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Television Shows

'Bluey' and beyond: TV shows for little kids parents love (and some we hate)

Parents, when it comes to making decisions about screen time, first you have to decide how much is right for your family. Then you have to decide what shows you're OK with your kids watching.

Not every show is right for every kid. That's especially true for toddlers and preschoolers, who can have a lot of big feelings about their favorite TV. Maybe they love to sing and dance and want something entirely music based. Maybe they love animals or dolls or trucks. Maybe they need to learn a specific skill. Maybe turning off the TV show they currently love causes too many meltdowns, so you need something new.

We recommend a list of educational and enjoyable (for kids and their caregivers) TV shows for the toddler and preschooler age group (yes, “Bluey” is on the list). We also note a few shows that other parents would warn you to avoid.

But of course, the best way to tell if your child will respond well to something is to try it out yourself. Most of these shows are short and sweet, with simple stories you can stream yourself before you need to put something on for your antsy toddler while you have a Zoom meeting.

An image from "Bluey."

Best TV shows for toddlers and preschoolers

"Bluey" (Disney+)

Need a break?

What's left to say about this blockbuster preschool series that hasn’t already been said? By now we all know that “Bluey” is great TV for kids and adults alike. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming and it’ll make you cry. It captures the spirit of play, the reality of parenting and the beauty of childhood all in crisp, seven-minute episodes. The educational, pro-social themes are easy enough for kids to understand and deep enough to move parents to tears, no small feat for a little blue heeler dog.New three-minute "minisodes" of the series are now streaming.

"Bear in the Big Blue House" (Disney+)

There"s no rule that says your kid has to pick from the collection of current TV shows. Streamers, particularly Disney+, Paramount+ and PBS Kids on Amazon Prime, are full of legacy content from the past half century of kids’ TV. One of the most underrated gems from the 1990s is this Jim Henson Television puppet series that originally aired on the Playhouse Disney block of Disney Channel from 1997-2006. In each episode, Bear talks directly to the audience and guides them through stories and lessons on a theme. With genuinely good (and very catchy) music and a relatively calm tone, it’s the kind of show that won't overstimulate either a parent or child watching.

"Gabby’s Dollhouse" (Netflix)

Unapologetically pink and frilly, this Netflix series is built around the “growth mindset” psychological concept. Gabby and her friends may not be able to do something yet, but that's OK. In Gabby's world, it's fine to fail and try again. Considering how many parents struggle with perfectionism, it's a lesson we could all learn. And it helps that the songs are fun and rocking, too.

"Tumble Leaf" (Amazon)

With beautiful stop-motion animation mixed with calming music, “Tumble Leaf” is just a relaxing sensory experience. Set on an idyllic island with sweet animal characters like blue fox Fig and his caterpillar friend Stick, the series focuses on problem solving and peaceful conflict resolution.

"Puffin Rock" (Netflix)

Sweet, soft and way too cute, “Puffin Rock'' is about a family of puffins and their animal friends on a small island off the coast of Ireland. Full of small adventures, prosocial behavior and adorable Irish-accented animals, “Rock” is a fun series with short seven-minute episodes that tots and their parents will both enjoy. The biggest drawback is that there were only two seasons of the show. If your kid likes it, you're going to see the same episodes quite a bit.

An image from "Puffin Rock" on Netflix.

Honorable mentions:

  • "Sesame Street" (PBS and Max).
  • "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" (PBS Kids/Amazon).
  • "Curious George" (Peacock).
  • "Trash Truck" (Netflix).
  • "Songs for Littles" by Miss Rachel (YouTube).
  • "Blue"s Clues" (Nickelodeon/Paramount+).
An image from "Cocomelon Lane," a "Cocomelon" spinoff.

The worst TV shows for preschoolers and toddlers

"Cocomelon" (Netflix)

Likely to overstimulate kids and parents alike, this grating, baby-addicting, nursery rhyme-based series is just a little too much of everything: Too loud, too hard to get the kid to turn off and too annoying for parents. Plus, it lacks a lot of the educational benefits of many series on our good list.

More on screens:I watch TV for a living. Why can’t I stop stressing about my kid’s screen time?

"Caillou" (PBS Kids/Amazon)

Perhaps the most universally disliked kids show, this Canadian series is despised for the terrible example its main character sets. Whiny and aggravating, Caillou exhibits the exact kind of behavior you Dz’t want to see in your kids. And considering toddlers and preschoolers are likely to imitate behavior they watch, it's best to steer clear of bad examples.

"Peppa Pig" (Netflix/Nickelodeon)

“Peppa” is best avoided for the same reasons as “Caillou.” Experts recommend showing young children “prosocial behavior” in their screen time, meaning TV characters should be kind, caring and patient at all times. The titular pig in this British series is often disobeying her parents, displaying selfish behavior and fighting.

"Paw Patrol" (Paramount+/Nickelodeon)

Opinions vary on this series about a young boy and his team of first-responder dogs responding to emergencies in a fictional town. Many parents object to the social messaging of the series, which depicts the government and public institutions as corrupt and the heroic dogs as a private police force. It's also spawned an undefined and can feel like an engine of toy sales rather than an enjoyable TV show. While it shows some problem solving, it lacks significant educational benefits. And it creates villains for an age group that doesn't really need to think of good guys and bad guys yet.

Creator-uploaded content: YouTube and more

YouTube Kids and other video sharing apps are chock full of content that seems great for kids, and there are some really excellent channels (like Miss Rachel's “Songs for Littles”) run by well-intentioned educators and creators who take the time to make quality content. Other channels are full of mindless unboxing videos or addictive cartoons without transparency about creators or messaging. It’s always a good idea to vet creator-uploaded content on sites like YouTube before you let your child watch it.

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