The Best Educational Streaming Shows for Preschoolers

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When my first son was born more than 3 years ago, I made it a point to not make this a parenting blog. While children change everything when it comes to money (and I'm happy to write about that), I simply didn't want to give parenting tips. That's not my strong suit anyway.

Over time, I've found myself, looking for more educational television for my 2 and 3 year old. I know some parents don't believe in television for children, but I'm equal-opportunity when it comes to all learning formats. There's a time and a place for books, television, tablets, and good old crayons and paper to teach letters, numbers, shapes... even foreign languages.

There was a time when parents had to accept whatever was on PBS at the time or buy VHS or DVDs of what they like. Fortunately, today we have on-demand, streaming media. Our Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions provide a ton of options at a great value.

I tried to find lists of the best educational shows online and couldn't find any that I'd consider complete. Almost all of them get the obvious Daniel Tiger, but there are so many hidden gems. This list is going to focus on Netflix, because that's where the majority of the best shows are. However, I'm going to slip in a couple of Amazon series that I think are top-notch as well.

I'd also like to add that Common Sense Media is excellent and often my first stop to read about a show. There's almost too much information on the website that it is hard to best stuff. Admittedly, this is (obviously) one man's opinion and shouldn't be a substitute for the great work Common Sense Media does.

  • Animal Mechanicals - The focus is on 5 mythical animals living in a fantastic mechanical world. They solve very basic physic problems by working together and using their unique abilities (strength, stretching, flying, gizmos, and speed). Each of the characters have their own distinct personalities. My sons and I ended up loving this so much that we bought the DVD because it had episodes that weren't on Netflix.
  • Super Why! - This is one of the only shows I've found to focus on reading. You can find shows on letters, but this really brings the whole words and reading to life. This isn't exactly a hidden gem as it is still being regularly run on PBS.
  • Monster Math Squad - I found this simply by searching Netflix for "Math." What a hidden gem! The monsters appear to be knock-offs of Pixar's Monsters Inc., but I don't care. These monsters teach math concepts! And when I was looking around to write up this article, I found there's even an extensive teacher's resource guideline online.
  • Special Agent Oso - The episodes are cleverly titled after Bond movies (but kid themed). The special agent bear teaches basic tasks in "3 simple steps." I'm not sure my 3-year old is ready to mail a letter yet, but it was helpful for learning to brush teeth. Sadly, there's Spanish as the Oso name may indicate.
  • LeapFrog (with LionsGate) - LeapFrog is known for its education material. The DVDs it produced a few years back are no exception. They are focused on letters, numbers, shapes, but extend to some math like simple adding and subtracting. I'm a big believer in STEM, so the math is a welcome addition.
  • Curious George - The majority of what you'll find are the television shows. They are great, but it's hard to pin down what they are really aiming to teach from a skill point-of-view. I'd say they teach life... if you happen to be a monkey where everything always comes up roses at the end. There's a lot of problem solving and discovery which is priceless.

    The real gem is the original movie with Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore with music by Jack Johnson. For a kids movie, there's a lot of entertainment for adults. They let Ferrell improv, his strength, and drew the movie to match it. It isn't just his voice. Drew Barrymore is a voice of reason with the appropriate amount of Jessica Rabbit mixed in. (Was that too much information?) When I'm pulling apart pyramid schemes, I'm singing Upside Down and Talk of the Town. This is a top recommendation even if it doesn't entirely focus on learning.

Amazon Prime Shows

Amazon Prime has some great shows as well. Many people have a Prime subscription for free shipping, so these come at no additional cost. As a extra bonus you can download them to Amazon Fire tablets and take them with you. (... Or so I am told. I haven't tried this yet, but I'm going to look into it today.)

  • Go, Diego, Go! - I went looking for this because I wanted to introduce the kids to Spanish. They are much more interested in rescuing animals, but we've learned a little Spanish while watching it. Besides counting to ten, they can speak about 5-10 other words. If nothing else, Rescue Pack is 100x better than Dora's lame Backpack.
  • Tumble Leaf - This Amazon exclusive is almost entertaining enough for parents to watch. The animation is incredible. The main character Fig the Fox, finds a new item each episode and figures out how to use it. The item could be a mirror for reflecting light, a flashlight for creating shadows, or a sponge for soaking up water. There's a reason why it has won 5 daytime Emmys.
  • Peg + Cat - Another math show... but unfortunately I like this more than my kids. Maybe they aren't old enough for the math concepts. At least once a week, I break an imaginary ukulele and sing this:

  • Fat Albert - I hesitated 5 times to include this for the obvious "Bill Cosby" reasons. It isn't the best fit for my age 2 and 3 year olds, but I'm including it anyway. Learning/Morals + anti-consumerism + racial diversity = win. It's hard to find this kind show elsewhere.

How do you feel about educational television? What are some of the favorite shows you and your toddlers have enjoyed? Let me know in the comments.

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Posted on March 15, 2016.

Lazy Man’s “Guide” to Black Friday

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It seems like there's an important holiday coming up this week. If you watched any television you can't miss the commercials for Black Friday. Car dealerships around me are having Black Friday sales for 10 days. That doesn't even make sense.

I've noticed that many of the retailers are starting their Black Friday deals the Thursday before. And why not? It's not like we have anything better to do that day. And we all know that if you want to participate in the deals you have to be present when the deals start.

So my "guide" to Black Friday is simple this... skip it. Is it really worth camping out for hours in the cold for a chance at saving $50 or $100? For me it isn't. Is it worth getting trampled in the mad rush to grab a deal? Again no. Last year a family near me got in a car accident and two people died. The sleep-deprived driver fell asleep on the way home from Black Friday.

We are losing Thanksgiving. We may have already lost it.

It's not just Black Friday killing Thanksgiving. As I write this, two days before Thanksgiving, I'm watching Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Why, my 1 year old seems to enjoy it? Days ago, some of the local radio stations changed their format to 24-7 Christmas music. My neighbor was putting up his Christmas decorations this afternoon.

Why on Earth would we do anything trivialize one of the best holidays of the year? Are we in that much of a rush for the holiday season that we need to skip over parades with amazing floats, turkey, stuffing, gravy, and copious amounts of football? I don't know about you, but I want to spend that time with family. I want to take some time and actually give thanks for all the wonderful things I have. I don't want to spend that time thinking about how I have to get in line to get the latest tablet.

If you've read all this and are still going to participate in Black Friday, I can't stop you. So I might as well you give you the one deal that I would take advantage of if I was going to participate. Wal-Mart has a one-hour in-stock guarantee on 20 items. The best bargain I can see is the 60" Vizio LED Smart HDTV that has very good reviews at Amazon. At $688, it's a much better deal than the nearly $1000 that Amazon is charging today. Most importantly, you are guaranteed to get it. Some might be enticed by the iPad Mini with the $100 Wal-Mart gift card for $299, but I'm not. It looks like last year's model, and the gift card brings it in the price range of this year's Nexus 7, which is faster with much better screen resolution. (I probably should have said that, because I'd like to spend my Friday looking into how to sell shares of Apple I bought awhile back for big gains.) The 32" television for $98 looks like a steal for a bedroom or dormroom, even though it is 720P. At that price, I'm okay with the television thinking it's 2006.

You might find better deals elsewhere, but I prefer not to gamble when Wal-Mart is giving me a guarantee. I want to vote with my wallet to support this type of promotion, even if the retailer itself is one that is infringing on Thanksgiving.

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Posted on November 27, 2013.

It’s (Going to Be) Another Boy!

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It wasn't long ago that I became a dad (father just seems to formal). It's happening all over again. It's not exactly the standard definition of Irish twins, but they are close enough... and happen to have enough Irish in them from both my wife and I.

Let's get to the money though shall we? This isn't Lazy Man and Parenting. The USDA has a good Cost of raising a Child Calculator and the cost of raising Little Man was going to be about $29,250 per year. According to the calculator, having two kids is going to push it to $46,800 per year. While the calculator

The big components of that is child care and housing. Let me cover each and compare our situation with the averages:

Housing (Calculator estimate of $17,200)

We don't intend to buy a bigger house. As they are both boys, they can share a room for a while. In fact, I think my brother and I shared a room until he went to college. At some point, we'll sacrifice the guest room.

That's not to say that we won't buy a bigger house at some point. We all know plans change and 1800 square feet might be a little small for two big boys when we can afford a bigger place. However, if we did buy a bigger house, that isn't exactly money down the drain. There's value in the equity of the house. It might even lead to making us money if we downsize later on in life.

What I'm intentionally leaving out here is the wear and tear on a home with two boys.

Child Care and Education (Calculator estimate of $12,560)

The calculator's child care costs are almost exactly what we'd pay in the first year. This is surprising because in comparing it with friends using our military status is a huge savings. When I looked into it in Silicon Valley, which didn't have the military savings, it was closer to $22,000 per year per child. Maybe the USDA calculator assumes an early high cost with it decreasing when they get to school age. If that's the case, it makes sense as we'll be see those same reduced costs bringing our annual average cost down.

Transportation (Calculator estimate of $5,120)

This is going to be an interesting one for us. We'll need to get a bigger car bring the kids around. We bought a Subaru Forrester when the first kid arrived. We have a small SUV with 125,000 miles on it. We were getting ready to move on from it anyway, so it could almost be looked at as a marginal increased cost... just buying a different type of car. Of course that bigger car will cost us more money in gas, which fits under the transportation umbrella.

Now what that car might be is a whole different article.

Food (Calculator estimate of $4,040)

Not much to say about the cost of food. We can save a little money on formula buying through the military commissary, Wal-Mart, or stacking CVS coupons (a game my wife likes to play). We'll also breast-feed, but that transfers the food costs to what my wife eats (darn law of law of conservation of energy).

The Savings is in Sharing

Having another boy, especially one so close in age, seems like it is going to save us some money. The first thought is that we'll be able to recycle all the clothes from Little Man. That's an immediate savings. The cloth diapers that we invested in with Little Man really start to pay off on the second baby, so that's a bonus.

For some time, we'll be able to reuse the same toys. Even better, we'll avoid buying all that American Girl Crap. I'm sure at some point, they'll develop their own tastes. Until then, it's going to be a savings to have them share the same Thomas the Tank Engine toys.

Just like when Little Man arrived, there's going to be a lot of changes. I'd be lying if I said that I know how it's all going to play out. Like most things, you anticipate the best you can and then make the appropriate adjustments as new information comes in.

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Last updated on August 26, 2013.

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