Many of us have fond memories from our childhood of Saturday morning cartoons and wholesome TV shows like Mr. Rogers. It was a simpler time in the days of TV programming when shows weren’t available on demand, and there wasn’t such a sheer and overwhelming volume of choices.
As a parent, there is virtually no way to monitor all the selections a child might make, and shows tend to be far more entertainment-focused than education. Not only that, but a lot of kids shows these days are just downright intolerable for a self-respecting adult to watch (the new Care Bears rehash comes to mind).
It’s not only an issue of kids’ shows being boring or hokey for adults; it’s that they essentially ignore the basics of child development.
Firstly, young children imitate; they do not learn lessons from complex storylines. As heart-warming as a story might be, your child is not learning and growing along with the main character; they are copying the behaviors they see, the good and the bad.
Take a show like Thomas the Tank Engine, which has been wildly popularly ever since its inception, with members of The Beatles providing voiceovers.
This show was created by Reverend A.W. Awdry, who likely had very good intentions to teach children lessons about pride, poor work ethic, selfishness, and what have you.
The problem is he uses characters who are fairly awful to get his moral truisms across. These are characters you don’t want your kid imitating, even the beloved protagonist, Thomas.
Luckily, more and more great shows are coming out to actually model the behavior we’d like to see in our kids.
Below are my favorites:
1. Puffin Rock
This sweet, beautifully animated series features a young Puffin and his family. They go through what a typical day might be like for a family of puffins, which is both wholesome and adorable. There are a lot of nature themes present, as well as simple lessons that kids can relate to, like how to include the younger sibling.
The characters speak calmly and respectfully to each other, show care and concern, and demonstrate selflessness at time. All good things for kids to pick up on. Incidentally, this show is illustrated by the same artists who did one of my all-time favorite children’s movies, Song of the Sea. Oh, and everyone has an Irish accent!
Another benefit is that these are relaxed storylines; they aren’t the drama and flashing lights of a lot of kids programming. You feel calmer at the end of watching this show, and the soft music throughout helps, too.
As a fan of travel that really opens you up to new cultures and ways of living, I’m especially fond of Mouk. It follows two best friends as they bicycle their way around the world, meeting new characters in each destination they find. It includes authentic factoids about each place they visit and a window into other cultures.
Of course, being a kids show, it can be a bit simplistic, but it still gives a snapshot of what the rest of the world is like. I particularly like that the two main characters have opposite personalities; one is very cheerful and ready to take on new adventures, the other a bit curmudgeonly. It opens up a lot of opportunities for dialogues about being positive, open-minded, trying new things, and choosing to have a good experience even when things don’t go your way.
3. Peppa Pig
These days most everyone with a kiddo has heard of Peppa Pig. This show isn’t my absolute favorite, but for a popular option it gets a pretty good grade in my book. The storylines are simple and sweet, there are cute little ditties that the kids will enjoy singing, and it’s just quirky enough that it can elicit a laugh from an adult from time to time.
Peppa Pig’s multigenerational family is mostly cooperative and empathetic toward each other. They also spend a lot of time in the garden, in the country, at the seaside, and generally out of doors.
4. Odd Squad
A show for kids who are a bit older, the Odd Squad has a much more Hollywood feel to it. It’s a live action show that features a troupe of secret agent-esque kids who go around solving “oddities” that have to do with math concepts, like fractions, prime numbers, counting by tens, and more.
The kids of this show are really talented, and it has a bit of a slapstick quality script that isn’t snarky or rude. I actually really enjoy the punny writing, and I’m happy for my kiddo to imitate it. This show is great for kids who are into theater.
5. The Magic School Bus
I was thrilled when I saw the original show from my childhood come out on Netflix, and my little science-minded guy was immediately into it. I’m assuming that because of the popularity of the first, Netflix decided to do a reboot featuring Ms. Frizzle’s sister as the new teacher in town.
This show has all the charm and magic of the first, although the kids are a little more modern in their speech and don’t always behave exactly how you’d want your kids to. They also talk about technology and using phones a lot, which is a little too meta for my taste. Despite that, I still love the passion for science that it instills as well as the little bit of mystery and wonder you can always expect from the Friz.
When family TV time comes around, I hope you enjoy these shows as much as me and my little guy do. Let me know what you think about these and if there are any other favorites of yours I might’ve left out.