We've all heard about the research on kids and tv - too much is bad, SpongeBob is worse. But let's face it, kids are going to watch tv. So, what should you choose? Remember, as parents we have the opportunity to help form some of the habits our kids develop. Here are a few suggestions for great kids television that they'll enjoy and you'll feel good about letting them watch. And in addition to watching a show, we also include some ideas on fun follow-up activities to do with the kids.
IF YOUR KIDS LOVE ANIMALS & THE OUTDOORS
Most kids enjoy nature, animals and being outside. It may seem ironic to present the idea of 'watching' nature instead of going outside to enjoy it, but there will be times that even outdoor adventurers will want to watch something. Try a few of these great shows that can easily be connected with outdoor activities. They are also highly recommended for kids who don't spend enough time outside as they will entice your child to go out and explore!
Wild Kratts/Kratt's Creatures (PBS Kids)
I loved the Kratt Brothers back when they hosted "Zoboomafoo"! Chris and Martin know how to have fun and get kids excited to learn about animals, their habits and habitats.
Add-on Activity: If your kids love wild animals, take them to visit the zoo or a local nature center.
Dinosaur Train (PBS Kids)
Learn about dinosaurs from A to Z, along with fun songs and trains. Dinosaur Train encourages kids to get in touch with nature, along with learning about various dinos. Kids can also become a Nature Tracker by printing off a booklet and completing some fun nature activities.
Add-on Activity: Did you know that there are Dinosaur Train geocaches around the country?? Geocaching is a real-life treasure hunt and a great way to have fun outside!
Octonauts (Disney Junior)
Go on an adventure with animal oceanographers who love to "explore, rescue and protect" other animals. Based on a great series of books, kids will fall in love with these cute creatures and get an early introduction to habitats, ecology and animal conservation.
Add-on Activity: If you kids like sea life, visit a local aquarium or fish hatchery.
Bindi the Jungle Girl (Discovery Kids)
Kids love watching other kids their age do amazing things! Bindi, who is the daughter of the late crocodile hunter Steve Erwin, introduces kids to wildlife from around the world. She also talks to kids about how we need to help take care of animals and their environments.
Add-on Activity: Check to see if your local zoo has a rainforest or jungle exhibit. You can also visit reptiles native to your area at animal preserves or nature centers.
IF YOUR KIDS ENJOY MUSIC
We've all met a child who loves music - they sing frequently, love to hear all kinds of music and learn better if the information is presented as a song. Use this interest to your advantage by having kids learn more about notes, music and developing their musical skills. Or, if your kids won't get off the couch, musical shows are a great way to get them up and moving!
Little Einstein's (Disney Junior)
"We're going on a trip in our favorite rocket ship.." and learn quite a bit about music and music theory along the way! Kids will learn musical terms such as forte (loud), concepts such as rhythm and hear some classical music played in a way they will enjoy. My kids loved watching Little Einsteins !
Add-on Activity: Have your child make an easy instrument, such as a drum using an oatmeal container with un-sharpened pencils as drumsticks. Teach them to keep a beat. Or, if you have some instruments at home (such as a drum, tambourine or whistle), let them have their own parade.
Fresh Beat Band (Nick Jr.)
There is no way your kids will be able to sit on the couch while they watch this show! The music makes you want to get up and dance, the hosts ask you to get up and dance, and the kids on the show make it look so fun!
Add-on Activity: Dance with your kids! They'll love it! If you know any dances (square dance, hustle, macarana - teach them!)
The Backyardigans (Nick Jr.)
My favorite part of the Backyardigans is how they integrate information about various cultures and music genres into their shows. The five characters use their imagination to have different adventures (like being spies or traveling in space) while they introduce a specific type of music (such as jazz or polka). And bonus - they also dance!
Add-on Activity: Play different types of music during dinner; maybe one night it's country, and the next you put in some blues. Introduce them to various genres.
Jack's Big Music Show (Nick Jr.)
Jack and his friends play in a garage band and encourage an appreciation of music and musical instruments among kids. There's always some fun music and sometimes even a musical guest star who visits the garage. And Jack loves a good sing-a-long!
Add-on Activity: Have each person in the family choose their favorite song and have a sing-a-long.
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (Disney Junior)
Mickey does more than just teach about music (there's always shapes, colors and problem-solving too!), but once you hear the opening song, you'll never forget it. M-I-C-K-E-Y...M-O-U-S-E. If you remember the old Mickey Mouse song, you'll know what I mean :)
Add-on Activity: Teach your kids the old Mickey Mouse song ("Who's the leader of the band that's made for you and me...") and lead a parade around the house.
IF YOUR KIDS LOVE TO ASK WHY
Kids who always ask 'why' are trying to better understand the world around them. Science shows are great for this type of inquiry. Kids can learn about the various types of science that exist, and also understand how to seek out answers to their questions.
Sid the Science Kid (PBS Kids)
Learn about tons of science concepts and topics with Sid and his friends! I've always been impressed with the level of material that's introduced in the episodes of Sid the Science Kid! As adults, we sometimes under-estimate what kids can understand -- not so with this show!
Add-on Activity: Give your child a magnifying glass so they can view things from a different perspective. Let them look at bugs with it.
Dragonfly TV (PBS Kids)
This is a great show where real kids are doing real science experiments! They cover all types of topics: matter, animals, motion, weather, the human body and more. It's hard to find on tv (some stations only carry episodes on the weekend) but they have a nice website for kids.
Add-on Activity: Teach kids about basic science ideas, such as the concept of gravity - you know, Isaac Newton and the apple.
The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That (PBS Kids)
Travel with the Cat in the Hat, along with Thing 1 and Thing 2, while you learn about animals, habitats and nature. The shows in the series are based on the great book series from the Cat in the Hat Learning Library - non-fiction books that introduce kids to many real-life topics.
Add-on Activity: Go out and explore the same topic that kids saw in the show. Animals? Visit the Zoo. Birds? Go to the park and do some bird-watching.
SciGirls (PBS Kids)
If you have a daughter, this show is a must for them to see! Real girls doing real science in all kinds of places. They walk the viewer through the scientific process and explore all areas of science. This is another show that's not always on but girls will love visiting the website. Kids ages 6 and older will enjoy watching this series.
Add-on Activity: Talk to your kids about real-life science. Check you local paper for stories about science and discuss them with the kids.
Bill Nye the Science Guy (DVD)
These videos are frequently used at schools and for good reason - they do a great job of explaining scientific concepts to kids (with humor involved)! My kids always said Bill Nye was "geeky but cool". I would suggest them for kids who enjoy science and are older (ages 7+) and they should be available at your local library.
Add-on Activity: Follow-up with some at-home science! Bill Nye has an amazing list of easy science projects and experiments that can be done at home.
IF YOU WANT TO ENHANCE LITERACY SKILLS
Literacy skills include a lot more than just reading - kids need to understand letters and sounds, along with learning about word definitions and comprehension. There are many fun shows that focus on literacy but PBS really has the market cornered with their dedication to literacy education and research-related kids shows.
SuperWhy! (PBS Kids)
Learn about words with Super Why, Princess Presto, Alpha Pig and Wonder Red! Lots of attention to spelling, rhyming and reading skills. A big plus that we love is that it's all done while telling classic stories such as The 3 Little Pigs or Rumpelstiltskin.
Add-on Activity: Read the classic fairy tale that was highlighted in the Super Why! episode your child watched. See if they can pick out some of the words and help you retell the story.
Word Girl (PBS Kids)
Solve crimes and learn HUGE words with Word Girl! Kids love building their vocabulary with some of the big words and Word Girl's sidekick, Captain Huggy Face, is also a big hit with kids. The best audience for this show would be kids ages 6 - 12.
Add-on Activity: This is a great time to introduce kids to a dictionary. Ask them which word they learned during the show and explain how to find the word in the dictionary. Discuss the idea that many words have a variety of definitions and uses (you can use the word 'orange' as an example).
Martha Speaks (PBS Kids)
Martha is a talking dog (who gained that power because she ate alphabet soup). The series is based on an award-winning book by the same name and focuses on synonyms and building vocabulary for kids. Martha's goal is to get kids to love reading!
Add-on Activity: Use synonyms with the kids. What's another word for dinner? And how about swimming? Challenge them to stretch their mind!
Between the Lions (PBS Kids)
Lionel and Lenoa are two lion cubs who live at the library and help library patrons (while they learn a lot about reading too). The series uses classic kids literature, with stories that are read aloud during each episode, along with teaching letters and sounds.
Add-on Activity: When you are talking with your child, break down some of your words into syllables so they can hear the individual sounds in words.
IF YOUR KIDS ARE SHY OR ENTERING A NEW ENVIRONMENT
Sometimes making friends or experiencing new places can make kids feel shy. Maybe you have a child who will soon start school, or one who has just moved to a new neighborhood - both instances where kids can feel unsure about meeting new people. These three shows help kids to learn how they might handle a new experience and suggest ideas that will enhance their social skills.
Max & Ruby (Nick Jr.)
One of my all-time favorite shows for kids! Max and his older sister Ruby have all kinds of adventures - some are everyday activities that kids do (like trying to get Max to take a nap) and others are ones that kids love to see (such as shopping without your parents). Each episode presents some type of problem along with a fun solution which helps kids to build their social and problem-solving skills.
Add-on Activity: All Max and Ruby episodes just naturally lead kids to want to pretend - maybe they'll play store, or set up a lemonade stand, or host a birthday party for Grandma. Encourage pretend play and play along :)
Miss Spider (Nick Jr.)
Miss Spider really introduces how each person has a special gift or talent, and how all of us can look to others for help. The show also highlights how family members support one another when there is a problem, when a child may have a fear or be experiencing something new.
Add-on Activity: Since so many of the shows focus on helping others, getting your child involved in a volunteer activity is a natural fit. If you have young children, you might try hosting a food drive, donating coats or working with Meals on Wheels.
Sesame Street (PBS Kids)
The first show for developing social skills, problem solving, numbers and letters for children, Sesame Street is still enjoyed by millions of kids around the world! One of my favorite things about Sesame Street is that many of the social issues take place between the younger characters (many of whom are preschool age) who skillfully verbalize their problems. The adults on the show do make suggestions but the show really encourages kids to work through issues with each other or by using their own bravery/skills (instead of always running to an adult).
Add-on Activity: Make sure to talk about the show with your kids and try some role-play so kids can practice their discussion skills.
IF YOU WANT TO INTRODUCE PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS & LIFE LESSONS
All kids need to learn how to solve every-day issues. It's important for children to learn how to fix mistakes they may make, apologize for something they may have done, and learn life skills such as being honest, managing money and helping others. These shows have wonderful characters who experience all kinds of everyday situations and learn some lessons along the way.
Franklin & Friends (Nick Jr.)
Franklin is an adorable turtle that learns all kinds of life lessons - how to be helpful, honest, responsible and truthful. Franklin is like many young kids, he has fears and insecurities, enjoys his friends and wants to do things like grown-ups! The show is based on a popular children's book series. Kids learn from seeing Franklin's mistakes and celebrate his accomplishments.
Add-on Activity: Talk to kids about how Franklin solved a problem or took on a new responsibility. Ask them if they would have done things differently and how.
Doc McStuffins (Disney Junior)
A new concept in kids tv, Doc McStuffins introduces kids to basic healthy living skills - wash your hands, eat well, taking care of yourself so you don't end up at the doctor's office.
Add-on Activity: Let your kids play doctor with their stuffed animals. Also, talk to kids and encourage healthy habits like hand-washing and getting enough sleep.
Arthur (PBS Kids)
The tv series is based on the popular book series - Arthur is a lovable aardvark who encounters everyday issues with his friends and family members. It helps kids to see that there is always a solution to the problem they are facing - it may not be the first solution or the most obvious, so you may have to keep thinking.
Add-on Activity: Read the book to matches the episode!
A Christian-based series that takes bible stories and turns them into skits that are acted out by the veggie characters. I know, it sounds a little crazy but it's really very funny. The show introduces kids to many virtues and moral lessons such as honesty, patience, honor and compassion.
Add-on Activity: Point out the moral lessons in the story (they may not always be obvious to kids) and talk about how it may apply in their life.
FOR KIDS WHO WANT TO LEARN ABOUT THE WORLD
There are some kids who just love discovering new things about the world - what's the tallest mountain? Why don't they eat the same foods in other countries? These are kids who will ask questions about the clothes people wear, who may enjoy trying new foods and like to see things they won't see in their own city. There are some great shows that encourage kids to learn and explore various cultures and countries.
Franny's Feet (DVD)
Franny stays with her Grandfather at his shoe store and each time a new pair of shoes gets dropped off for repair, Franny uses her imagination to visit where the shoes would go. Kids are introduced to all kinds of environments from around the world during Franny's visits. This is also a PBS show but isn't aired regularly in some areas.
Add-on Activity: Let your kids go through your shoes and ask them to imagine where each pair of shoes would go. Hiking boots? Dress shoes? Scuba flippers :)
Toot & Puddle (Nick Jr.)
Based on a wonderful book series, Toot travels the world while Puddle explores the backyard - both having great adventures. I love that the show not only features fun visits to countries around the world, but also highlights the amazing things that can be discovered right in your own backyard.
Add-on Activity: Grab a map! This is a great opportunity to introduce geography to kids. Have them locate their home on the map, and then find where Toot traveled. Talk about what it would be like if you traveled to the same location, or what they may want to see if they visited that part of the world.
Mike the Knight (Nick Jr.)
Welcome to the world of dragons, vikings and medieval life! This is one of the first shows that introduces children to another time in history, which is a pretty cool concept. The other learning concept that's integrated in the show is learning responsibility and 'doing things right'.
Add-on Activity: Encourage your kids to take on new responsibilities at home. They may now be old enough to learn how to set the table for dinner, brush their hair before school or help to take care of the family pet.
Ni Hao, Kai-lan (Nick Jr.) & Dora the Explorer (Nick Jr. )
Both of these series introduce children to languages (Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, respectively) and cultures. Another similarity is that both show have a strong inter-generational element in that the main characters (Kai-lan and Dora) are frequently seen with their grandparents.
Add-on Activity: Try to integrate a few words from another language into everyday life. Ask your kids what words they learned and have them use them.
Postcards from Buster (PBS Kids)
Buster, who is Arthur's best friend, travels the United States with his father and takes videos along the way. The show does a great job of introducing factual information about various countries in a fun way. The website introduces songs and recipes from each place that Buster visits.
Add-on Activity: Help your kids to make their own video of someplace they travel or something they find interesting.
I Love School series & Families Around the World series (DVD)
You may only be able to find these DVDs at your local library, but they are certainly worth it! One of the few types of videos that grasps how kids can learn about other cultures, these two series follow a child through a day in their life. Kids LOVE seeing other kids from around the world doing some of the same things they do (such as attending school), and some things they never thought kids would have to do (like build their own house or going to school by boat!).
Add-on Activity: Since these shows are all about different countries and cultures, this is a great time to introduce your kids to the world! Try a type of food from the highlighted country, learn a few words if the show highlights a different language or find the country on a map/globe.
Elmo's World (DVD)
Elmo is such a favorite character of so many kids that he's gotten his own show :) In Elmo's World, kids are introduced to a variety of topics in a fun and interactive way. Elmo sings songs, talks about the topic (such as music or babies) and shows real-life examples along with fun videos. The show helps toddlers and preschoolers become more aware of things that exist around them.
Add-on Activity: Introduce an activity that relates to the show. For example, if Elmo talks about the weather, talk to your child about how to dress for different weather. If the show is about music, play different types of music during lunch.
IF YOUR KID IS A MATH-FANATIC (or if They Say They Hate Math)!
Some kids enjoy numbers, math and numerical concepts. Others think that they don't like math - that it's boring! Exposing kids to shows that incorporate math into everyday life, or turn math into an adventure is sure to keep them engaged.
Team Umizoomi (Nick Jr.)
Preschoolers get an introduction to counting, shapes, patterns, measurements and comparisons while exploring Umi city. One thing I love about the show is that it introduces kids to everyday processes, such as how milk gets from a farm to the store or how mail gets sorted at the post office.
Add-on Activity: Get out and explore your own city! Point out the various shapes and patterns as you visit the post office, bank, library or grocery store.
Cyberchase (PBS Kids)
Older kids will love to help solve the mysteries and mayhem that are caused by Hacker in this computer-oriented world. The three main characters, along with their dog, have to use their math and problem-solving skills to help Motherboard and save Cyberworld - and many of the skills they use are the same ones your kids will be learning in 1st - 4th grade!