Cartoons that might teach your little kid a thing or two

Guest post by Addie Pobst

Sid the Science Kid at World Science Festival I let my kid watch TV. There: I’ve said it.

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.

Wonder Pets

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.

Bob the Builder

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

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?

Comments on Cartoons that might teach your little kid a thing or two

  1. I’m a big fan of Martha Speaks! I love that it doesn’t talk to children like they’re idiots, but explains the words clearly, and that the main character is female! Plus she lives in a multicultural family! Sorry, I just got way too excited about a children show…

  2. My son loves pretty much anything that PBS cranks out. Especially Sesame Street. (Thought I will admit, Elmo’s World is like nails on a chalkboard to me.) I even used old episodes from the 70’s to help explain breastfeeding (Buffy nursing Cody openly, and Maria nursing, but very covered), as well as death (Big Bird being told why Mr. Hooper is gone and not coming back). It’s sad that some of these issues are considered so taboo today, but at least there are still educational shows out there, and not just mindless cartoons. Also A huge fan of Veggie Tales. Yes, it is a religious show, but not in the preachy “you are a sinner and doing everything that God hates and going to Hell for it” way. They incorporate bible verses, but it’s mainly common sense stuff, like “be good and respect others”, “tell the truth”, and my favorite “God loves you the way you are”. Even if you take away the God aspect, it’s still a good lesson in self esteem.

  3. I always loved Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Magic Schoolbus, and I grew up to be a chemist! Another great one on tv now is Phineas and Ferb, which teaches kids to be creative, while still being funny for adults.

  4. Wonderpets is a big hit here, too! That damn TeamWork song is sung all the time. But my daughter’s all time favorite, bar none, is Dino Dan. We live with my folks who have the dish network so we get that Nick Jr channel. The kid has more dino-facts in her head than you can shake a stick at AND is getting a rudimentary grasp of scientific method. I would not be able to get through finals week every quarter without some television help. My real trouble is that she’s started out growing the pre-school geared stuff, we’ve got time yet, but I HATE everything I’ve seen beyond pre-k programming. It’s like it jumps straight from small child appropriate to tween appropriate. We are supplementing our pre-K viewing with some of my old favorites on youtube or DVD. Hopefully the plus side of this will be that we shut off the box more as she moves into being able to read independently.

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