For years ago the day (and the hour), I published much of the article below. I’ve updated for 2020 with schools all over the United States closing due to COVID-19 (coronavirus). Parents need to stay home, but education never stops. Parents need a break some times, and there’s some valuable educational material on television. Now my kids are 6 and 7 and at the top of their private school’s class. I’m a fan of educational screen time, even at an early age! I just remember to have moderation in everything Also, don’t forget to turn on the closed captioning.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Special Agent Oso – The episodes are cleverly titled after Bond movies (but kid themed). The special agent bear teaches basic life skills 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.
- 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.
All of these may not be on Netflix anymore. They change their programming. However, you can usually find these ideas streaming somewhere. For example, Amazon Prime (through a PBS Kids subscription) is perfect for WordWorld
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 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:
- Wallykazam! – This is one of the few other shows that I’ve found focusing on reading. The kids love it! It’s on NickJr., so you might have DVR some episodes or get the Noggin app.
- WordWorld – This is one of the most clever shows that will help kids read. The cartoon characters and objects are animated with the words themselves. So a couch is actually spells couch. You’ll find many seasons of this on the PBS Kids’ application. I subscribe through Amazon Prime Video, because it is easier for us to watch on a TV that way.
Other Streaming Services
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.