In most restaurants, you will find almost every kid with a screen in front of them (or a nanny running after them). My son used to be that kid with a screen when he was a baby. His dad and I needed to have a good meal in peace once in a while, so we let him have his distraction.
We slowly weaned him off the screen at all meal times by the time he was two. He still got some 15 to 30 minutes of screentime on most days. We figured early on that zero screentime was not an achievable goal for us. Instead, we focused on curating the content he consumes.
We tried the sugar-loaded content of Blippi and others or the violent Masha and the Bear, but these didn’t work for us. These shows work precisely like sugar, as in they’re addictive without providing anything of value. Even ‘safe’ shows like Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol might be fun to watch once in a while, but there are much better shows to watch instead.
There are plenty of fun shows that are also sneakily educational. These would rate higher in my curated list. Our son also loves these shows and will sometimes surprise us with information and vocabulary he’s learned from them.
Growing up, I remember watching shows like Tom & Jerry but only after becoming a parent did I realise how it normalised violence and is not really appropriate for kids to watch. I would love to show him shows like the original Ghostbusters or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Flintstones, but they’re not available in India.
We’ve tried to expand his viewing content as much as possible, but sometimes he’ll also watch shows that are not on my list, but it has things he loves—emergency vehicles or robots. We let him watch a few episodes once in a while. It is fascinating to see their interests evolve over time. The day our son told us he was too old for Baby TV (he was 3), I had to take a moment to come to terms with it!
Listed below are some of the shows we have loved to watch over the years. They’re not always readily available on streaming sites in India, but if you search a little, you should be able to find some good episodes.
5 Best TV shows for Toddlers
- Pokoyo (YouTube): This uncluttered animation is simple and fun as a curious child learns new things with the help of his friends. The narration by Stephen Fry is a bonus.
- Super Simple Songs (YouTube): Some of these songs we remember even now, such as the clean-up song. Kids can sing and dance along too. The songs don’t have unnecessary beats or flashy videos, unlike some other videos for kids that aim to hook the kids onto their content.
- Baby TV (on cable): Since the channel is on all day, there are small segments played throughout the day. They’re educational and talk about various aspects of growing up. There are multiple characters that kids will love, and it is a great introduction to learning for babies.
- Doc McStuffings (Hotstar Disney+): A little girl who is a doctor for broken toys or just not feeling great is a great concept. The show talks about dealing with feelings and making healthy choices in our daily lives.
- Word Party (Netflix): This is a fun show for kids. Baby animals learn new words, sing songs, make animal sounds, and have a party, as the title says.
The best educational TV shows for kids aged 4 to 7
- Stinky & Dirty (Amazon Prime): A dumpster and a backhoe love to think up creative solutions for everyday problems they have in their town. It encourages thinking creatively and shows that there can be multiple solutions to every problem.
- Wild Kratts (YouTube): We love this show. It transitions from the Kratt brothers in reality to the animated series where the team learns about the animal kingdom while making sure the bad guys don’t get away with their evil schemes to harm the planet.
- Dinosaur Train (Amazon Prime): This is a fun way to learn more about dinosaurs for kids interested in them. The show has plenty of interesting facts about dinosaurs as a family of Pteranodons travel in different time periods.
- World World (YouTube): The show is super creative in how each character is drawn with its word spelt out. This is more educational than fun, but I would put on an episode between some other shows once in a while.
- Super Why (YouTube): This is mainly for early readers. The characters take you inside books to solve a case and encourage kids to read along.
- The Magic Schoolbus (Netflix): This show combines magic, humour, adventure, and learning all into a flying school bus. It covers a wide range of topics for kids to learn about.
YouTube channels for kids aged 6 and above
- Mark Rober (YouTube): An ex-NASA engineer, Mark explains scientific concepts and comes up with over-the-top experiments that kids will love watching. Things get blown up, shot at, or just crazy large designs provide the entertainment value, while the explanations interest kids in science.
- Cosmic Kids (YouTube): Jamie takes kids on Yoga adventures where each episode is based on a different theme—from Disney movies to beloved books. This was our go-to channel to keep our son active during the 2020 lockdown.
- Khan Academy Kids (YouTube): We’ve subscribed to their app, and the channel is fantastic as well, with content for kids of all ages. They have circle time stories, songs, and discussions on various topics.
- TinkerLab (YouTube): Science and art combine to show simple experiments kids can try at home. It encourages them to explore things around them and figure out the different ways in which they work.
- Smart Learning for All (YouTube): These short videos remind me of the Tell Me Why books I had growing up. These videos use silly-sounding titles to educate (What if our Hands were 100 Feet Long?).
Adventure shows for kids
- The Deep (Netflix): The show follows the Nekton family, who are underwater explorers looking for a particular treasure. It has adventure without violence and also talks about family values. We also loved watching it with our son.
- Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (Netflix): I remember playing the game when it came out. The series is an excellent way to hone your geography skills as Carmen jets off to locations worldwide trying to thwart the plans of the evil VILE Academy.
- Mira the Royal Detective (Hotstar Disney+): Granted that the show is full of stereotypes and cliches, but it is good fun, plus its main character is a dark-skinned girl. It’s on my list for a more diverse playlist. The catchphrase ‘soggy samosas’ was quite popular with our son.
- Miles from Tomorrowland (Hotstar Disney+): This is similar to The Deep, except it is set in space. We go on the adventures of the Callisto family as they navigate the universe.
This is not a comprehensive list. We’ve watched plenty of shows involving cars, emergency vehicles, transformers, and robots. Our son has watched most episodes of Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, and PJ Masks. As we do with sugar, these shows are ok to watch sometimes, but the main diet should be more substantial.
We also try and watch nature documentaries together as a family. Documentaries might get boring for kids to watch on their own, so we watch them together and ooh and aah over all the details to keep the interest alive. It’s good to have a good dose of reality amidst all the animation and fantasy.
What are some of the shows you loved as kids, and what shows do your kids enjoy now?