I remember reading a blog post a few years ago by a fellow mom who made a list of the top shows her young kids were loving on Netflix. It was so helpful to have a list created by a mom -- especially one who picked shows according to the same criteria that I do. We found a few winners from her list.
I know it can be a bit daunting to find shows that fit one’s family values. We like shows that teach about morels and character, while not overinflating kids’ self esteem or presenting more controversial topics.
But our philosophy goes a bit deeper:
- We don’t like shows that are scary or intense – or hyper stimulating/sensory overload (have you seen the new VeggieTales in the House?? HOLEY MOLEY. Overload).
- We like our main characters to be kind, loving, and not argumentative with each other. Or whiny. Or bossy. Or sassy. We've seen a direct link between what my kids see on TV and how they treat each other.
- We like our “bad guys” (when they exist) to be clearly defined as “bad guys” and our “good guys” to get in trouble when they do something not-so-good. This is one reason why we don’t watch Thomas the Train in our house – some of the trains in that show are quite bratty and there are rarely consequences to bad behavior. Or Curious George – which does give consequences for George’s disobedience, but the entire show is built around not obeying authority. My oldest tried the line "but I was curious!" when she directly disobeyed a few times. After connecting the dots, we pulled the plug on this show.
- We love our shows to be educational (when possible).
I should also add that these shows are also on our list because they are not too intense for our kids. There are some other shows that friends have recommended, but they were too intense (whether from bad guys, ominous music, sensory concerns, flashing scenes, danger, etc). This list is not the end-all, be-all. It's just where our family is, right now.
Naturally, when looking at shows for your own family, use your discretion.
So here they are. The top things we are loving on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and all those other streaming places you can imagine. Not every item is available on all platforms. And I confess – we’ve become lazy. If it’s not available for streaming, I’m not inclined to reach for it first (sorry, DVDs). We have some great DVD-based shows. But... streaming wins.
So our top 20, in no particular order:
1. Wild Kratts
This show is fantastic. Kris and Martin Kratt have spent many years in the educational kid-TV-show-industry. Their latest project is the tale of two brothers (and their crew) who help curious creatures all around the world and discover their creature abilities. They don special “Creature Power Suits” that give them the traits of those animals. I know this sounds frightening on paper; it really isn’t. I’ve learned so much and my kids love this show. Bonus points: Kris and Martin never argue once (but aren’t overtly saccharine, either). There is an occasional villain in the show, but I would not classify it as intense. The bad guy usually is trying to steal the animal and the Kratt brothers always save the day.
Speaking of shows by Kris and Martin Kratt, this is one of their earlier projects. It involves a (puppet) lemur named Zobomafoo. They learn about animals (all live film) and occasionally will slip into claymation.
Do you like singing radishes? I never knew that could be a thing… but I do have to say my kids LOVE this show. In keeping with the theme of animal shows, this British-produced show features a few lovable animals who are… I’m not really sure what they are supposed to be doing. But they travel around and find curious sea animals and just have delightful adventures. And there are singing radishes on board their Octopaud. There’s no villain in this show and it’s very low key.
4. Word World
This is personally one of MY favorite shows. Everything is based on letters. So a cloud is actually made up of the letters C-L-O-U-D. So clever and creative! The characters go on whimsical adventures and learn about phonics along the way. I cheered when it came to Netflix.
5. Magic School Bus
Another treasure of my childhood. I grew up watching Magic School Bus and LOVED these. I’ve heard some parents complain that a few of the kids could be “whiny.” But compared to the “whiny” of some shows I’ve seen today, this is gem. It’s the story of a classroom of kids and their crazy teacher, Ms. Frizzle. Their school bus transports them into all sorts of fascinating adventures and they learn fantastic lessons about science – from gravity to the water cycle to the human body. You can also find Magic School Bus BOOKS at the library. We ended up getting the all 4 seasons on DVD at Costco (they run it for a great price) because Netflix is scheduled to release their own reboot in 2016. And based on how they have slaughtered other reboots, I’m not holding my breath.
6. Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That
Speaking of science shows, this show was a surprise. It’s not the Cat in the Hat from our childhood (who kinda creeped me out, actually). This show is also science based – focusing on everything from ants to seeds to weather to the human body. Just like the Magic School Bus, there are also a series of BOOKS that go along with these. And they rhyme! We use these a LOT in our homeschooling. And the best part? The show is mindful how the Cat in the Hat could be a “pied piper.” Remember in the book how he was tempting the two kids to come with her – “your mother will not mind at all if you do”??? What the what?! Well, they turn that line around in the show and the Cat makes SURE they never go anywhere without their mother’s blessing. Phew.
7. Signing Time With Alex and Leah
Switching over to the language arts, Signing Time with Alex and Leah is actually quite a hidden gem. If you have a moment, you should read the biography about the family in this show. (http://www.signingtime.com/company/about-us/story/ ). This professional-recording-artist mom has created some catchy and amazing songs to teach sign language. This show is great for teaching a second language or helping parents/children with special needs (like autism) to communicate. The show is the perfect pace and does such a great job introducing concepts and vocabulary. And if learning sign language doesn’t jazz you, then at least watch it for the other topics it covers: types of weather, days of the week, the months, the seasons, etc.
8. Guess How Much I Love You
This is an adorable show with some beautiful artistry. Based on the popular kid’s picture book, this story features Little Nut Brown Hare and Big Nut Brown Hare, along with an assemblage of woodland animals. This show isn’t overtly educational, but it does have good morals. I love that it’s not super flashy or overwhelming to the senses – I call it “gentle on the eyes.”
9. Daniel Tiger
I am ashamed/pleased to say that this show has been fundamental in my parenting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been
trying to get my kids to do something – like brush their teeth, go potty, or
eat their carrots – and a power struggle ensues. There is something MAGICAL
about Daniel Tiger. He sings these (annoying? catchy?) little jingle songs that
stick in your head and are SUPER effective. Based on the characters created by
Fred Rogers (of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood), this show has a real innocence to
it. I prefer the first season over the second season – I think the songs and
lessons are better. But, for good or for bad, this show has left its mark on
our parenting. For every parent who has sung:
If you gotta go potty,
And go right away!
Wash and flush and be on your way!
Yeah, you know what I mean.
10. Leap Frog Letter Factory Adventures
So, this isn’t ONE actual show with subsequent episodes. Rather there are a few Leap Frog single shows (ie – you have to hunt for each one and put it on your watch list). Currently on our list are:
- Great Shape Mystery (shapes, math, fractions; a little intense but my kids love it)
- Phonics Farm (great for preschoolers)
- Letter Machine Rescue Team (letters and phonics)
- Counting on Lemonade (math, money)
We don’t own any LeapFrog electronic toy thingies, but my kids enjoy these shows. My then-6yo watched the Great Shape Mystery once and completely understood fractions. I was flabbergasted when it came time for me to read a recipe (ie – 1/4 cup of flour) and she not only knew how to read it, she knew what it meant. Entirely due to this show.
11. Shaun the Sheep
Oooooooooooh, my goodness. This show is amazing. This British claymation production is by the same team that brought you Wallace and Grommit (a show I love but is too intense for my kids). It’s the adventures on a farm with Shaun (a sheep), Shaun’s sheepmates, the farmer, and the trusty farm dog. But the amazing part? There’s NO dialogue!!! This show is so clever at communication as a result. The antics are humorous. There are one or two episodes that were a little intense for my youngest the first time, but he has since come to love this. The best part? Since the show has no dialogue, you can watch the episodes on MUTE in case you have an important doctor appointment and you’ve been waiting in a waiting room for over an hour and need to silently keep your kids entertained because it’s past lunch time and you forgot to give them lunch AND snacks. Ahem.
[BTW, Amazon sponsored a random semi-movie Shaun the Sheep about Llamas. WATCH IT FIRST. My husband and I are huge Shaun the Sheep fans and so when we saw it on our Amazon Prime streaming, we watched it. This one was … odd and a little creepy. I hope that Shaun isn’t selling out… but if you stick with his traditional season episodes and his Olympics spoofs, you’ll be fine.]
12. Timmy Time
Insert everything I just said about Shaun the Sheep right here. Same company. Same animation style. EXCEPT this show was designed for preschoolers. No intense scenes. It’s about little Timmy the sheep who goes to school with his woodland creature buddies. Adorable and cute. A little slow for my taste, but cute. Perfect for a 2-4yo.
13. Lego City
Oh, my children. I love them. But sometimes they perplex me. The first time I turned this on, this scared them so bad they ran out of the room. It took me quite awhile to force them to watch this. And then they made it through and loved it. I don’t know if it was the sound volume? The elements of bad-guys and robbers?? So why am I including it on here? Because it’s a whimsical, fun and not-intense adventure. And it involves Legos. Many of the others Lego shows are too scary/have themes we really don’t do in our house. But this one was a winner. Now they watch it all the time. There is nothing educationally redemptive about this show. But I don’t mind. After all, it’s Legos.
14. Cars-Toons: Mater Tall Tales
I must be the rare oddball who thinks Pixar’s Cars (the original) was one of their best films. I loved all the parodies and I loved the message. Maybe it came from driving an old car. Maybe it came from my love for Route 66. Who knows. But I loved Cars. This is a series of shorts featuring Mater and Lightning MacQueen that are hilarious and fun. A few are a little intense, but once my (sensitive) kids watched it once they were fine. Why this was less “scary” to them than Lego City, beats me. There is nothing educationally redemptive about this show, either. But what’s life without a little fun. ;-)
SHOWS WE ARE WATCHING AS A FAMILY
15. Andy Griffith Show
Did you know this show was on Netflix? I love that there’s a good, wholesome show we can watch as a family (ie – mom and dad aren’t losing brain cells). Along the way, I’ve been touched by Andy’s parenting – and I’ve actually learned a thing or two about how he handles his son. It’s quite a good show. And it’s ALLLLLLL on Netflix. Also, I love me some Don Knotts.
16. Fixer Upper
My kids absolutely love watching This Old House with us. So it’s no surprise that they love Fixer Upper as well. This HGTV show isn’t your regular “home-improvement” show, though. It features the amazing husband-wife team of Chip and Joanna Gaines who work out of Texas. Their humor, team spirit, and antics leave us laughing. It’s just a bright, fun show.
17. How the States Got Their Shapes
This is one of my most recent finds! And I’m LOVING it! It’s a fascinating look at America and American History. It’s hard for me to describe this show – it’s witty, upbeat, funny, and just fascinating. It features the host who travels across the USA teaching about the states and history. For example, he explains why the US timezones aren’t just perfectly straight lines (thank the railroads), why West Virginia looks so odd (mountains, rivers, and a flood), and other trivia – like how part of Indiana tried to secede from the US in the 1970s and why. CRAZY! I love this show and the content has been family friendly (so far).
This is one of the many Disney movies rotating on Netflix. There is no evil, dark villain (like there are on so many Disney movies). My kids crack up laughing on this one. They have yet to make it through a Pixar film and not freak out, but they love Aristocats. So it regularly loops through Family Movie Night.
19. Robin Hood
If you haven’t seen the Disney cartoon classic, you’re missing out. This one also is on our Family Movie Night queue.
20. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
SHOWS WE LIKE, BUT WITH RESERVATIONS
1. Sid the Science Kid
While I’ve never seen an episode of Sid the Science Kid that had any objectionable material, I feel like I lose brain cells whenever I see an episode. I can’t put my finger on it. But if I’m feeling my IQ drop, I’m betting it’s impacting more than just me…
2. Dinosaur Train
This is such a fun show. It has trains. It has dinosaurs. It is pro-family and pro-teamwork. And even though it features all sorts of dinosaurs, it’s NOT scary. At all. This may be the only show you’ll ever meet with friendly velociraptors. :) They go on all sorts of adventures and talk about perseverance, team work, diligence, and all sort of other important family values. The only reason I’m recommending it with reservations is that the very end includes a science lesson with “Paleontologist Dr. Scott” that heavily features evolution. I know this can be a deal breaker to some families.
Another show I loved growing up. The fact that it is still airing blows my mind. :) However, some of the newer show content is a little more edgier. So take the time to sort out the older cartoons versus the newer ones. Or just always make sure you’re watching with your peeps.
4. Angelina Ballerina
PBS ran a TV series on Angelina Ballerina, which was a little mind-numbing but still nice. Netflix has several Angelina Ballerina hour-long movies. These are not the same as the PBS show and sometimes I find Angelina’s attitude a little… bullying.
5. Super Why
My kids LOVE this show!!!! And so do I!!!!! You’ll never hear a catchier way to sing the ABCs. :) And the lessons in phonics, spelling, sight words, and letters can’t be beat. So why is this on my recommended list?! Well, Super Why and his team travel inside books to find their answers to the episode question. And some of the books they look inside are… a little scary. Sometimes there are monsters and aliens and trolls and witches and goblins. Things we really don’t “do” in our house. My 4yo sometimes runs out of the room because it frightens him. It’s hard to know if the episode will be okay or it will be too intense. So pick your titles carefully and watch out if Netflix automatically plays the next episode. But we do love us some Super Why. :)
On The Horizon...
As my kids get older, their tastes and interests are broadening. I still plan to preview shows before given them the all-clear. So the shows on my radar to check out:
- Word Girl
- Martha Speaks
- Reading Rainbow (they’ve put up a series of classics; I just need to look over the list)
- Cyber Chase (a new PBS show; I’m not holding my breath on it)
- Odd Squad (another PBS show)
- Jake and the Neverland Pirates (recommended by a friend)
- Monster Math Squad (about math and recommended by a friend; a little sensory overwhelming for my kids with lots of color, sound, and fast-paced scenes)
- Peg + Cat (PBS show)
- Justin Time (recommended by a friend; about cultures and world history)
- Space Racers (recommended by a friend; all about outer space, but was too intense last time I looked at it -- need to revisit)
- Kids Animated History with Pipo (Hulu)