In 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.
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
One 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
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
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.
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
OK, 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
I 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.