Studies show that children who watch television for more than 10 hours per week have lower standardized test scores than children who watch tv for fewer than 10 hours a week. Plus, the more hours children watch television each week, the less well, on average, they score on standardized tests. But when your children do watch tv, here’s a way to turn those passive hours into an active learning experience!

You can take a very active role in preparing your kids for the kinds of questions that appear on standardized tests. Here’s a simple activity that you can do together to help them improve their reading and writing skills.

Yes, believe it or not, watching television with your kids is a great way to start preparing them for a standardized test. And chances are your children won’t mind the extra effort of watching a little TV!

Since these tests ask a broad range of questions — from direct to introspective — it helps to start familiarizing your child with different types of questions early on. And this activity has the added benefit of strengthening your child’s memory, attention span, and thinking skills.

Step 1: Start by watching a television program with your child that is about a half-hour long.

Step 2: During the commercial breaks, ask your child some basic, or “literal,” questions about the program: “How many kids went to the movies? What color shirt was Joey wearing when Debbie came over?” These questions will sharpen your kids’ level of attentiveness and make them more aware of what they’re watching.

Step 3: Once in a while, ask a few interpretive questions during the commercials: “How do you think Debbie felt when she found out that Joey cheated on the test?” Make your child think a little bit about different situations and how they affect characters on the show. This “higher level” of questioning is great practice for the questions that your child will encounter on the test.

Step 4: At the end of the program, have your child summarize the events of the last half-hour and come up with a title for that episode. Also, ask your child a question that requires some critical thinking: “How do you feel about cheating? Do you think Joey’s teacher should have handled the situation differently?”

Step 5: As you repeat this activity, try to include more and more higher-level, interpretive, and critical-thinking questions. Start to have your child write his or her responses down on paper, instead of telling them to you. You may also increase the program length to an hour.

Activities written by Howard I. Berrent, Ph.D. with Caren Churchbuilder of Steck-Vaughn/Berrent Publications.