I will say that I carefully monitor everything he watches, that it’s very high quality educational fare, and he also watches everything on video (DVDs, Netflix, or YouTube), so there’s no exposure to commercials. Instead of feeling guilty about the amount of video entertainment Conan gets to watch, I’ve started focusing on the benefits.
Besides giving me a few much needed minutes of guaranteed kid-unencumbered time, the programs Conan watches are so educational they’ll just about make your teeth hurt. Here are the shows I’m proud to say have made it into our repertoire.
Peep and the Big Wide World (aka Peep and Duck)
This show is the best. The engaging characters explore the world and learn about physics, math, scientific reasoning, and the natural world, all in an age-appropriate way that Conan loves. Topics range from the changes of the seasons, how water flows, gravity, shadows, weather, identifying birds by their calls, principles of leverage, sharing, counting, navigation, colors, the phases of the moon, the dangers of walking out onto frozen lakes (it is a Canadian program, after all). There are 90-some complete episodes on YouTube that I’ve collected into our playlist. And with narration by Joan Cusack and music by Taj Mahal, it doesn’t irritate adults the way many kids shows do.
This one is pretty formulaic and repetitious, but Conan really seems to love that about it. I appreciate the themes of teamwork and helping others, although they are a bit heavy-handed for my taste. The animation, which incorporates photos and video footage of real places and things, is neat, and I like the fact that they have a 10-person live orchestra (plus guest artists as needed) performing the score of each show. This is the only show that has inspired Conan to incorporate the characters into his own play, and I have also heard him singing the music to himself. Very few episodes are available on the internet, but we watch it through Netflix play instantly.
This is a British stop-motion animated show about (surprise!) Bob the Builder and his crew of anthropomorphic construction machines. They build things and have adventures while learning about teamwork, basic construction, and recycling, among other topics. Long before we aquired any DVDs, we had picked up a Bob the Builder book at a yardsale, and Conan loved reading the book and naming all the machines. He was super excited to see them all come to life on the screen. They seem to be pretty good at keeping this one off of the internet, and it’s not available on Netflix play instantly (though they do have the DVDs for mail-out). We picked up two discs at the local consignment store for .99 each.
Wild Animal Baby is a magazine for toddlers published by the National Wildlife Foundation (they also publish My Big Backyard and Ranger Rick for older kids). Conan received a gift subscription for his first birthday, and really enjoyed it, so when we came across a couple Wild Animal Baby DVDs in the ultra-clearance bin at the grocery store we decided to go ahead and check them out. The show is pretty cute, with four animated Animal Baby Explorers going on adventures in the natural world to solve “wildlife mysteries” such as finding baby dragonflies, figuring out what animal buries acorns and why, and where the worms come from that they find on the ground after a rainstorm. There’s real-life wildlife footage interspersed with the animation, and some of it pretty spectacular. The biggest drawback to this show is that all the characters have annoying, high-pitched voices and are prone to bad puns. Conan doesn’t seem to mind at all.
Youtube Animal Videos
The internet is absolutely full of videos of cute/funny/amazing animals. This is what started it all — we used to regularly sit in front of the computer together and watch animals in order to distract Conan enough to clip his finger and toenails, clean his ears, and even cut his hair. We’d watch horses running, ducks quacking, cows mooing, whales breaching, puppies frolicking, even an elephant pooping (that’s a BIG favorite) on YouTube. You do have to watch out a bit, because some of what you find may feature some scary violence or some hard-to-explain mating behaviors (they’re, um, wrestling) or suddenly evolve into a heavy metal video. Especially if it features tigers or wolves.
So there you have it — my secret is out of the bag. I’ve made a concious decision to allow Conan to watch some high quality, age-appropriate educational programs, and I hereby resolve to just let go of all that weird guilt I was carrying about it. No advertisers are getting their hooks in him, we’re careful about what he does watch, and we do place limits on how much he watches and when.
Now it’s your turn — what are your kids watching?