In the complex world of twenty-first century parenting, Screen Time can be the subject of much debate and anxiety.
Every family has different ideas and expectations about this subject. I certainly do not have it figured out. Also, my personal philosophy is in flux regarding the advantages and pitfalls of screen-bound entertainment and education. But …
we have managed to curate a list of several kid’s shows that both I and the kids like. We’ll try out new shows on Netflix every once in a while, but we have our go-to list of shows that (fortunately!) the boys don’t mind watching on repeat.
My loosely defined standard of quality is that I would rather not have my kids watch shows that are the mental equivalent to cotton candy flavored crack or that induce nightmares (since that means I have to wake up during the night too, and we’ve finallllly got a handle on sleep training). Also, I usually veto shows that are endless compilations of marketing-driven, high-pitched, plot-hole-filled, hyperbole-laced artificial drama. (Some LARGE number of shows fit in this category.) Sometimes those boundaries are a bit fuzzy, but we work with it as best we can. (And during emergencies, we bring out the special “cotton candy” shows ;). My son asked the other day if he would get to watch one of his Emergency Shows if he fell off the couch and got hurt … while he was standing precariously on the back of the couch. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been quite so transparent on my parenting philosophy with them 0_o.)
Here’s a list of our favorite (parent and kid-approved) shows. Our boys are 2 and 4 years old, so this list is obviously geared toward a younger audience. I’d love to hear about others you’ve run across that have worked well for your family!
None of these are affiliate marketing links (mostly because I haven’t figured out how to do that yet!). That means I get paid nothing for you to click on these links ;). (Just thought I should put that out there to fill out the disclaimer portion of this post.)
My boys love Creative Galaxy! (available on Amazon Prime) This show has literally changed our lives by providing my busy pre-school boys with continual streams of creative inspiration and ideas. Since watching (and re-watching every episode), both boys have been inspired to create masterpieces, all day long and everywhere we go. I’ve re-arranged our living room to make space for a “creation station” and they will frequently go pick out paper and tape and pom poms and googly eyes (etc., etc.) and just keep making stuff (mostly of the Monsters and Robots species). When we go outside, my 2 year old loves to pick up sticks and arrange them into a “picture” and tell me proudly, “I made a masterpiece!” It’s so much fun to see them get so inspired to make things and be creative! (This is not a paid promotion — we just really like the series!!)
Little Einsteins (on Netflix) is also a great way to introduce kids to famous works of art and music. It’s more on the educational side than the inspirational side, since it doesn’t leave kids with ideas of things they can go do, but it’s still great for exposure to the arts at a young age.
The best thing I’ve ever found for teaching kids to read is the Leapfrog production called Letter Factory. (We check it out from the library repeatedly, so there’s that option. Or you could buy it!) Both my boys watched this So Many Times when they were 2 and learned (without any direct instruction from me!!!) all the letters of the alphabet and all the sounds they make. (It doesn’t differentiate between soft and hard sounds, but it gives a solid enough start to phonics that the other pieces were easy enough to add in later.) Seriously, Letter Factory is the best accidental discovery we’ve made yet. Leapfrog also has a cheap (maybe $15?) “computer” with a keyboard that makes letter sounds and provides pictures and words for animals that start with each letter. (Here’s the link to the official product, just fyi: http://www.leapfrog.com/en-us/store/p/my-own-leaptop/_/A-prod19150)
WordWorld (used to be on Netflix but now we get it from the library) and SuperWhy (on Netflix) are both fun shows that provide exposure to words and story elements, but are not strategic in their approach to reading — which can be fine as part of the bigger picture, but these have not been very helpful learning tools for us.
Rock ‘N Learn has several dvds for different subjects. Their dvd called Sight Words 1 (here’s the link to the product in their store) was a good next step following Letter Factory. My son watched this several times and I made flash cards based on the sight words (includes all pre-primer Dolch words, the top 20 from Fry’s, and more). This led us very naturally into using Bob books and sounding out words, and helped boost his confidence immensely as we’ve moved up to level 1 and 2 reading books, since these sight words appear all over the place in any book he reads now. They also have a second dvd for more sight words, but we didn’t use that one as much.
I love what I’ve seen on Sid the Science Kid (on Netflix). Every episode teaches great science principals that are easy to understand for pre-schoolers. (I’m sure older kids would understand even more and still enjoy the shows.) As a former teacher, I find myself inspired by the interactive notebooks they create for their science journals, and I love the way they use the Grandma character to work in extension ideas to every topic.
Rachel and the Treeschoolers is a series of dvds developed for preschoolers and covers perhaps the complete science curriculum for preschoolers in a song-based, factual-while-entertaining way. When your toddlers sing themselves to sleep to the tune of “photosynthesis,” it feels like you’re doing something right in this world ;). Rachel (the creator of the Treeschooler series) is an amazing teacher. She is more well-known for her series of dvds teaching sign language to children (www.signingtime.com), and her potty-training app has gotten us through some tough times as well :).
The Cat in the Hat (on Netflix) is kind of a like the Magic Schoolbus (also on Netflix) for younger kids. The Cat in the Hat (Super Scientist!) swoops into every episode to take Nick and Sally on fantastic adventures with Thing 1 and Thing 2, exploring how things work or are made or how different type of creatures live. There’s a lot of good information presented in a thoroughly engaging and entertaining way here. There’s also a series of books based on this show (or maybe the other around?) that teaches science concepts to kids in poetic form (sparing no big words!)
Monster Math (on Netflix): This one falls pretty definitively into the high-pitched, artificial melodrama category, but it does teach some good math concepts (at a verrrry basic level), and it presents monsters as cute cuddly creatures (which is probably a good thing?), so I’ve added it to our rotation. Our 2 year old loves it … not so much for the 4 year old.
Justin Time (on Netflix) is based on the time travels of a young boy (Justin) and his imaginary friends (Squidgy and Olive). Each episode starts with Justin encountering some difficulty (of the normal not-wanting-to-share variety, not the hyberole-laced kind where the world is ending at every turn) and then getting transported to some imaginary world which is always set in a historical context where the same issue is resolved by kid heroes and everyone learns important life lessons. This series could actually be in a history or geography or it’s-a-good-life category.
Character traits/ life lessons:
TV doesn’t get much better than good old Daniel Tiger (on PBS kids), inspired by Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. Kids learn everything from potty training to sharing toys to dealing with younger siblings on this creative animated show. We also ran across a cooperative board game at a thrift store based on the show, and it’s been a hit with our kids!
Kazoops (on Netflix) is a fun family-based show that deals with lots of childhood problems (like being bored, or not wanting things to change, or dealing with disappointment, etc.). (Maybe those aren’t just childhood problems, come to think of it …) Like most of the other series I’ve mentioned here, this makes good use of songs to help the main points stick; often our kids will sing part of a song from this show in the context of some frustrating situation, and it helps us laugh it off and move on (sometimes).
Intellijoy Educational Games has an app called Kids ABC Letter Trains. Kids trace train tracks in the shape of letters and numbers with increasing levels of difficulty built in to each letter/number. They get stickers after mastering 5 letters (something like that); my son loved using this app. (This was probably due to the fact that it involved trains, and because it was the only time I would let him use my phone ;).)
Just Plain Stinkin’ Cute!
Sarah and Duck (on Netflix) is possibly the cutest kids’s show I have ever seen. I can’t say there’s a lot of life lessons or anything educational to learn from it, but your kids sure will pick up the cutest little british accents ;). We’ve had moments that involved phrases like, “Oof, that was a sight!” and “I ran out of woosh,” thanks to this delightful show portraying simple, innocent childhood through beautifully detailed animation.
Those accents though — totally worth the price of Netflix just for Sarah and Duck ;).
Note: This is up to date as of August, 2017. Netflix shows continually change, so if you’re looking for something and it’s no longer available on Netflix, check out other sources or look for it at your local library.
What else should I add to this list? Please leave comments below!
Math Resources (and other subjects coming at a future date) for Teachers, Tutors, and Homeschooling families
If you’d like to see my own growing library of educational resources (mostly focused on math) for pre-K through high school students, you can visit my online store at: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Sandra-Balisky. You can read more about my new venture in this blog post here.