Thank goodness for toddler TV.
Not only does it keep the children quiet for a minute, but it gives them new things to think about besides, “What happens when I throw Mommy’s phone in the bathtub?” Spoiler alert: The answer is anguish.
Pediatricians recommend keeping children under 2 years old as “screen-free” as possible. But for children over 2, TV doesn’t just have to be a time filler. In fact, there are a lot of terrific shows on that not only entertain your kids but also teach them lessons. Some of those lessons are more academic, like learning to read and how to think scientifically. Others are emotional and social, like how figuring out how to act when another kid in preschool doesn’t want to share their toy.
Both kinds of learning are important for small children, and the shows listed below do a great job teaching them.
1. Super Why!
Super Why! is all about the power of reading.
The stars of the show, who are called the Super Readers, live in Storybook Village, which is found behind a hidden panel on a library shelf. They solve mysteries by finding Super Letters, putting them together into simple words, and then choosing the right word to fix the problem and change the story.
In Super Why!, books take us to magical places and reading is a super power, which are great messages for early readers.
2. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
This show stars Daniel Tiger from the original Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, a character whom those of us born in the ‘70s may remember fondly.
In fact, the show revolves around the puppets and dolls that were used by Mr. Rogers on his show and even uses the same theme song. The difference here is that now the neighborhood belongs to Daniel, undoubtedly after some sort of turf war with Fred. The focus of the show is on social and emotional learning through music and story.
Daniel is adorable, and lessons about social skills like empathy and sharing are taught using short, sweet songs.
For the curious, animal-loving child, we have the Octonauts.
Using a crime solving, James Bond sort of vibe, the Octonauts live on the ocean floor and work as a team to help the creatures of the sea. Kids learn about teamwork, empathy, and that all creatures — from Beluga whales to sea anemones — serve a purpose.
4. Word World
Word World is where words come alive, literally. The creators of this show use the letters that form a word to create that word.
For example, the letters “p-i-g” are put together to look like a pig. It’s an ingenious way to teach kids that letters make words, and that words have meaning.
5. Doc McStuffins
Doc McStuffins might not strike you right off the bat as an educational program. But a program about a smart, capable little girl teaches kids more than just ABCs and 123s.
Doc McStuffins also shows us that everyone gets sick and has fears, which is a great lesson for the toddler group.
6. Sid the Science Kid
Now here’s a program with a true academic bent.
Sid the Science Kid is about a boy named Sid who asks questions about the world and works together with his teacher and his classmates to find out the answers. Sid wants to know things like, “Why doesn’t a ball of Play-Doh bounce?” and “Why do bananas get mushy?”
You know, all those questions kids ask every day that leave parents stumped and headed to Google.
7. Timmy Time
If you love Shaun the Sheep, you will love this series in which Timmy, the baby sheep, goes to school and has to learn how to share and get along with all the other baby animals.
As with Shaun the Sheep, there is no dialogue in Timmy Time, just the adorable sounds the baby animals make, and their facial expressions. The lack of dialogue allows kids to work on figuring out what others are feeling based on nonverbal cues, which toddlers can use a few lessons in.
The show also teaches reading, arithmetic, and what they call “righting,” meaning how to get yourself back up after you’ve been knocked down emotionally. And did we mention how very cute the animals are? Because they are really, really cute.
8. Bubble Guppies
Home to the catchiest music on TV, Bubble Guppies is about a group of little fish children who go to school together.
In each episode, there is a topic (for example, bees) and they spend the show learning about it in different ways. They sing songs about it, they play games about it, their teacher teaches a lesson about it, and so on. It’s a terrific way to learn in-depth about one subject and still keep it interesting.
9. Peep and the Big Wide World
Peep and The Big Wide World, whose slogan is, “hatching new scientists,” is about a group of young birds who learn about science through their own explorations in nature.
They learn how beavers build dams, how soap bubbles work, and where those feathers you find on the ground come from. The show also has a fantastic sense of humor. In one episode, one of the characters floats on his back sings, “It’s spring, and ducks are thinking about spring...and duck-related things.” This is one you can enjoy as much as your kids will.
10. Little Einsteins
Little Einsteins takes more of an artistic bent.
The children in the show, who ride around in a rocket solving mysteries, learn about things like art, music, and architecture. They might listen to Beethoven and learn what a quintet is, or go trick-or-treating at the Palace of Versailles and Buckingham Palace. A great show for the more artistically minded child. Little Einsteins has a bonus in that, unlike most other shows, they travel around the world, so kids get to learn about other countries.