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Empowering Our Youngest Media Consumers to Think Critically: Creating a Play-Based Preschool Media Literacy Curriculum

When/Where: Saturday, 4:30-5:10pm in Nicolas Moore (lobby).

Presenters: Marissa Drell, PlayScience, LLC.; Presider: Maggie Ricco

Glogster Digital Poster

Objectives: This digital poster illustrates a developmentally appropriate, play-based preschool media literacy curriculum that builds upon children’s prior knowledge of advertising and creates opportunities to be active agents.

Audience: PK-12 Schooling, Higher Education


Despite the fact that children are media consumers from birth, educators typically wait to teach them media literacy skills until middle or high school. This practice evolved due to studies suggesting children younger than eight have limited understanding of persuasive intent. Critics of children’s advertising have used these findings to argue that children are cognitively incapable of resisting persuasive advertising appeals. But while framing young children as victims is beneficial in the fight for stronger regulations, it has prevented researchers and educators from considering the possibility that preschool media literacy curricula might be effective.

Newer research lends support to our belief that preschool media literacy curricula are developmentally appropriate. McAlister and Cornwell (2009) found that children between three and five have not mastered persuasion knowledge but are developing it; they are able to recognize that advertisers want them to buy. In a similar vein, we designed our curriculum based on the pedagogical hypothesis that being able to persuade someone, or being persuaded by someone may be different from learning to recognize persuasive sources.

We developed our curriculum by tailoring established media literacy practices and making them developmentally appropriate for young children. By building upon children’s prior knowledge of advertising and creating opportunities for them to be active agents in their own learning, we were able to provide the foundation necessary for a meaningful preschool media literacy curriculum.

Our poster presentation will illustrate the key components of our weeklong media literacy curriculum with the four and five-year-olds at Wimpfheimer Nursery School. As an overview, children were involved in media production through making their own products, packaging, and commercials. Our lessons and activities were designed not only to lay the foundation for children to understand persuasive intent but also to give children the tools to begin thinking critically about advertisements.

We used three core teaching strategies at circle: building from children’s prior experience, using concrete examples, and employing “child-friendly” language. Core topics included: selling products makes money (school bake sale); packaging of products (what you see is not what you always get); making good choices; and brand names, logos and rescripting common marketing phrases (e.g. some assembly required). Each day’s activities reinforced the circle time concepts and allowed the children to construct new knowledge through play.

Using a digital poster format will allow us to illustrate examples of the children’s work (e.g. advertisements for their products) and show clips from play sessions that clearly highlight the application of concepts. Clips from our “circle time” will demonstrate how we were able to scaffold a preschool media literacy curriculum with meaningful concrete props.

Participant Involvement

Attendees will have the opportunity to ask us questions about our curriculum and share their ideas with us. We hope to provide a forum where early childhood educators can discuss best pedagogical practices for young children.


  • Marissa Drell, PlayScience, LLC.: Marissa B. Drell, M.A. is a research associate at PlayScience, a research, consulting, and innovation firm on a mission to break down the walls between industry, innovators, academics, and consumers by creating groundbreaking play products that have a positive impact. Prior to joining PlayScience, Marissa was an Assistant Teacher at the Wimpfheimer Nursery School at Vassar College where she co-taught the After School program and planned its curriculum.
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