Kids TV Shows You Should Watch

1st October 2010

Now that Hank is three, we let him watch TV. And when he was a toddler? We let him watch TV. And when he was a tiny baby who woke up at 3 a.m. and wouldn’t go back to sleep? We turned on the TV that’s supposed to distract cats with shiny things twisting in the wind. Worked like a charm.

I realize this makes us monsters in certain circles of liberal San Francisco parenting, but those people have more energy than me. Since TV can be awesome, I have not put it high on my list of things that might turn my child into a serial killer. I keep a close eye to make sure he’s kind to small animals, advise him strongly against smacking anyone, and let him watch Backyardigans when he says please.

The folks at The Hub asked me to write a post about the kids shows we like, and my brain went fuzzy with the possibilities. I decided to focus on the shows we’re all willing to watch together:

Yo Gabba Gabba
Hey look! Your Burner friends got together, called some Indie Bands, and made a kids show about music, dancing, and not throwing hard things at other people’s heads! Introducing childless friends to this show is one of the most awesome things about becoming a parent. We’re like, have you seen this? And then we show them the song about not biting your friends. We’ve noticed a dramatic decrease in biting at our cocktail parties.

Wonder Pets
This show features a trio of classroom pets in mini operas — they fly around the world saving other animals, singing to the tune of classical music compositions and other musical genres. The characters have actual personalities, the little girl duck in particular. She’s well meaning and witty, but stubborn, and a little self focused. In other words, instructional first-girlfriend material.

Fraggle Rock
Try to criticize anything Jim Hensen did, it’s like spitting on the flag. Fraggle Rock was my favorite as a kid, I knew all the songs by heart, so I’ve tried to force it on my kid. As a result he’ll only watch a single episode over and over, the theme of which is that you should let your friends help you. Hank’s takeaway is the single hubristic song in that episode called, “I Can Do It on My Own!” And that refrain has become his rallying cry whenever we’re plugging something in, using knives in the kitchen, or juggling chainsaws.

Still, as long as he’ll cuddle me on the couch while we’re watching, I’ll take it.

46 thoughts on “Kids TV Shows You Should Watch

  1. planetheidi

    Wonder pets? Are you freaking kidding me? I’d rather jam pencils in my eye holes than sit through that show. Backyardigans, Max & Ruby (Wooby as it’s pronounced in our household) and Diego are my picks.

  2. Nichole

    “Yo Gabba Gabba” is worth its weight in gold for teaching my children to do the “disco roll.” Not to mention that they can use “break it down” in the correct funky musical context. Have you seen “WordGirl” on PBS? I might watch it without the kids.

  3. christine

    I’m right there with you. We let our 1-year-old son, Henry, watch TV with us. Often and shamelessly.

    Dexter (per your tweet) is actually one of the shows that we feel weird about having on when he’s nearby. That and True Blood.

    “Still, as long as he’ll cuddle me on the couch while we’re watching, I’ll take it.” Amen!

  4. Rengirl

    I let my kid watch TV too and if you don’t mind, there are two others I’d like to add to your list. We stumbled upon Pocoyo on youtube (but you can order the DVD from Amazon because I don’t suggest leaving your child alone on youtube). I believe it was made in Spain but it’s available in both Spanish and English. The characters don’t really talk but they have big personalities and they teach simple social behavior without irritating, sugary voices. Not to mention that the 3d animation is very minimalistic (the characters are bold-colored but simple and it’s set to a white, non-background) and is a pleasure to look at for children and parents alike.

    The other is Kipper and is available on Netflix’s Watch Instantly. Again – no irritating voices, simple life lessons and fun to watch.

  5. Alex

    DINOSAUR TRAIN. It’s by Henson Studios and is on PBS. You, too, can have a three-year-old who can identify fifty different dinosaur species. (And who will correct adults when they get them wrong.) It’s a fantastic show for teaching kids about science and nature, and there are some good social/behavior messages too. We’ve watched every episode at least five times by now and I don’t mind at all, unlike with Dora or Thomas where I can’t watch five minutes without running out of the room screaming.

  6. Susie

    “I let my kid watch TV. He particularly enjoys ‘Dexter.’ ” Most awesome thing I’ve read all day. :)

    Add us to the list of monsters who let their impressionable young children watch TV. They are now 9 & 11 and are avid readers, imaginative, critical thinkers, and they love to play outside. I’m thinking we didn’t completely ruin them with TV; we have so many other ways to mess them up, though, so it’s all good.

  7. ktbuffy

    We’re big fans of Backyardigans in our house — the song from the Race Around the World episode goes through my head regularly. “We gotta go go go go we gotta go because we can’t go fast if we go too slow.”

    Although it must be said, our five-year-old recently showed an interest in HGTV’s House Hunters, wanting to know which house they picked when given the choice of watching “my” show or turning to one of hers.

  8. pam

    don’t! don’t! don’t bite your friends!

    i love that YGG has taught my 2 year old how to beat-box and the awesomeness that is biz markie.

  9. deanna

    “wonderpets! wonderpets! we’re on our way…” theme song is in my head now, thanks.

    i dont have kids of my own, but i work in pediatrics, so im pretty hip to what’s out there. i actually don’t mind any of those on your list, and as a child of the 80s i am partial to fraggle rock for sure. max & ruby and wow wow wubbzy are also pretty tolerable. but, lord, i am all dora and diego’d OUT.

  10. Jen

    I used to watch The Price is Right with my Mom when I was little and I am THE BEST at being the closest to the retail price without going over in my circle of friends. That’s probably my proudest accomplishment. That and being able to do match in my head. Go ahead and laugh, but think about it. Damn I love that show.

  11. simonoe

    I’m with you on Wonder Pets. It’s love them or hate them with a vengeance. Word Girl! Love that show…I’m with Nichole, I’d watch it on my own.

  12. Sarah Brown

    Dude, I don’t have kids but I saw Dinosaur Train last year in Cape Cod when Esme wandered away from it, uninterested. I think the reasons those dinosaurs because extinct is because they kept taking a damn train to visit each other.

  13. latenac

    I agree on 2 out of 3 but Wonder Pets are awful. I have to agree with Anthony Bourdain, I’m waiting for all 3 animals to be taken out by a lawnmower. Maybe it’s b/c I’m married to a music teacher who hates the bad modeling of singing, ie the lisp and the repetitiveness of the music. Backyardigans is so much better from a story and music POV and we also greatly loved The Upside Down Show.

  14. Kate @ Savour Fare

    I may be the only yupster parent who just can’t get into Yo Gabba Gabba. You forgot Sesame Street! Sesame Street is awesome! Apart from Elmo, it’s actually written for the parents (at least my 3 year old doesn’t get the references to Mad Men, Hair, or Sex and the City). I have also enjoyed watching Olivia and Charlie and Lola with the kiddo, but I will put forks in my eyes before sitting through an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine, and Dora is awfully grating, too.

  15. Lynne

    It’s not on any more, but when my 9-year-old was a toddler we all loved to watch Oswald together. A giant blue octopus voiced by Fred Savage, with a penguin sidekick named Henry, voiced by David Lander (‘Squiggy’ from my childhood staple Laverne & Shirley) It is beautifully animated with a cast of quirky characters and bits of it have made their way into our family lexicon, like the ice cream song and Henry’s favourite meal, troutballs and spaghetti (no, we don’t actually eat that, it’s just what we call meatballs). Find it if you can…you won’t be disappointed.

  16. Courtney

    For train loving kids, Dinosaur Train and Chuggington are a MUST. PBS Kids is ALWAYS good with me.

    However, Wonder Pets makes me want to die. The music is SO stinking repetitive!

  17. jen

    We watch all of those, and now with the power of the Roku, we are revisiting many older shows. I just watched Annie with my daughter – omg the singing and dancing mesmerized her. I also just like the ability to play more of the old-school cartoons that are so different from today’s kid shows.

  18. Elise

    If I need my 7 month-olds to take a nap, I stick them in front of an episode of “No Reservations” and Anthony Bourdain puts them right to sleep. It must be something about the tenor and cadence of his voice because it works every single time. He should really release a children’s album entitled “Diatribe Dreams” or something to that effect.

  19. Amy

    when someone runs up to me with a dumb problem at work, i sometimes find myself thinking “thiiis iiiiis SEWIOUUUUUSSS!”

  20. Apr

    I don’t have kids and don’t think I ever need to watch Yo Gabba Gabba, but this right here—“Try to criticize anything Jim Hensen did, it’s like spitting on the flag.” —that’s just The Truth.

  21. denise

    i’ve been looking through the archives and can’t seem to find it. what is the url for the site (in private beta) where people can create their digital profile/business card ?

  22. denise

    #11 – so funny and so true. i aspired to be a “price is right” girl when i grew up. did you transition right over to y&r too?

  23. Kristina

    This is probably for when he’s older, but Avatar: The Last Airbender. I cannot stress ENOUGH how awesome this show is. I wanted to write my dissertation on it (going to be a librarian instead, god willing), not that, I guess, that means anything but still. The characters are awesome, there are A LOT of strong female characters, and the kids learn a lot of really complex lessons along the way to basically saving their world.
    Anyway. I love that show.

  24. Sassafras Mama

    I have to endorse Avatar as well. And I’m always up for an episode of Fairly Odd Parents. When my now 10 year old was just a pup, I LOVED Little Bear. It was based on the books by Elise Holmelund Minarik (illustrated by Maurice Sendak). I think that episodes can be found on line. My son and I still repeat lines from this very gentle, charming cartoon.

  25. Lauren

    Backyardigans – that insidiously catchy music!! I do love it so…..

    The one that makes me crazy? Dora. WHY DOES SHE ALWAYS HAVE TO YELL??

  26. Greta

    Goodness, Wonder Pets? I can’t stand that one. I loved YGG the first couple times I watched it, but after a few times (we have the first DVD) I’ve grown to hate it. There is nothing subtle or dynamic about the characters or relationships, it feels like watching Teletubbies with words. Thankfully my 3-year-old doesn’t care that much about it either, aside from the “Party in my tummy” song, which we do all love.

    Sesame Street will always be a favorite, with the exclusion of Elmo and Zoe. And anything Jim Henson too – we have the Muppet Show on DVD.

  27. Anne

    My one-and-a-half-year-old LOVES Yo Gabba Gabba — she even knows the names of all the characters already and gets all giddy when the show comes on. Her four-year-old sister is a Fresh Beat Band fanatic, so little Monkey-See-Monkey-Do is a fan as well. That show is annoying in about a million different ways, but watching my girls dance and twirl about the room when it is on makes it worth suffering through!

  28. Tina

    I’m with you on the Yo Gabba Gabba. One night the husband and I had a little too much to drink and we watched an episode….it was like a college flashback. Kind of. With legal drugs, that is. I have to disagree with you about Wonder Pets. They scare the crap out of me!
    Best,
    Tina

  29. Leslie

    We are going to see Yo Gabba Gabba this weekend at Radio City Music Hall! My 4 year old and 2 year old are very excited, and we are too!

    I recently introduced The Muppet Show to them and they LOVE it, we have Fraggle Rock too but it hasn’t become a hit yet. They were also watching The Electric Company today too. Old School Sesame Street is good too.

    How can I deny them TV, when my husband and I love it so much? We are just careful with what they watch and stick to DVDs or Nick Jr. without the commercials.

  30. Meredith

    I’m with Ashley! Phineas and Ferb. I happily watch it with or with out my kids. We do tend to gravitate towards Disney most days, but I try to mix it up with some PBS.

  31. Roxanna

    Little Einsteins because it crams a lot of sophisticated stuff into a fun show. Wordgirl is just plain witty — LOVE it. Kids or no kids.

    I don’t like the Wonderpets, but a lot of people hate Max and Ruby and I don’t mind it.

    I can’t believe I have an opinion on this.

  32. Elizabeth

    My kid likes to watch America’s Test Kitchen on PBS. We don’t have cable, so this is about the only television show that gets watched in our house at all. To most people, this fact indicates that we are either a) Luddites or b) sanctimonious turds. We get a TON of flack for not being tv watchers, which makes the fact that you might get flack for being tv watchers seem all the more insane to me. You just can’t please everyone.

  33. J.

    I don’t have kids, but I am a closet fan of The Penguins of Madagascar cartoon series. I guess I just have a soft spot for break-dancing lemurs and talking penguins who turn every minor problem into an over-the-top covert ops situation.

  34. Nicole Kenagy

    I love those shows!
    One that you may want to try also is Jack’s Big Music Show
    totally fantastic!

    -My little 2 year old loves anything Yo Gabba Gabba. I like it too… tried to get tickets for the live show, but they sold out sooo quickly.

  35. Cora D

    Thank you, Maggie, and all your commentors too. I’ve been in the closet about my baby’s TV watching. It’s really the only thing that lets me get a shower, check email, eat a meal.

    We love – Sid the Science Kid, The Wiggles, Curious George, Dinosaur Train, Electric Company – but most of all, Shaun the Sheep. It’s a claymation show by the folks who did Wallace & Grommit. Brilliant. Not sure who loves it more – her or me.

  36. Angeerah

    Ditto. I feel like a total chump letting my 20 month old watch Monsters Inc. on Saturday (and Sunday) when he wakes up at 6 a.m. but honestly, we so need that extra 1.5 hours of sleep. And he loves that movie. Otherwise, he does not watch TV during the week unless it is a short Sesame Street video on YouTube. And I have to admit he wants to watch the Katy Perry video over and over and over and shuns his former favorite, Feist.

  37. Kate

    I feel like I have found my people. I was a stickler about no television until my kid was about four months old and then I discovered old Sesame Street episodes ondemand and the gig was up. Two years later I am still a fan. And now when he wakes up at 6.30 and I can barely contain myself I am so tired, Sesame Street and Thomas (I HATE, but he ADORES) seems like a good way to ease into the day. And seriously, how else am I going to unload/load the dishwasher, get dressed, check out what the Internet is saying, and do a 1000 other things if he isn’t distracted? I figure Sesame Street taught him his letters, numbers and how to dance so it cannot be all bad.

    Thank you so much for posting this.

  38. amanda

    You’re scaring me! I’m about to have my first and was pretty open to the TV thing as a distraction device until watching my niece interact with it. She’s two and a half and I feel like about 2/3rds of her melt-downs relate to the TV. If we’re not watching her show. If we’ve turned down the volume on backyardigans so that we can talk. If we won’t put on Yo Gabba Gabba because we’re having dinner and Aunt and Uncle’s house and we don’t want to listen to Yo Gabba Gabba (and her father sings along). Often, when we watch her we let her watch an episode and then it’s time to play. First, the meltdown and then she starts using her imagination and is far more cheerful and interactive.

    I don’t know. How do you manage it?

  39. Lauren

    Just seeing the picture of the Wonderpets got, “The phone… the phone is ringing! The phone… we’ll be right there!” stuck in my head. Thanks. My daughter LOVES that show. Unfortunately, she is also aware that it’s available on Netflix instant and can ask for it at any time. Ming Ming is particularly unbearable, and it’s only mentioned once (the Mouse in the Saxophone jazz episode, when Lenny has a cold), but Lenny is a girl hamster. Figure that one out.

    Dinosaur Train is fantastic, and you can get nearly every season of Blue’s Clues on Netflix instant as well.

    No mentions here for Imagination Movers? That show is great and the songs are catchy. I also really enjoyed Jack’s Big Music Show – they have some sort of Sesame Street pull with celebrities. There’s an episode about Groundhog’s Day that Jon Stewart guests on.

    Dora and Diego are not allowed in my household and Yo Gabba Gabba makes me wan to put a gun in my mouth.

  40. Gleemonex

    I love Yo Gabba Gabba SO HARD! And you should see my almost-three-year-old’s face light up at just the very prospect of seeing an episode … it’s gold, I tellya. All three of us walk around singing the songs all day long — husband’ll go, “Are you ready?” Us: “Yeah!” Him: “Let’s do it!” All: “A-break it down-ah!”

    Good times.

    I love Fraggle Rock and all that jazz too, but a word of warning on present-day Sesame Street: it BLOWS. Something is fundamentally … off … about it. Stick with the mid-80s and earlier, trust me. My kid loves those, but can’t stand the modern ones, and we’ve stopped recording them because ugh.

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