photo: Sloan Poe via Flickr

Don’t worry, Mom. We totally get needing to “use” the TV sometimes to keep the kids busy, so you can catch up on work, cook dinner or just (mostly) chill. But here’s a super-easy way to turn that screen time into learning time: just turn on the subtitles!

It’s a simple switch proposed by Michelle Woo at Lifehacker.com that’ll force kids to read their shows instead of just watching them. For older kids, we recommend turning off the volume, too, so they don’t just ignore the words at the bottom. For younger kids and newbie readers, keep the volume on, since experts say any exposure to words and letters can help with future reading skills.

“I’m becoming more and more on board with the Do Nothing Summer movement,” Woo writes, “but still, it’d be great if we could slip some learning into television-watching the same way we sneak spinach into mashed potatoes.”

Experts agree. In her book, Strategies for Building Fluency (2009), author Deborah V. Mink explained that subtitles “are a terrific way that you can help students who read very little but watch a lot of television.”

“Some researchers report that close captioned TV doesn’t just help children become better at recognizing words on sight; it actually strengthens reading comprehension, vocabulary acquisition and listening comprehension,” Mink wrote.

So go forth, parents, and let your kids “read” all the TV they want while you get your “me” time. It’s a win-win for everyone!

Would you try this with your kids? Tell us why or why not in the comments below.