Oct 162014

fall activities for familiesFall is my favorite season, a time of change when the cool weather means long sleeves and regular use of the crockpot.

As the mosquitoes and heat of summer relent, it’s the perfect time to take your family outside for a last hurrah. Remember, winter is coming. So is cabin fever and flu season. You might as well enjoy the outdoors now while you can!

Here are twelve fall family activities to help you make the most of it.

1. Rake leaves, and then jump on them

Let’s start with the age-old classic of raking leaves — something those of us with mature trees in the backyard are going to have to do anyway — but getting the kids involved. All you need is a dry, crisp fall day, a rake, and possibly your allergy medications.

If you can persuade them to help with the raking, great. Usually that keeps their interest for about ten minutes. Before you bag them up, however, the kids will definitely be on board for jumping, burrowing, and playing in big piles of leaves.

Fall family leaf jumping

Credit: Flickr user deedsfam

2. Build or fill a bird feeder

Autumn brings plenty of feathery friends around. Some of them need to bulk up for the migration south, while others who stick around could use an extra meal or two. Why not fill the bird feeder and get your little ones to watch the animals it brings?

Even better, get them involved by building your own bird feeders. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Pine cones, optimally the shorter, squatter ones with big gaps in them.
  • Peanut butter. Spoon a couple of tablespoons into a plastic bowl
  • Bird seed or sunflower seeds

Let your little ones slather peanut butter on the pine cones, and then sprinkle them with (or roll them in) the bird seed. Tie a string to the top to fasten these to trees, bushes, or other places within easy view of the window. Sprinkle some loose seed on the ground nearby to help the birds find them. The local critters will thank you.

3. Visit the pumpkin patch

family pumpkin patch

Credit: Flickr user glennf

Support your local farmers by visiting a bona-fide pumpkin patch. The day your little one gets to pick out his own pumpkin (especially if it’s still on the vine) will probably be the highlight of his fall, at least outside of October 31st. Pumpkin patches usually have other fun stuff for families, like hayrides, playgrounds, and face painting.

Your child’s first visit to the pumpkin patch as a baby, and also the first visit as a self-mobile toddler, are photo-worthy moments. The fall colors and bright orange of the pumpkins really make photos pop. So make sure the bring the camera! You can save all of your family photos on sites like Shutterfly.

4. Carve pumpkins and roast pumpkin seeds

Now that you have a whole mess of pumpkins, let’s make the most of them. Carving pumpkins is one of our all-time favorite fall activities. It’s incredibly messy, but that’s part of the fun. I highly recommend buying a pumpkin carving kit, whose narrow carving saws are ideal for the job. They’re much safer to use around little kids, too.

Your job is the carving, but the sticky job of seed and gunk removal can be delegated. Your little ones might also be good at picking out designs, doing the design-poker thing, or washing the seeds.

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted pumpkin seeds make for an easy, healthy snack. They’re very simple to make, too. Here’s my tried-and-true recipe:

  1. Wash the seeds thoroughly and spread them out to dry. Note, it takes hours for them to dry completely, and you have to keep spreading them around. It’s best done overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  3. In a large skillet, melt a few tablespoons of butter and stir in the pumpkin seeds. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon each of salt and garlic powder. Season salt also works well.
  4. Spread the seeds out on a baking tray or pizza pan.
  5. Bake for around 45 minutes, stirring the seeds occasionally so that they cook evenly. They’ll be dark golden brown when finished.

5. Drive for leaf peeping

Fall leaf peeping activities

Credit: Flickr user vampa___

Yes, this is a real thing. You pile everyone into a car and take a drive to enjoy the colors of fall. Timing is everything for this activity: you want to find a day when many of the leaves have turned, but most haven’t yet fallen. For us, it’s like a 2-week window. Everyone piles into the car, and you take a long drive along the river or up into the countryside.

Bright colors should be enough to distract the average toddler for about 2 minutes. This activity is best combined with your farm visit, apple picking, or pumpkin picking, so it’s not the only point of the journey.

You can look up the best time to go for your area online. For example, ABC News has a map of the peak leaf peeping times across the U.S. In some areas, especially the west coast, you might be in for a bit of a drive. Plan to make a whole day of it!

6. Visit a farm

A farm might not be the first place you think to visit in the fall, but there are plenty of reasons to go — fresh produce, close-up encounters with farm animals, and probably a hay ride. The newspaper is probably the best place to find these, both in advertising sections and in the entertainment / around town sections. Word of mouth is good, too. Failing that, you can always search for your city name and farm with hayride, which is a staple of most family-friendly farms.

Fall family farm visit

Credit: Flickr user anjanettew

We make an annual trip to a family-friendly place where the favorite activity is feeding baby goats (you get a baby bottle full of milk for like $1). We also visit the cows, horses, chickens, ducks, etc. It makes for some great pictures; just be sure to wash everyone’s hands afterward!

7. Go apple picking

All right, I saved one of our all-time favorite activities for number seven. This one is again a matter of timing, and perhaps a little bit of research too. There’s probably a big, commercial orchard in your area where you can go pick apples, peaches, or any sort of fruit/vegetable throughout the year. They’ll have plenty of parking, and regular hayrides out into the right orchards where you can pick red, green, or other varieties of apples. You can’t go wrong with these kinds of places, though they can be crowded.

Family apple picking

Credit: Flickr user joyosity

Alternatively, it might be possible to find a small orchard or apple farm for a more rustic and intimate experience. These family-owned farms might not be able to afford the big advertising, but they’re a lot of fun. No matter where you go, be sure to bring some little bags for the kids to carry. Side note, unless you watch them, they’ll probably do most of their apple picking on the ground. Since you’re paying by the pound, you’ll probably want to go through the harvest before you leave the orchard to pay.

8. Make caramel apples

You’ll probably get home with more apples than you can possibly eat in the next month, which leads me to my next activity suggestion: making caramel apples. It sounds a lot harder than it is. All you’ll need is about 6 of your best apples, a package of those square caramel candies (14 oz), and 2 tablespoons of milk.

  1. Wash and dry the apples. Remove stems, too.
  2. Microwave the caramels and milk in a microwave-safe bowl for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. While that’s going, set up a drying/cooling tray with foil or wax paper.
  4. Roll the apples in the caramel dip

That’s all it takes! Now you have a tasty fall treat to help you celebrate the orchard harvest.

9. Take an outdoor hike

Fall family hiking

Credit: Flickr user abplanalp

A hike is a great form of outdoor exercise to help your family enjoy the fall colors. Dress everyone in warm, comfortable clothes and most importantly, good walking shoes. You might also want to bring a backpack with drinks and snacks.

I’d recommend that you don’t venture too far from the car, especially since little legs have to take about two steps for every one of yours. Also, remember that every step taken away from the car is a step you have to take back. In other words, if you walk 1/2 a mile, your total hike will be 1 mile. Keep that in mind!

10. Press a leaf collection

Did you have to do the leaf collection and identification project in elementary school? I did, and it was torture, because that was the pre-internet era. Now it’s easy to identify leaves — there are even apps for your phone that can take a picture and match it to the correct tree — and so this is a fun project for kids. On which they won’t be graded (thank goodness). You can even make an art project or scrapbook out of it, since pressed leaves last a long time. Here are some other creative, crafty ideas for leaves on Pinterest:

11. Tackle the corn or haybale maze

If you live in the midwest, you’ll probably notice once of these unique attractions in early fall. Corn mazes are usually gone by late October, though, because the corn has to be harvested. Hay bale mazes are another long-lasting option, and lots of fun to enjoy with the family. You know the right-hand rule for solving a maze, right? If you don’t, now is a good time to learn it.

Family fall zoo visit

Mongoose (Credit: Flickr user airwolfhound)

12. Visit the Zoo

Last but not least, I’d like to suggest the fall activity we most recently enjoyed: going to your local zoo (or, failing that, a petting zoo). Fall is a great time to visit the zoo because it’s far less crowded, the blacktop doesn’t get as hot, and many of the money-sucking displays have closed, so there’s less temptation for your little one. You might even be able to find free parking!

It’s Your Turn

It won’t be long before winter’s here, and the crummy weather forces your energetic, restless little ones inside. I hope you take advantage of some of these suggestions. What’s your family’s favorite fall activity? Please use the comments below to share it!

Jul 212014

Contain entertain babiesHaving twins or multiples at home can be overwhelming. One of the hardest parts is simply multitasking – finding some way to entertain one twin while you nurse or feed or change the diaper of the other. This is a problem that’s magnified ten times when your little ones start crawling, and twenty times again when they start pulling up and walking.

We’re just going through that now, and it’s inspired today’s post: six ways to contain and entertain your twins.

These are ordered to match your twins’ development: newborn items first, and then gear that works for crawling or walking babies.

Boppy Pillow Contain twins1. Boppy Pillow

Before your little ones are mobile, the Boppy Nursing Pillow is an indispensable item. You can use it to support one or both twins while you nurse in the “double football hold”. Or, you can plop one baby in it while you take care of the other. Or, do as we did and have two Boppies, one for each twin. The C-shaped pillow provides ergonomic support, supporting the head and neck. By the way, their feet go toward the bottom, in the break in the circle.

2. Bumbo-type Baby Seat

Baby bumbo seat

Baby in Bumbo

You’ve probably heard of the Bumbo or similar floor-type baby seats – it’s a contoured plastic seat with a round base that support your baby in a sitting position. The interior is padded foam; the exterior hygienic, non-toxic, and easy to clean. Bumbo seats are great for feeding (especially solid food) and the perfect place to set your little one after he or she’s taken a bottle, to help prevent spit-ups.

No straps are required; the seat is contoured to hug a baby’s legs and bottom. The Bumbo’s round base makes it super-stable on the floor, and it has straps so that you can fasten it to a chair as well. Read this great review on Bumbo versus Bebepod.

 Twins portable swing3. Compact Portable Swing

We bought a Fisher-Price portable swing for travel and it’s probably one of the best baby products I’ve ever had. It’s compact, standing only about 2 feet tall. The variable speeds and music often lull babies to sleep, and there are little dangle toys to keep them entertained if that doesn’t happen.

One of the best things about this swing is that it’s compact, with a small footprint to save space in your home. Further, it folds up nearly flat, so it’s great to throw into the car for trips or visits to someone’s house.

4. Play Mat or Activity Gym

Activity gyms like the Treetop Friends Play Gym offer a soft, safe place for one or both of your twins to lay and play for a while. These are great for when your babies are just starting to move their arms and legs, but haven’t started rolling or scooting around on the floor. The mat defines a safe play area; it’s soft and padded and somewhat protected by the plastic arms overhead. Plus, the dangle toys engage and entertain your baby while laying there.

Baby gym entertain twins

These are also relatively compact, so they’re another good travel item. In particular it’s nice to bring over to someone’s house – you know it’s clean and safe in case you want to put a baby down.

5. Pack ‘N Play or Play Yard

Playpen for twinsWhen your little ones can move on their own, or even before that, a pack-n-play is the classic place to “entertain while containing” them. You can keep a few toys or a soft blankie in there to make it inviting. The mesh screen lets your baby see and interact with you, while keeping them sequestered.

If your twins will tolerate it, nothing’s better than a play yard to keep them busy while you get a few things done around the house. For our boys’ first birthday (which was in a county park), we brought along their pack-n-play and filled it with 100 lightweight plastic balls, the kind you’d find in a ball pit, which we bought on Amazon. They loved playing in there; before long other babies were being dropped in to share the fun.

6. Shopping Cart / High Chair Cover

The last item is not so much for home as for when you go out in public – to the grocery store or a restaurant. It is, hands-down, the item we’re most often asked about by complete strangers when they see it: a shopping cart and high chair cover.

Twin cart coverThese soft fabric coverings have straps to fit snugly around the edge of a grocery store shopping cart or the standard wooden high chairs you find in most restaurants. They’re softer than the hard metal or wood, and they prevent your little ones from touching those potentially germ-covered surfaces. In a shopping cart, it makes a cozy little nest that also keeps most little things (toys or pacifiers) from falling through the bars.

A bonus way to contain and entertain your twins: the Radio Flyer Pathfinder wagon, which we love enough to give it its own article!

Jun 282014

summer safety for toddlersSummer’s finally here, and with two extremely energetic twin boys in the home, I’m obviously thinking about all of the trouble and harm they might get into. Say what you want about winter in the temperate zones, but at least it forces us indoors where things are *reasonably* safe. I say “reasonably” because we’ve had just as many traumatic injuries indoors as we have outside.

However, with the better weather, we’re spending as much time as possible outdoors. We are fortunate enough to have a decent yard where the kids can play. They love it. We love it. And still, I’m worried about a long list of outdoor dangers. I’ll cover them here, along with the steps we’ve taken (or will take) to address them:

1. Car and driveway safety

It might be my imagination, but it seems like people are getting worse and worse at driving. Texting while driving, GPS systems, and general inattention are some of the reasons for this. We live on a non-through street and we still have people who zoom past the house in the middle of the day, going ten or fifteen miles per hour over the limit. This just drives me crazy.

I want to go out there and yell at them to slow down, but I also don’t want to be that person in the neighborhood.

toddler safety driveway guard

Driveway Guard

Our driveway is the main concern — our kids like to ride their bikes and scooters up and down it. We’re always telling them to stay away from the street, and they usually obey, but it’s that one time that you have to worry about. What I really want is the bright orange Kidcusion Driveway Guard which creates a visible, physical barrier between your kids and traffic.

2. The Relentless Sun

neutrogena kids sunscreenWe recently took a vacation, and even though it was “up north” it demonstrated how strong the sun can be during summertime. Especially when you’re playing outside in the yard, at the pool, or on a beach. It seems like despite all of the technology that we’ve invented to protect ourselves from sunburns and ultraviolet radiation, lots of people (and their kids) are getting way too much of both. Sunburns are painful, torturous experiences for children. More worrisome is the UV exposure, which can cause mutations in the DNA and damage skin permanently. I’m a geneticist, trust me on this.

Sunscreen Problems with Kids

Sometimes in the scramble to get 200 pounds of baby gear together, you’re going to forget the sunscreen. However, I think most of the time, it’s not a failure to use sunscreen, it’s a failure to use it enough. Our kids really don’t like waiting to put it on before going to play, and they don’t want to stop playing to get another coating of it, even when they’re due. Or they change outfits and suddenly have a bunch of new skin exposed. Honestly, what works best for us is the Neutrogena kids sunscreen, which sprays on via aerosol, is waterproof, and comes in 70 SPF. We keep two bottles in the van, so that we can find at least one of them.

Getting Out of the Sun

summer safety kid tentEven after coating them with sunscreen, you should probably minimize the direct sun exposure your kids are getting. A physical barrier that provides some shade is optimal, and it has the side benefit of keeping everyone a little bit cooler, too. A lot of areas — playgrounds, ball fields, beaches — simply don’t provide enough shade for families.

So we like to bring our own, in the form of a little portable shelter like the Schylling Pop-up UV Shade. This thing is small and lightweight to carry, and goes up about two minutes. Your kid can sit in the comfort of shade and still play, but without the direct sun. As an added bonus, it also works to keep off the rain.

3. Water Hazards: Pool, Lake, and Ocean Safety

It’s a fact that you and your toddler will probably spend some time around water. You might not be aware, but drowning is one of the most common causes of accidental death among children (in first world countries). According to the CDC, there are about ten deaths per day from drowning in the U.S., and two of those are children under 14 years of age.

The most at-risk group for drowning is children aged 1-4. It causes 30% of deaths in that age group, the most common cause after birth defects. And where do most of those drownings happen? In home swimming pools. Those aren’t the only danger zones, though. In 2010, there were 672 boating-related deaths in the U.S., 72% were from drowning. And 88% of those victims weren’t wearing life jackets. We are very conscious of water safety, and I think that’s well justified after reading those statistics.

Reducing the Risk of Drowning

water safety life jacketsResearch has shown that three factors can reduce the risk of losing a child to drowning:

  1. Teaching them swimming skills. In other words, get them some swim lessons! You can start at about 12 months old and go all the way until your child is practically a fish.
  2. Learn CPR. It saves lives and also improves the outcomes of water-related injuries.
  3. Use life jackets. They’re required by law for children when boating, by the way.

Use Life Jackets Around Water

We have U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets for all of our children. They wear them any time we’re around water: at the beach, lakeside, dock fishing, and even swimming in a pool. Not only do they help the child float, they’re also bright, which makes your child easy to see in the water (or in crowds), and they’re easy to grab.

See this wonderful CDC Fact Sheet on Water Safety for some excellent tips.

4. Aggressive Pets and Wild Animals

Humans might be at the theoretical top of the food chain, but that doesn’t mean that animals can’t harm us. Especially our little ones, who are basically defenseless and don’t know any better. We have a lot of wildlife in our neighborhood; probably the greatest concern is the white-tailed deer that frequent our yard. These are not shy animals, and though they’re generally going to run away if a child comes near, they are big. And fast. And sometimes they might have a fawn they’re trying to protect (something my neighbor’s dog found out the hard way).

One year old RottweilerAnother “animal” concern that’s statistically more likely to harm a child? Pets, especially aggressive dog breeds like pit bulls, rottweilers, and dobermans. Before you dog-lovers take up arms against me, let me say that I’m a dog owner, too. I’ve been to the shelters. I know that some breeds get an undeserved reputation, and that both nurture and nature can affect a dog’s temperament. But we’re talking about protecting your toddler from other people’s pets. It’s common-sense stuff like close supervision at all times, and fencing the yard, and teaching your toddlers not to approach strange dogs. Even though we have a dog, and the kids are good with it, they know that they should not even go near another dog unless Mommy or Daddy says it’s OK.

5. Ticks and Mosquitos

insect repellent Letting your toddlers outside — even into the backyard — might put them in contact with some itch-inducing forms of wildlife. Mosquitos, ticks, and biting flies are doubly hazardous: they bite and cause irritation, and they can also carry serious diseases, like West Nile (mosquitos), Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (ticks).

Ticks are usually waning by high summer, when most of us go outside. But mosquitos are on the rise, and they like the same places we do: shady backyards, poolsides, lakeshores, etc. I fricking hate mosquitos as I hate nothing else. So we believe in using bug repellent — the kids get the Cutter Sensations version (7% DEET), which is pretty mild compared to what I wear when I’m hiking (25-75% DEET). To repel mosquitos from our backyard or patio, we also try:

  • Citronella candles and torches
  •  Mosquito dunks in standing water (rain barrels, koi ponds) to kill the larvae
  • Mosquito coils, which work for hours (good) but have to be lit (bad)
  • Bug-free backyard, either the fogger (easier to use) or the one you spray with your hose, which lasts longer
Leaves of 3, Let it Be

Leaves of 3, Let it Be

6. Poisonous Plants

Then, of course, we have toxic plants to worry about. Most notably, poison ivy. Parents should learn what this plant looks like, and keep everyone the heck away from it.

This plant comes in many forms: it grows on the ground or on trees and fences. Its leaves might be rough or smooth. But the one reliable characteristic is that every plant has leaves in sets of three. If you can simply avoid it, you should. If it’s growing in your yard, however, it’s got to go. A diluted bleach solution will kill it (and almost any plant, by the way).


Feb 092014
Ways Twin boys like velociraptors

Credit: Surlygirl on Flickr

Our twin boys are just wrapping up their terrible two’s. So much of watching them grow, learn to talk, show personality, and try new things has been pure delight. At the same time, keeping our boys out of trouble is simply exhausting. They’re fast, devious, and curious about everything.

You know what else falls into that category? Velociraptors. I’m talking about the eerily intelligent and vicious dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. When I started thinking about it, I realized there are at least 7 things that twin boys and velociraptors have in common:

1. They Work As A Team Against You

Our child-proofing strategy is two pronged: keep the kids (1) away from things that are dangerous (tools, scissors, the stove), and out of stuff that they’re not supposed to be getting into (the pantry, the refrigerator, our bedside table). And while we love seeing our boys play nicely together — rather than fighting — it’s often at the expense of one of these safeguards.

Sometimes they both are working together to rip open the box of Cheez-Its and eat as many as possible before we catch on. Other times, it seems more nefarious: one boy distracts us with a tantrum, an injury, or some other attention-getting device, while the other breaches the gate or child lock. It’s a bit like that scene in Jurassic park where one raptor distracts the would-be hunter, and the other attacks from one side.

2. They Systematically Probe for Weaknesses

Twin boys fence

Credit: dconklin on Flickr

Even the best child-proofing and parent surveillance has its weak points. Gates can be climbed over or knocked loose. Cabinets or drawers might be left open (and unattended) for just a second. Unless you live in a one-room apartment, there are going to be blind spots. Our twins were quick to identify these (the foyer by the front door is a favorite) and use them for their schemes. They’ve also learned:

  • How to pick the locks of our internal house doors using one of their sister’s hair clips
  • That opening enough drawers in a chest-of-drawers effectively turns it into a ladder
  • The location of every drawer and cabinet where we try to keep things they’re not supposed to have
  • How to use everyday objects like their Vtech train to reach higher ground

3.  They’re Messy Eaters

One area of our house that usually takes the most abuse is the dining room. Sure, it was wonderful when our twins learned to feed themselves. It was also a subtle shift of power, because they got to control the food and the utensils. This independence, coupled with a growing natural defiant streak, have them really testing their limits. How many chips can I eat before touching the sandwich? How far can I throw this grape? These are questions they seem to try answering daily.

Twin boys eating

Credit: bhenak on Twitter

Do you remember the scene in Jurassic Park where the raptors are fed while still in their enclosure? They lower a fully grown cow on some kind of a crane into dense vegetation. Screams, snarls, and chaos follow. Then the crane’s lifted, the cow is gone, and the harness is in tatters. That’s kind of what it’s like when our twins are done with dinner.

4. No Matter Where You Hide, They Find You

Thanks to those lock-picking skills I mentioned, it’s hard to keep our kids out of anywhere. Even the bathroom while you’re in it. You think that they’re completely engaged with something on the other side of the house, so you sneak upstairs to get dressed or find a belt or something. You hear a noise behind you. It’s like that moment when the velociraptors figure out the door handles.

Jurassic Park Twin boys

Joseph Mazzello in Jurassic Park

It’s the sound of the lock clicking as it opens. I challenge you to find a few minutes alone in our house outside of nap time.

5. They’re Unnaturally Strong and Fast

The scene above in Jurassic Park is one of the most frightening, because you see for the first time how fast the raptors are, how high they can jump. The special effects are good, and the effect chilling. These raptors are only five or six feet tall, but they scared me more than the T-rex did.

I’m reminded of this whenever one of our boys doesn’t want to get into the bathtub, or refuses to give up a piece of contraband. They are strong. It’s just not natural!

6. When It’s Too Quiet, Be Afraid!

twin boys and velociraptors

Sam Neill in Jurassic Park

Two year old boys are loud. They laugh, shout, cry, whine, and make all kinds of noise at all times. Unless Caillou is on, we expect a cacophony at all times around our house. You’d expect the same for a dinosaur-filled jungle. So when it’s quiet (like when the power went out on Jurassic Park), it’s probably time to be very frightened.

The same holds true in our house. If one or both boys are out of sight, and quiet, 90% of the time it means they’re getting into something that they shouldn’t. Like, a bag of Lindt truffles (Friday) or a few loose drill bits (today).

7. They Steal the Show

In Jurassic Park, the T-rex was the apex predator. The Godzilla. The big star. Yet the dinosaur that really haunted moviegoers’ dreams for weeks afterward was something much smaller. Cleverer. More agile. The velociraptor stole the show, and that’s what twin boys do as well. They’re show-offs with little to no regard for their own safety. They get into trouble almost for the fun of it. And that is why twin boys are like velociraptors.

Feb 052014

educational shows for toddlersIn a perfect world, our kids would spend their days studying under private tutors, with plenty of breaks to go play outside. There would be no time for television or video games. In the real world, parents have messes to clean up, bills to pay, and piles upon piles of laundry. Sometimes we need a few minutes of downtime.

We do let our little ones watch TV sometimes, and so as not to feel badly about it, we look for shows that are (1) educational, and (2) able to keep our children’s interest.

This balance isn’t easy to find, but here are 7 shows that both teach and entertain; they’re all popular with our 4-year-old preschooler and her twin 2-year-old terrors.

Caillou toddler show1. Caillou

There is no show in the world right now that enchants our twins as much as Caillou. He’s a mostly hairless 4-year-old boy who loves having adventures and hanging out with grandma & grandpa. This isn’t a spelling-and-numbers show; it’s more about a child learning more about his world and how to handle it.

In one episode, he goes to a park where kids are sailing little boats in a pond. Then he and his grandfather go down to workshop and build a boat of their own. Caillou’s cute and energetic, with an authentic talent for saying things that are a bit gauche.

Lessons Learned: Manners, sharing, trying new things

2. Little Einsteins

little einsteins toddler showOne of our daughter’s favorite shows, Little Einsteins features four jet-setting kids who travel the world in their rocket ship (hidden in what’s essentially a Batcave), chasing down adventures. Each show features music by a famous composer and art by a famous artist, so this show teaches a little bit of culture as well as team work and problem-solving.

This show also does a nice job of showing other parts of the world — Africa, Asia — that are often under-represented in media aimed at small children.

Lessons Learned: Safety, teamwork, respect, art, and history

wild kratts toddler show3. Wild Kratts

This show is unusual in several ways: it’s a hybrid of real and animated footage based around two brothers, Martin and Chris Kratt. It’s mostly animated. They travel the world, meeting up with all kinds of different animals. Every episode is a funny, crazy adventure, and also features some real science on how animals survive and thrive out in the wild.

The Kratt brothers are real-life zoologists, so they’re qualified to convey this information. They make it interesting, too, covering such animals as the platypus and the great white shark.

Lessons Learned: Zoology, ecology, conservation

super why show for toddlers4.  Super Why!

Another PBS show that somehow captivates the attention of our little ones is Super Why. The kid stars call themselves “The Super Readers” and they each have a superpower. Even as I write this, I know the theme song is going to get stuck in my head. If it wasn’t obvious from the team name, this show teaches the alphabet as well as basic spelling and word recognition.

It’s also a little bit like Little Einsteins, in that they travel to interesting parts of the world and help others.

Lessons Learned: ABC’s, spelling, counting, word recognition.

sid the science kid show5. Sid the Science Kid

If your little one is into science, [reverse] engineering, or gadgets, I’d highly recommend Sid the Science Kid. He’s an energetic little guy (with a very patient mom) who likes inventing things, doing little experiments. What keeps the kids interested is the way they use humor, music, and songs to explore otherwise-dry concepts like science and nature.

This show was developed by the Jim Henson Company and ran on PBS until last year, when it was acquired by Spout.

Lessons Learned: Science, nature, health, tools & measurements, many.

6. The Backyardigans

backyardigans toddler showOK, I admit that The Backyardigans is my favorite of all our kids’ shows. The five friends all live in houses that back up to one another, and they meet every day to have (pretend) adventures in their back yards. Their creativity seems to have no limits — one day they might all be pirates, another day they might be running around ancient Greece.

The songs and music are really well done; they’re enchanting! Especially the opening one, and the closing one (which I’ll warn you contains the phrase “Now it’s time for a snack” which is eagerly parroted by our little ones).

Lessons Learned: Creativity/imagination, world history, teamwork

7. Sesame Street, especially Elmo’s World

Sesame Street Elmo's worldI just had to mention the beloved PBS show for kids. Sesame Street has been around since most of us parents were children, and it’s simply amazing how timeless (and excellent) the show remains. Heck, I even find it entertaining to watch as an adult. Sesame Street features a great cast of colorful puppet characters, but there are a couple of stand-out favorites in our house: Elmo and Cookie Monster.

There’s a reason that the Elmo’s World segment comes near the end of the show; like the dairy section in a grocery store, this is the part that brings nearly everyone in, and they make you go through the rest first.

What Are Your Toddler’s Favorite Shows?

Leave us a comment with your favorite educational, entertaining shows for toddlers & preschoolers.