Shows geared to toddler-aged children can be, well, horrible.
The technicolor educational world with songs and annoying characters that most kids shows are set in is making parents crazy, sometimes angry and a little confused.
As the mom of a two-year-old myself, I don't understand what is going on with toddler programming. Luckily, there is a reprieve from the worst of it.
You may not agree with all my selections, but hear me out. At one time or another, all of us thought Elmo, "wasn't that bad." Then we learned. We got smarter. Elmo became the enemy that united us.
We see you Bubble Guppies; we are coming for you next.
Screen Time and Your Kids
At our son's three month check-up, I was filling out the questionnaire all check-ups start with. If you're not familiar, these help the doctor make sure your little person is hitting milestones, and you are caring for them as you should be. One of the questions was, "How many hours a day is your baby watching TV?" I laughed. How much of anything is a three-month-old doing?
But, answered honestly and a little smugly. He was watching for 2 hours a week. We were right in the middle of seasons of So You Think You Can Dance and Master Chef. It was the only screen time the entire house was getting, who had time to watch TV anymore?
I thought our pediatrician would applaud us for not having screens on every day. We didn't even own a TV, and we used our laptop for streaming. What we got was a polite lecture about the recommendations for screen time for kids under two and the potential negative developmental impacts. Crap!
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends:
- Children under the age of two should avoid all screen time. However, new updates recognize the benefits of allowing babies to Skype or FaceTime with distant family.
- Children over two years old should limit screen usage to high-quality educational programming.
- Teens should limit the use of digital media to no more than an hour or two a day.
In the end, we let our little guy finish the seasons then curbed the screen time entirely until he was one. At that point, we discovered the sanity that came with 30 minutes of an age-appropriate educational show and how an episode of Tumble Leaf could get our busy boy to slow down long enough to eat an entire meal.
And do not even get me started on screen time and travel, in my opinion, an absolute must, #NoRegrets.
So with that, here are 9 shows for toddler aged children that stand a chance of not making you go crazy.
Pete the Cat
Pete the Cat is loosely based on a book by the same name and follows Pete, his musical family and his friends. Pete's parents own a music store, and Pete's mom used to be in a cat punk band.
Music is the heart of the show, and this music is good. Like really good. When Pete and his friends get the band together, they jam, and the songs don't sound like they are from your average kids' show.
With Don Was, musician, voicing Neville the Narrator, Elvis Costello voicing Pete's dad, and real-life wife Diana Krall voicing Pete's mom, you know this show has the chops to back its musical reputation.
My one complaint: Sally the Squirrel. She can be so extra sometimes.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
This show is sort of bananas, and you have to get past the absurdity. It follows Mila, whose dad owns the local magical pet shop, and the strange red creature she is given, Morphle. This weird red cube can morph into anything Mila dreams up.
The low-level action is excellent for toddler-aged kids who get overstimulated easily, but still entertaining enough to hold their attention. Mila's voice can get a little annoying, as can Morphles.
Where to Watch: Netflix
I love this series. Superheroes are my thing, and I cannot wait to show them to my kid.
But since he's only two, this has been the next best thing. PJ Masks follows three six-year-olds who turn from regular kids by day, to superheroes by night when they put on their "pyjamas" and go after the bad guy.
Based on the French book series, Les Pyjamasques, you can't think about this one too much either. I mean, where are their parents? Why do the bad guys get to come out during the day, but the PJ Masks have to wait until nightfall?
The show follows the same basic plotline in every single episode, which gets repetitive. The kids also don't seem to learn from their mistakes because they make them again one episode later, which, as a parent, can hit a nerve. The show does a decent job of teaching kids to love the things that make them individual and unique.
From the masterminds at the Jim Henson Company, Word Party specifically teaches toddlers social and language skills. Plus, these babies have some seriously sick dance moves.
The show follows a handful of baby animals who ask the "big kids, or the audience, for help with basic problems. Inevitably, the crew finds the need to have a "Word Party" when they encounter something they don't have a word for, followed by a wicked song and dance number.
The show isn't without its flaws. Lulu is basically everything annoying about children in one purple panda package. She can get under your skin, so be warned.
Tayo the Little Bus
We recently discovered this show by accident. The "bus" and the "garbage truck" have become gods in our house. My kid lost his mind when we saw this show displayed on the Kids Netflix platform one morning while looking for something to watch. "Boo Bus, Boo Bus," he cried.
The show follows Tayo, a little blue city bus and his little bus friends around their metropolitan city. The action is steady, and there are significant lessons that aren't preachy and come up organically in the story. The animation isn't my favorite, but I have heard zero complaints about that from my two-year-old.
Tayo the Little Bus is originally from South Korea. You can also check out a spin-off show about Titipo, a passenger train, and other characters on Tayo's Friends YouTube Channel. We stick with Tayo ourselves.
Learning Songs by Little Baby Bum
Little Baby Bum is notorious in a love-it-or-hate-it kind of way. What started as a British YouTube channel takes classic nursery rhymes and mixes them with more modern, sometimes bizarre, animation. It's not clear why Baa Baa Black Sheep has to go to the moon in a rocket for wool, but my toddler is here for it.
With a YouTube Channel currently showing 28.2 million subscribers and availability in 9 languages, it's clear the Little Baby Bum is here to stay.
With the Learning Songs collection, we dance and sing while learning shapes, numbers, and colors and is one of my son's top picks right now. The original, or classic, Little Baby Bum singing really grates on me, and the animation is entirely bizarre.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Oh, how I love Puffin Rock. It's just - cute. I can't describe it any better. It just makes me happy to see my kid watching it.
The show follows a baby Puffin and her little brother on Puffin Island, off the coast of Ireland. They help their friends and learn about the natural world in the sweetest way. Narrated by Chris O'Dowd, I could listen to that soothing Irish voice all day.
You probably guessed it; this show aired initially in Ireland and was picked up by Netflix. The internet has rumors of a movie, but nothing concrete.
It can follow the kids' show trope of being a little too slow and a little too precious for its own good.
Where to watch: Netflix
This show follows a group of undersea animal explorers who use their "Octopod" to travel the oceans and rescue land creatures, sea creatures, and their habitats from age-appropriate peril.
Advance Warning - avoid "Creature Report" at the end of the show. The information is excellent, and it's lovely how they bring it around to teach you about the animal at the end of the show. But holy hell, that song! Maybe pop into the kitchen for another cup of coffee when they start singing.
There are not enough words to describe the joy of finding this show.
First, the animation, I love love love the use of stop motion animation in this show. It is beautiful. I had to check because I didn't believe it was real. I thought it must be animated on a computer and styled to look like stop animation. The result is a cartoon that looks like you can actually touch it.
Second, the story. We follow, Fig and his best caterpillar friend Stick, on adventures in Tumble Leaf. Early seasons would start with Fig discovering an item in "The Finding Place" and then using it throughout his day in various ways to help his friends solve problems.
Even if you don't have kids pull up an episode and just watch that first sequence, it's magical.
I have no complaints other than my kid did get bored and rarely asks for the show anymore. I, however, watch it without him when I need a nighttime palette cleaner from scary or violent shows of my own.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself saying things like, "Dogfish snout, I figured it out!" Welcome to Tumble Leaf.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Public Enemy Number One
You can't talk about the good without talking about the bad. I know you think this is going to be an Elmo rant, but you would be wrong.
My son discovered Blippi one day while we were looking for something on the Amazon FreeTime Kids platform. I had seen Blippi listed before and quickly scrolled past. The blue and orange-clad 30-something guy in big glasses was what my TV nightmares were made of. He looked like a hipster clown. This day I wasn't fast enough, and our start with Blippi began.
The 15 to 30-minute show follows Blippi playing in a specific place, like a discovery museum, or with a particular type of toy, construction usually, or a certain activity, like learning about buoyancy in a pool. You literally just watch a grown man play. The songs were interesting, the main character was engaging, and my kid was entirely and instantly in love with him.
I thought I had been mistaken, Blippi was actually the answer to toddler TV.
We were in the car a couple of days after that and needed screen discretion. I found Blippi on Youtube and was surprised to find we were missing out on hundreds of videos and compilations, score! Or so we thought.
My kid started to wake up from every nap and beg for Blippi. Every second he was asking for Blippi. It was all Blippi, all the time, and we cracked.
Blippi became public enemy #1.
Worse than Elmo. We had to start spelling his name in the house so our kid wouldn't hear us. I would suggest anything other than Blippi, please no more Blippi. This was torture; I can't listen to Blippi laugh, sing, play, talk, scream, breathe...anything, anymore.
How did Blippi infect my kid's brain so fast? Why is he everywhere? Where did he come from?
Well, it turns out the Blippi, aka Stevin John, is an SEO mastermind. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is just what it sounds like. Literally, this former SEO Specialist, put on a bow tie, glasses, and decided to take over the children's programming world. Evil genius. That's why this guy is entirely unavoidable on YouTube.
Blippi wasn't Stevin's first foray into a celebrity. Oh no. A quick internet search will bring you to his past projects. Katie Notopoulos, BuzzFeed Reporter, said it better than I ever could, "Everyone has a past — Blippi just happens to involve a widely viewed, comedic video of him taking a deuce on another man." Have fun with that.
But, when my kid's big blue eyes look up at me and his sweet little two-year-old voice asks, "Meese mommy, meese," and he makes the sign for more - I would literally give him anything.
So here we are.
I am listening to my fifty thousandth episode of Blippi; my kid is eating peanut butter toast and dancing to the firetruck song in day-old pajamas.
The world just keeps turning.
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