There comes a time in every parent’s life-no matter how much they try to avoid it-when there is no choice but to put your child in front of a TV. Although there are more productive things for a child to do, there is nothing wrong with an occasional stint in front of the TV, especially if the shows are properly chosen.
Television is like nearly any other form of media, albeit more passive. Just a reader or a music lover needs to weed the good books and music from the bad, its important to select the very best programming for a preschooler’s sponge-like brain.
As the longest running children’s show on television, it’s the bar against which all others are measured. Since nearly every parent with a TV grew up with or knows about Sesame Street, it doesn’t require any explanation. Most kids already know and love Elmo, Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Ernie.
It’s a Big Big World
Another one of PBS’s educational TV for preschoolers, it teaches about life science and environmentalism from the view of adorable, Muppet like animals in the rain forest. It follows the lives of the tree sloth Snook and his friends who include a pair of monkeys, a wise turtle, an excitable tree frog and a neurotic anteater among others. The show is divided into two 10 minute sections designed for short attention spans with joyful tribal inspired music between to get kids dancing.
It guide preschoolers through difficult scientific concepts such as metamorphosis, the size of the world, the concept of extinction, conservation, evaporation, scientific method-even the stages of matter with a clever mystery about a missing piece of ice.
The characters are unfailingly kind and understanding,creating a safe environment and love of nature that will hopefully last a life time.
The creators of Word World wanted to teach children about letters without the distraction of characters next to them, so they made the characters and nearly everything else out of letters. Pig actually spells out pig, and his barn is made of big red letters -BARN. Teaching a love of letters and the magic of word creation, children younger than one year can learn their letters and even begin to spell and read.
When driving by a restaurant we’d never seen before, my then 18 month old daughter spelled out P-I-Z-Z-A on the unfamiliar sign and the announced she was ready to have pizza-just days after seeing the pizza episode of Word World. It wasn’t a coincidence.
Go Diego Go!
Dora the Explorer’s cousin not only teaches Spanish, but rescues interesting species of animals while teaching facts about them and the environment. This very cute show blends a little excitement and a bit more science than Dora, so its our preferred version.
Yo Gabba Gabba
At first, I was off put by the odd looking characters and loud techno music of Yo Gabba Gabba. Thinking it was fluffy filler with no education value, I did not initially allow my daughter to watch it. When several people I trusted mentioned it was a good show, I screened it and found that there was much more to it than first glance would indicate.
What Yo Gabba Gabba teaches is preschool level social interaction and life skills in a way that helps children recall it when they need it most. With catchy songs such as “Don’t Bite Your Friends” and “Its Fun to Brush Your Teeth”, children learn the things that they need to know right now in a way that makes it fun.
When my daughter refused to try new a food, I sang “Party in my Tummy” and she tried a bite. When she couldn’t keep quiet during a time I needed her to, I sang “Inside Voice/Outside Voice.” When she joined in with that song, I asked her to just sing the inside voice part and she whispered it while I finished talking to a vendor.
One of the best things about the show is the recap at the end. Instead of just ending the show with no warning, the host announces that its almost time to go. Then, they play a special techno remix of all the songs during the show and reinforce the lessons of the day.
Yo Gabba Gabba doesn’t work on multiple levels like some shows that appeal to parents and kids. It doesn’t prepare them for 2nd grade or teach them to read. This show is just for preschoolers to learn lessons of life they need right now.
Ni Hao Kai-Lan
Taking a lesson from Dora the Explorer’s Spanish skills, Ni Hao Kai-Lan teaches preschoolers about Chinese language and culture in a way that makes it exciting and fun. One of the cutest shows on TV, it covers basic words such as colors and numbers with repetition and games.
However, the show is more than just a cultural odyssey as the main focus of each episode is emotional sensitivity and friendship. One of Kai Lan’s many friends will have a problem and she will think back and figure out what caused the meltdown. It may be that a little monkey is having trouble being patient or a tiger is upset that he is too small, but the problem is addressed by Kai-Lan and she does whatever she can to help her friend feel better. It teaches children that they can make a difference and should help those in trouble. Empathy and sensitivity is sorely lacking in the world and any show that helps to reverse that is worthwhile.
Another wonderful aspect is the respect and love with which Kai-Lan treats her grandfather. It’s a wonderful example for small children in a world which often forgets to respect and courtesy for their elders.
Although television isn’t the best use of time for preschoolers, there are so many shows that will fill their entertainment needs with education instead of meaningless television babble. A few minutes of Kai Lan or Yo Gabba Gabba may prove to be fun and educational for your preschooler.