children from three to six years have their own media, then these are mostly books and MP3 or CD players. Only with the beginning of school do children increasingly own mobile phones or smartphones, PCs, laptops or television sets.

    However, younger children often have access to the different media in the household via other family members and they use them together.

    Favourite Activities

    Watching television and reading books are at the top of the list of the most popular and most frequently used media for children between the ages of three and six. Radio dramas and audio books, videos, DVDs and computer games are all clearly behind them.

    Children and Television

    Over 50 percent of three to six-year-olds already have a favourite TV channel. The most popular is the children's channel KIKA, followed by SuperRTL, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Children in this age group also often have a favourite show. Their preferences differ as much as their interests in other areas.

    Three to six-year-olds watch television for about three quarters of an hour per day and spend a good half hour with books. Over 40 percent of children already listen to audio books or radio plays on their own. Other media, however, are mostly shared with other family members, i.e. the children read books and watch TV mainly with their parents or siblings.

    Preferences of Three to Six Year Olds

    At this point it should be emphasized that the hobbies of children between the ages of three and six are very multifaceted and that the relationship between media-free and media-related interests is well balanced.

    Children in this age group prefer to deal with books or simply play.

    They prefer to draw, paint and do handicrafts rather than watching DVDs or videos.

    For four to six-year-olds, meeting friends is about as important as watching television. Children also enjoy a wide range of leisure activities: listening to music or to the radio, playing sports, making music, playing computer games, going to the movies or listening to radio plays.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. What kind of media is most preferable by children aged 3-6?

    2. What determines children’s choice of media?

    3. Which media do young children share with other family members?

    4. "The media are used as a source of orientation for children between the ages of three and six." – Explain this statement.

  • Media as a Part of Everyday Lives

    Today, (digital) media are an integral part of children's everyday lives and are important companions on the way to adulthood, as they can, for example, support them in coping with important development issues, such as language, social rules and gender identification. Media have different functions depending on the age group.

    When preschool children know the different media and understand their potential use, then this is already a good step on the way to responsible handling of media. For example, children can better understand that adults use media not only for entertainment, but also as work tools. I recommend that you talk, paint pictures or create collages together with the children in order to approach the media topic in an age- and development-appropriate way.

    The Different Roles of the Media

    Children between the ages of three and six perceive media as objects. They are busy grasping and understanding the real world and in this sense they explore their environment curiously and want to discover media as objects.

    The media are used as a source of orientation for children between the ages of three and six. In media, children find many different, sometimes questionable, role models. The formation of values is also influenced by the media. From an early age, children try out behaviour patterns they have experienced via the media and replay media content. Here the children need the guidance and support of adults in order to be able to correctly classify and process what they have experienced.

    The media are an important source of knowledge and thus they play a decisive role in the search for information. In addition to books, films and radio plays are also important sources of information. Television programmes addressing children contain age-appropriate information. Today, one often finds a suitable website for these TV programmes, which takes the needs of children into account. Here children, accompanied by adults, can easily and playfully discover new things.

    Set clear rules for the use of media and help children to orient themselves better when dealing with them. It is therefore important for ECEC centres, but also for families, to establish plausible rules for media use together with the children. Such rules could be, for example, that the time of use of the media is limited, that media is forbidden in certain situations, for example while eating, or that only media suitable for children can be used. A poster with house rules would be useful for the children so that they know that there are some limitations which they should comply with.

    A sample poster for House Rules ready to be downloaded has been prepared.

    The media usually become playmates for children who use painting programmes on PCs, tablets or smartphones. For children from the age of three, there are recommended programmes that they can use under the supervision of adults. The media characters from books and television can also become playfellows in children's fantasies.

    When it comes to media use in this age group, stories play an essential role. Stories convey knowledge, experiences and emotions. Audiovisual content from television series or films is also fascinating as are reading books and audio plays.

    The media can therefore fulfil various functions for children. They are used for entertainment, information and orientation with regard to social behaviour. They can also simply be fun for children. At the same time, it is important to provide children with alternatives that can perform the same functions without media, for example by answering questions, playing and singing together or telling stories. In this way, the media are not given excessive importance in children's everyday lives, but take on the role of a supplementary offer.

    It is always important to offer children an alternative to the tempting media content. Preschool children in particular need a lot of exercise and opportunities to discover, explore and research their surroundings. Alternative offers that are directly related to well-known media content are particularly helpful in this respect.

    You could, for example, try out the experiments seen in the children's programmes yourself with your children or to draw together the story they have heard. Often even small incentives are enough to arouse enthusiasm in children and direct their interest to other things.

  • Types of Media and Media Perception

    The different types of media can be subdivided according to the senses through which they are perceived. There are

    auditory media that are perceived through the sense of hearing,

    visual media that are perceived exclusively through the sense of sight,

    and audiovisual media that use both the sense of hearing and the sense of sight.

    In addition, there are interactive media, which simultaneously address visual and auditory sensory channels and also enable direct influence on what is happening. These include apps, PC games and websites or applications on the Internet.

    Children use the different types of available media according to their appeal and potential and this occurs in varying intensities. In the case of purely static visual media such as books or photographs, the users themselves determine how long and at what pace they deal with the medium. In dynamic visual and audiovisual media, on the other hand, the medium determines the time of use and the pace of perception.

    Visual media, in particular, are consciously selected by children at a very early age and used independently. The degree of independence and self-determination, on the other hand, only increases with regard to interactive media from preschool age.

    However, it can be seen that children from the age of two are interested in media of all kinds, perceive them consciously and use them as long as they are available and accessible.

    Quiz - Media types

    Drag the media types on the pictures.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. The media can be subdivided according to the senses through which they are perceived. Can you specify these subdivisions and present some examples?

    2. Why do children aged 3-6 prefer a short duration and simple dramaturgy in the offer of media?

    3. What attracts young children to interactive media such as apps on mobile devices and PC games?

    4. What factors affect the children's ability to perceive, process, understand and select media?

  • Media are Fascinating

    In addition to the media content, media inspire children in this age group with different characteristics. Depending on the type of media, children are fascinated by various factors.

    Auditive media such as MP3 or CDs and visual media such as photos or books are usually freely available to children between three and six years of age. The children can usually select and use these themselves. The possibility to decide for themselves explains part of the fascination the media exert on them.

    On the one hand, purely auditory and visual media addresses only one sensory channel, which is why the density of information is reduced. On the other hand, this helps to improve the concentration and attention of younger children. In addition, auditory and visual media allow children to retreat inward, as audio stories and picture books are usually enjoyed in a familiar and relaxed atmosphere, e.g. when going to bed.

    The decision about which media offers are suitable should always be made by adults. Children between the ages of three and six are not yet able to independently select media content appropriate for their age. However, I recommend that you let the children choose and evaluate suitable media content from a pre-selection. In this way, the children learn to be able to consciously say which content they do not like and which they like. This strengthens the children with regard to independent media evaluation and selection.

    The combination of sound and image, the fast sequences of images and the handling of audiovisual media inspire children. Parents also act as role models in their fascination with audiovisual media.

    Children are attracted to interactive media such as apps on mobile devices and PC games because they can have a say and intervene directly. They are thrilled when they can influence elements and characters themselves and directly experience the results of their actions. In addition, the simple and intuitive handling of touch screens is particularly appealing to children because they can operate such devices themselves very quickly. This opens up new play areas for them and ensures recognition from adults and enthusiasm. The enthusiasm of children is also influenced by external factors - as is the case with audiovisual media. Depending on how often adults use their tablets and smartphones or how strictly media use is regulated, children's enthusiasm for these media increases or decreases.

    The enthusiasm of children is also influenced by external factors. Depending on how often adults use their tablets and smartphones or how strictly media use is regulated, children's enthusiasm for these media increases or decreases.

    Encourage even very young children to develop their own opinions about media and their content. To help towards this direction you can have conversations with the children, in which, for example, concrete media experiences, contents or characters are discussed, which the children like or dislike. Give the children the opportunity to express themselves and reflect on their preferences and interests in certain media content, media types, characters and usage situations. Such conversations are all the more beneficial for the children if you succeed in consciously engaging with the children's point of view and taking their preferences, interests and considerations seriously.

  • Factors Affecting Process and Selection of Media in Young Children

    Children's ability to perceive, process, understand and select media is closely related to their wealth of experience and level of development as well as to their cultural and social environment. Important basic skills are abstract thinking, linguistic development and the ability to concentrate.

    The content and characters of the stories also play an important role. Mainly topics that trigger interest due to everyday content draw attention. If, for example, the fear of being alone or being small and the associated desire for more independence are addressed in an age-appropriate way, the children can establish a clear relationship to their reality of life.

    Because of their developing memory and attention skills, three to six-year-olds are particularly interested in media offers that are of short duration and have a simple dramaturgy. The fact that certain media offers can be listened to or viewed again and again contributes to children's interest in these media. This results in recognition and establishment of long-term memory.

    The individual stage of development of the child is important for processing media content. Children must interpret and decipher the messages conveyed, and place, evaluate and ultimately understand what they perceive in connection with their own life reality.

  • Excess of Media Experiences by Young Children


    In daily media use, children can, for example, encounter scenes of violence. In cartoon programmes, fictitious violence is usually presented in a bearable and funny way for small children. However, appearances can also be deceptive here, since some cute and animated roles also appear in adult programmes. Children can then be frightened, unsettled and shocked by the violence depicted, the rough choice of words and also by sexualised actions, as they associate the characters with the media worlds known to them.

    Even the most ‘innocent’ cartoon films addressing very young children contain scenes of violence and friction between the characters that can frighten children.

    If violent scenes are shown with real people, e.g. in action films or crime thrillers, small children are usually not able to classify what they see as fictitious and to watch it in a detached manner. It is rather the case that children often have the feeling that they themselves are a part of the plot, which is why such scenes can trigger extremely disturbing feelings. This effect increases when the violence shown is directed against children.

    Violence against animals can also produce frightening and disturbing feelings in children as they are usually very sensitive, especially regarding weaker and smaller animals. They can be very frightened if they see, for example, in an animal film, how a predator tears a defenceless animal. Since children between three and six years also perceive themselves as small and defenceless, they can develop very strong feelings if they are exposed to such scenes. The same applies to series or films in which an animal plays the leading role. Because children identify strongly with the leading role, they experience dangers and adventures, which this animal goes through, very intensively.

    In news reports, real violence against people often occurs, for example, when reporting on famines, natural disasters or wars. Sometimes, the dramatic and violent pictures in fast cut sequence appear to children generally without connection and it is hard for them to sort them out. Therefore, these violent images on the news can have a traumatising effect and children should not be exposed to them.

    In order to help the children process media experiences, especially negative ones, as an ECEC professional you can encourage the children to exchange media experiences with each other. In the morning group, prepared pictures or specific questions can be particularly suitable.

    Exciting Media Content

    Children themselves also feel aggression and anger and act them out. It is not easy for them to control themselves and they must learn how to deal with these feelings. Media offers in which characters play, with whose feelings a child identifies, can help to find behaviour strategies to handle the situation and rethink own feelings. In addition, everyday, tabooed feelings, such as revenge and aggression, can be brought about by evil characters.

    Being able to follow the exciting adventure stories and being fascinated by the course of events is already fun and joy for younger children. Because of their cognitive and emotional development, children between the ages of three and six cannot always distance themselves from the story. With very exciting media content, the limit of what is bearable can therefore easily be crossed by children.

    One should also consider that children are particularly sensitive to scenes and stories that touch their own fears of separation and loss. Sad situations such as in the animated cartoon Bambi, when his mother dies, can instantly overwhelm and frighten younger children.

    In addition to the concrete processing of (negative) media experiences, children can also be shown possibilities to process their media experiences independently. For example, their experiences can also be brought up for discussion while doing handicrafts and painting or while dressing up and role-playing.

    Fearsome vs. Fascinating

    Children between the ages of three and six are also often overtaxed by loud and sudden noises, long arcs of tension and gloomy images. Scenes that create a fearsome atmosphere with sounds, music and gloomy images can be particularly frightening. Scary media figures such as monsters, vampires, demons, witches or ghosts can also be frightening and unsettling for younger children.

    At the same time these supernatural beings with their magical abilities have a certain fascination for children. For example, children rate figures such as Otfried Preußler's "Little Ghost" or Graf Zahl from "Sesame Street" as disturbing and scary, but they do not completely reject the scary and exciting scenes. Individual, exciting moments, followed by relaxation phases, also have their fascination for the children.

    In the context of violent and exciting media content, a happy end has a big weight. For the emotional processing of media content and the development of security and trust, a positive outcome of stories in which the weak emerge as heroes, the spook dissolves and good triumphs over evil is very important for small children.

    With the expansion of media experiences, children can learn that even exciting, scary and dramatic events end well and that nobody gets seriously hurt. It is important to build on this knowledge so that emotional stories can be processed well by the children.

    When you talk with your children about negative media experiences, show to them that adults are also afraid of certain things and that they do not have to be ashamed of being afraid. This makes it easier for children to look for help when media experiences overtax them.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. How do violent scenes, for example in action films, affect children?

    2. How can the professionals at ECEC help children process negative experiences from media?

    3. How does a happy end in the context of violent and exciting media content, affect children’s psychology?

  • Features of Media Offers Suitable for Children

    Parents bear the main responsibility for selecting suitable media content, especially for younger children up to six years of age.

    In order to protect children from content that they cannot understand or process, it is necessary to support and accompany them in their use of film, television and the Internet. In addition, a sound pre-selection of developmental and age-appropriate media content is of great importance, especially for children between the ages of three and six.

    Whether a media offer is suitable for children cannot usually be assessed immediately.

    However, a few factors can help you to orientate yourself in order to make a good choice with the extensive range of media available:

    • You can sort out media content thematically based on children's content.
    • You can encourage them to discover by doing it themselves and thus stimulate their imagination.
    • Children have a great need for information and knowledge and are excited when they can satisfy this need through media offers.
    • The media content does not necessarily have to include learning opportunities in order to be suitable for children.

    It is essential that media offers for small children contain nothing that could frighten or overtax them. Unsuitable content such as violence against humans and/or animals, threatening and loud noise or frightening characters should be avoided. The tension of the story should also be clear and concise. The stage of the children’s development should be taken into account, as a media offer overtaxes some children while at the same time bores other children of the same age.

    In Germany, the release of films, music and computer games for children and young people is regulated by law. The FSK - Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft is responsible for the age rating of cinema films as well as films on DVD or Blu-Ray. The age rating of video and computer games is carried out by USK - Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle. The USK and the FSK assign the classification "released from 0", "released from 6", "released from 12", "released from 16" and "released from 18". For the age group under six years, only media offers with a release "from 0" should be selected. These releases do not represent general age recommendations. Here, too, it is important to take into account the individual developmental status of each child.

    Further information on the classification standards of FSK and USK is provided in Module 1.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. Can you state a few criteria that can help you make a good choice of suitable media for children?

    2. Why is it important to accompany children even when they use various children's apps?

    3. Why should you avoid selecting media offers for children aged 3-6 that contain advertising?

  • What to Consider When Selecting Media

    Narrative Style

    In order to be able to follow the plot of a story well, children between three and six years of age are more likely to understand a linear and simple narrative style without jumps or flashbacks. A wealth of characters or numerous changes of place are not usually comprehensible by children in this age group. It is also important that the stories always have a positive ending.


    A child-friendly language should be provided, primarily for audio media, but also for other types of media. Children’s common vocabulary and short sentences are more conducive for children. At the same time, varied suggestions such as new concepts, vocal variations, as well as rhythm and wordplay are enriching for the children. Written language can be also instructive in media offers for three to six year olds. Colourful, large and entertainingly designed letters can arouse curiosity when dealing with signs and writing.


    Children under the age of six prefer one-dimensional characters. Media characters should therefore be clearly sorted into the categories good and bad by their actions, their attitude as well as their appearance. However, this does not mean that the characters should not be exciting and varied. The opposite is the case: characters should entertain and delight, amaze and surprise children. The social cooperation of the media characters is also important for the children. Popular characteristics are, for example, that they encourage each other or that they help each other. The characters become role models and companions and can help children to deal with current topics.


    Short stories and narrative units are desirable, since the duration of media offers should not put too much strain on children's ability to concentrate and pay attention. If the period of use is not determined by the media offer itself, e.g. in television series, the period should be discussed and controlled beforehand.

    Also Important

    When selecting media offers for children between the ages of three and six, care should continue to be taken to ensure that they contain as little advertising as possible. Younger children find it difficult to distinguish between advertising messages and actual content. Adult advertising in particular could be a source of concern for children due to inappropriate content.

    With children's apps, handling and control are additional features of child-friendly media. Although children's apps should always be used when accompanied by adults or older siblings, it still makes sense if interactive content is clearly visible and navigation is playful (e.g. by using symbols instead of writing).

    In addition, reading media assessments written by media experts can be very helpful for both ECEC professionals and parents. A large number of initiatives and testing agencies are intensively concerned with the evaluation of different offers and explain the most important criteria for their judgement.

    By talking to the child about his or her specific media interest, adults can better understand the child's views and take them into account when pre-selecting appropriate media offers.

    The right choice of media for children is an important and frequently discussed topic in families. In order to help parents with their assessment, ECEC centres can offer advice and information if they are duly interested.

  • Learning about the Media

    Children between the ages of three and six are by nature very open-minded and inquisitive to learn as much as possible about their environment. In order to understand and grasp the world, they ask many questions. Younger children generally make no distinction between technology and nature or between lifeless and living environments. They perceive their environment as one unit.

    Of course, this also applies to the media. For children, media stand in a concrete relationship to their environment, because they are omnipresent in daily life. Taking up this relationship can be very rewarding for ECEC. At this point, a (first) access to technology can be established, which can be built up independently of gender. An active experience plays an important role for children of preschool age. They find it appealing to explore media technology and experiment with it. Sorted out old computers, telephones and keyboards are optimal objects to be explored, disassembled and reassembled with all senses present.

    Take advantage of children's natural curiosity. Children ask questions all the time about things they meet in this world. Of course, this also includes media. Listen to the children's questions and try to answer them effectively. Through direct reference to the child's environment, you can provide initial explanations of how media work.

    When learning, children have the opportunity to independently transfer known facts to new knowledge and to recognize connections. It is important to formulate one's own conclusions and findings and to make one's own assumptions.

    At this point, speculations about what media actually are can also be discussed. An important step towards understanding what media are is the experience that media are neither magical objects nor living beings, but are made by humans.

    When you talk with your children about negative media experiences, show to them that adults are also afraid of certain things and that they do not have to be ashamed of being afraid. This makes it easier for children to look for help when media experiences overtax them.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. Can you justify why preschool children should experience and explore media technology?

    2. How can you support the young children’s interest in technology?

  • ECEC Advisory Capacity on Media Content

    In families, media are present in various forms on a daily basis and are usually accessible to children. The use of media by children is already an issue in many families, as there are often questions with regard to media content and its processing, usage times and access.

    ECEC centres and ECEC professionals can provide considerable support here by offering information and advice on the subject. Parents can be given practical tips on how to deal with media offers, and can exchange information among them about their children's media experiences.

    The main focus should be on familiarising children with the appropriate use of media for their development and age, as well as with the emotional processing of their media experiences.

    During discussion with ECEC professionals, it can be very interesting for parents to learn how their children's media experiences are specifically addressed and dealt with in everyday educational life. In addition, parents can be advised on developmental psychological aspects as well as developmental and age-specific characteristics of the processing of media experiences. It can also be helpful for ECEC professionals and parents to exchange information about suitable media offers or useful rules of media use. ECEC centres can assist parents with a variety of questions about their children's use of media.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. In what way can parents be helped by ECEC professionals regarding media content for preschool children?

    2. What topics can be discussed in the dialogue between parents and ECEC professionals?