Today’s moms get an earful about the perils of screen time. How come nobody ever mentions the crazy ass Saturday morning cartoons we watched as kids? Tom and Jerry plotting murder. The Scooby Doo gang hunting ghosts and zombies. Wile E. Coyote blowing himself up with a grenade. Compared with those nightmare-inducers, almost anything we let our kids watch on TV is going to be an improvement.
But I still think it still pays to be picky with TV for preschoolers. I mean, all it takes is one episode of Caillou for your kid to become a world-class whiner. And that Paw Patrol theme song–please, God, no.
When it’s TV time in my house, I direct my kids towards shows that are educational, good-hearted, positive and, as a bonus, not too painful to have on in the background while I’m making dinner. Here are 11 sweet shows that I never feel guilty about letting my preschooler watch, because they’re just that good:
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
The Tiger parents are way smarter than I am and they know how to navigate every preschool problem, from major milestones like potty training and the birth of a sibling to more ordinary challenges like waiting for food at a restaurant. Truth: I watched the episode about the death of a pet fish BY MYSELF just to get some good advice on how to talk to kids about that stuff.
Live action Steve and his cartoon dog Blue need your help finding three clues to solve a puzzle (and they will wait patiently in silence while you think about the answer!). A highly interactive show that feels safe enough to screen for your littlest viewers, yet smart enough to grow with them.
This show about a magic stick-wielding troll straight up teaches spelling and yet somehow it’s entertaining enough to keep kids interested. Thanks for doing my job for me, Wally!
After 50 years on the air, Sesame Street, now on HBO, still shines as the gold standard in kids television, with a multi-cultural cast of humans and muppets teaching young kids about everything from reading to dancing to coping with big emotions. The celebrity cameos are fun too.
The Magic School Bus
Science comes to life with wacky humor and adventure when Mrs. Frizzle takes her class on field trips to such unusual places as outer space and inside the human body. Both the old version voiced by Lily Tomlin and the new episodes on Netflix with SNL’s Kate McKinnon are a hoot and a half.
Every child’s education should include Beatles lyrics, and what better way to share your love of classic rock than with this charming animated series themed around Beatles music. Watch as five bug friends get a Ticket to Ride on a Magical Mystery Tour and learn that All You Need is Love.
Kids Baking Championship
Our whole family loves to watch talented tweens bake and decorate impressive pastries, from eclairs to multi-tiered cakes. Though technically a reality show, this Food Network competition hosted by Valerie Bertinelli and Duff Goldman from “Ace of Cakes” is the kindest, gentlest version imaginable, with lots of hugs and encouragement.
The beloved star of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music (Julie Andrews – over 80 and awesome!) helps a group of puppets stage their own musical. Kids will learn what goes on behind the scenes in a real theater while parents can enjoy celebrity guests like Alec Baldwin, Josh Groban and Ellie Kemper.
Mili, Geo and a robot friend named Bot solve problems in Umi City using their mighty math powers. I swear my kid learned the entire concept of patterns from watching this show.
The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That
That mischievous rascal from the Dr. Seuss book is now a responsible science expert who makes young Nick and Sally get mom’s permission before they disappear on a wild adventure. This show nerds out on bees, whales, weather, and all sorts of other cool stuff worth exploring with your favorite Cat, who’s voiced by Martin Short.
Don’t hate. I know Peppa’s not going to teach math or science, but it does teach resilience. Whether Mummy Pig gets stuck in a blackberry bush or George loses his dinosaur, this family always finds the silver lining in tricky situations, and they always end up laughing together.
Read On to get ScreenWise:
- Tips to Get Your Internet-savvy Kids Off the Couch
- TBH, I Have No Regrets About My Kids’ Screen Time While Traveling
- FreeTime subscription for the Amazon Fire tablet