Last month I wrote a piece for The Mabelhood on the Great Screen Time Debate which generated some great on-line conversations among parents and caregivers on exactly how much TV is “too much”. It also highlighted the fact that, for some parents, avoiding screen time altogether was impossible and unrealistic.
As a follow-up, I wanted to share My Top 10 Educational TV Shows for Kids, particularly toddlers and preschoolers. By no means am I a professional TV critic or education expert, but with so many shows out there claiming to be “educational”, it is sometimes hard to decipher between what is actually purely entertainment and what may contribute to the learning and development of your child. As a teacher/tutor myself, I am very selective as to what my daughters can and cannot watch, and avoid networks that show advertisements altogether. Here I would like to share, what I think, are reasonably educational shows that somewhat engage kids, get them moving and may even promote a little learning fun along the way!
Why it’s great: At first glance, I wasn’t convinced that “Paw Patrol” had many benefits for my kids, but when my youngest became obsessed with the show, I had no choice but to submit! I admit – it has grown on me and “Paw Patrol” does seem to teach preschoolers about citizenship and solving problems by way of a group of friendly rescue pups who team up to help friends in need. The stories simply illustrate for kids how different types of people and skills coordinate to get a job done, which touches on broader themes like respect and relating to people of different backgrounds. It has also started a conversation at our house about service dogs and all of the positive effects they have on people.
Why it’s great: Apart from the main character’s annoying tone of voice, “Caillou” is a practical show that introduces both typical preschooler behaviour and solutions to everyday challenges they face. Aimed at the toddler and preschool crowd, “Caillou” is a friendly and curious kid who explores the world around him in his middle class neighbourhood and recounts his first day at school, arguing with friends and dealing with siblings. The show is organized into short segments, just the right length for a young child’s attention span. If you can put up with his voice, “Caillou” is a decent show for modeling good behavior.
Why it’s great: “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is a spin-off inspired by a character from “Mister Rogers Neighborhood”, a classic children’s program that aired for over 3 decades on TV. It features 4-year-old Daniel Tiger and his daily preschooler struggles, including how to tie a shoe, get dressed and use the appropriate words (deep stuff). With the help of Daniel and his friends, preschoolers have fun and learn practical skills necessary for growing , developing and coping with everyday problems.
Why it’s great: As a science teacher and self-proclaimed science geek, this show is right up my alley. Not only is the animation super cool, but Sid models great scientific questioning and thinking. Rather than focusing on science as something you have to learn in school, it approaches science as a form of exploration, with Sid and his pals pursuing a daily question. Preschoolers and toddlers are natural explorers and this show caters to their curious nature while introducing them to the basic principles of science.
Why it’s great: One of my toddler’s first words was “bubble” and I am convinced it was as a result of watching too much “Bubble Guppies”. The show features a group of fish-tailed preschoolers exploring their underwater world and asking their classroom teacher, Mr. Grouper, loads of curious questions. Children learn about topics such as science, math and literacy through original music and the antics of this group of flippered friends. The tunes are catchy, the colours are bright and the characters are loveable. This is a favourite of both of my girls.
Why it’s great: Yes, I have been ensnared in the “Dora the Explorer” machine. My eldest daughter adored this bilingual character and our home is inundated with “Dora the Explorer” books, toys, games and puzzles (we even have a Dora kitchen for crying out loud). I do admit that the show engages preschoolers with its colourful characters, descriptive dialogue and daily mystery that Dora must solve. A study in Scientific American described how shows like “Dora the Explorer” actually improved the vocabulary of some older preschoolers. One of the key attributes of Dora’s character that I am most appreciative of is her empathy: she shares, she cares and she helps others, even Swiper the kleptomaniac fox who is constantly swiping other characters stuff. I also love the fact that this show features a female, diverse and positive role model, something every little girl could benefit from. Introducing preschoolers to another language (spanish) doesn’t hurt either.
Why it’s great: The Wiggles are an Australian children’s music group that have been performing and recording music since 1991. Both of my daughters absolutely love this fab four and cannot sit through an entire episode without getting up and dancing to the silly songs. The show promotes literacy, numeracy and kin-aesthetic fun and the characters are quirky and amiable. What I love most about the show is how it promotes kids to be age-appropriately silly and move their bodies to the rhythm of the catchy songs. We have had the pleasure of seeing the Wiggles live multiple times and my kids loved it!
Why it’s great: I wish this show was around when I was a kid! Not the most mathematically-minded person ever, I would have benefited from watching “Team Umizoomi”. This delightful series for preschoolers reinforces numeracy skills like counting, measuring and spatial relations. The show’s interactive format will keep kids engaged and excited about helping Geo, Milli and Bot solve the problems they encounter in Umi City. Plus, they will develop other key skills such as shape recognition and color identification along the way. Kids won’t actually know they are “doing math” while watching this positive preschooler show.
Why it’s great: A literary enthusiast, I absolutely love this show. In each episode, 4 fairytale friends go on magical adventures and turn into literary-powered superheroes trying to solve a problem in Storybook Village (how cute is that?). This show promotes key literacy skills like spelling, sounding out letters, identifying words and even some basic reading skills. It also teaches lessons in friendship, teamwork and respect and promotes imaginary play. “Super Why” is interactive, engaging and entertaining, a must for your preschoolers TV show roster.
Why it’s great: Who didn’t grow up watching “Sesame Street”? A long time favourite of children and adults, the PBS classic promotes preschool education at its best with relate-able, lovable characters who are so entertaining, kids don’t even know they are learning. And I am not alone in my belief that “Sesame Street” has some long term benefits. A study out of the University of Maryland found that the show delivered educational benefits to millions of American children, even benefits as powerful as the ones children get from going to preschool itself! This holds especially true to kids from lower socio-economic regions. For over 5 decades, “Sesame Street” has been delighting kids from around the globe with Big Bird leading a cast of colourful characters that teach children literacy and numeracy skills. My daughters also love the various Sesame Street apps for iPad that focus on the alphabet and counting.
Honourable mentions go out to a few classic shows that I grew up with such as the CBC’s “Mr. Dressup”, “Reading Rainbow”, “Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood”, “Today’s Special”, “The Polka Dot Door” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy”. Current shows like “Peg + Cat”, “Word World”, “Wild Kratts”, “Wallykazam” and "StoryBots" should get a shout-out too!
What are your kids watching? The next time your kids sit down in front of the tube, take a closer look at the content of your children’s favourite shows.