10 Parent-Friendly TV Shows for Your Toddlers and Preschoolers
They may even learn something while you take a break
By Mary Fetzer
I’m guilty. I admit it. I’ve used the TV as a babysitter.
As grateful as I am for that half-hour of peace and quiet, I’m sometimes freaked out by the “Poltergeist effect” the TV can have on my kids. Their trance-like state is penetrable only by the TV’s power button. To calm my uneasiness, I try to make sure the programs they watch offer at least some underlying value. Here are my Top 10 guilt-free picks:
1. The Backyardigans, Nick Jr.
From the catchy theme song to the colorful characters, The Backyardigans is a preschool favorite. Pablo, Uniqua, Tyrone, Tasha, and Austin hang out in each others’ backyards, where playtime turns into lively 3-D adventures. They travel on a pirate ship, visit a haunted house, and go to Mars… anything the imagination can conceive. With impressive animation and outstanding choreography, the Backyardigans encourage children to sing, dance, and imagine their way across oceans, through jungles, and back in time. Like all Nick Jr. shows, The Backyardigans is 20-minutes long and commercial-free, so parents can get a much-needed breather.
2. Dora the Explorer, Nick Jr.
Dora the Explorer is a wonderful, interactive program for preschoolers. The bilingual Latina girl and her best friend, Boots the Monkey, face obstacles and solve problems together. Even though each episode features a different character in a different dilemma, the flow of the show remains consistent, delighting viewers. Children can always count on Dora and Boots consulting with “Map” about their game plan, digging into “Backpack” for helpful tools, and warning away “Swiper the Fox” as he attempts to foil their plan. Dora encourages children to converse with the characters (in both English and Spanish!) and to get up off the couch and moving. Always ready to help a friend, Dora is an excellent role model.
3. Little Einsteins, Playhouse Disney
There’s nothing pretentious about exposing preschoolers to classical music – just watch Little Einsteins. Leo, Annie, June, and Quincy, along with their helpful Rocket, travel to learn about instruments, notes, staccatos, and crescendos, with a soundtrack that features well-known classical music by composers such as Bizet, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart. Anyone who took music lessons as a child will appreciate the vocabulary and musical selections. And folks will be impressed when your four-year-old, upon hearing dinner music in a restaurant, exclaims, “Hey, that’s Johann Sebastian Bach!”
4. Handy Manny, Playhouse Disney
This delightful show is like HGTV for kids. Manny is the town’s handyman, a polite, helpful fellow whose good friends include a set of talking tools. There’s Rusty the wrench, Stretch the tape measure, Squeeze the pliers, Dusty the saw, Pat the hammer, and Felipe and Turner the screwdrivers. And don’t forget clumsy Mr. Lopart who always needs a hand. Little ones watch and learn as Manny and the tools solve problems by working together.
5. Caillou, PBS
Four-year-old Caillou loves his family and his home, but enjoys “escaping” to make-believe adventures in each episode. Preschoolers will identify with Caillou – his reactions, vocabulary, and expressions are so realistic that you’d swear he was sitting right next to you in the living room. Youngsters will be inspired by Caillou’s imagination, and comforted by the fact that other kids pretend, too.
6. Dragon Tales, PBS
Follow this brother and sister as they “fly with dragons in a land apart.” Six-year-old Emmy is brave, smart, and confident, and her brother, Max, is four years old. When they travel to Dragon Land, the siblings find help with their challenge-of-the-day from their dragon friends. Ord, Cassie, Quetzal, and Zac and Wheezie, with their unique personalities, remind us of our human acquaintances. The show cleverly illustrates how friends with different outlooks help us find solutions to our problems.
7. Curious George, PBS
The lovable monkey from our childhood storybooks comes to life in educational 15-minute stories. Like George, preschoolers are curious by nature. They enjoy exploring science, engineering, and math with George as he lets his curiosity lead him from one adventure to another. They empathize when he spills or breaks or ruins things, and they breathe a sigh of relief when the forgiving Man in the Yellow Hat makes everything better.
8. Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!, Nick Jr.
It’s impossible to not like happy, little Wubbzy. He’s just a kid who likes to play with his friends Widget and Walden. Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! shows children that friends can work together – and sometimes things get worse before they get better – to get out of sticky situations. Cooperation, tolerance, and friendship are the takeaways.
9. Go, Diego, Go!, Nick Jr.
If you like Dora, you’ll like her cousin Diego. Diego is an eight-year-old animal rescuer. With his trusty field journal, computer, and talking camera, Click, Diego offers a new lesson with each episode. Children will learn about the sound, movement, habitat, diet, family, and physical characteristics of exotic animals from around the world. Young viewers will come away with a newfound respect for the environment.
10. Berenstain Bears, PBS
Papa, Mama, Sister, and Brother Bear “live down a sunny dirt road in Bear Country.” Their old-fashioned tree house lifestyle doesn’t lack modern-day drama, as the kids struggle with sibling rivalry, teasing, bad dreams, and strangers. The Bear family gives kids a warm, family feeling that encourages respect and tolerance for one another.
So, check the guilt at the living room threshold and let your kids live – and learn – a little through TV.
What has your little one learned from TV?