They are home from school, and they are bored. When your preschool or kindergarten kids are tempted to watch the frat house humor of “Spongebob,” redirect them to TV shows that offer education and fun. Five shows stand out from among a bevy of excellent programming options. Another parenting win: you don’t have to explain why burping the alphabet is not a desirable skill.
Making mid morning and mid afternoon appearances on Sprout, mild-mannered story book cartoon characters turn into literacy-powered heroes. When problems are presented, these heroes “look in a book” to discover possible solutions. The educational properties of this TV show’s characters are obvious. The superheroes have “alphabet,” “word,” “reading” and “spelling” powers. A great show for preschoolers and kindergarteners, I have found that even my young elementary-schooler still loves it. (And, as a self-professed book junkie, I love the idea of holding up books as sources of knowledge.)
What “SuperWHY” is to reading, “Team Umizoomi” is to math, shape and pattern recognition. Airing on Nick Jr., protagonists Milli, Geo and Bot champion “mighty math powers” and find solutions to a variety of problems by solving math challenges. Secondary lessons include primers on how to work as teams and how to compete fairly.
Also on Sprout, this show features Icelandic gymnastics champion Magnus Scheving in the role of Sportacus. Supported by a mix of actors and puppets, he encourages physical fitness and the copious consumption of apples and vegetables, which her terms “sports candy.” If your kid is starting to become a couch potato in the preschool years, this is the show to turn on. Plot lines are simple, easy to follow and always call for a fair resolution. I like the occasional calls to action that encourage kids to get up and get moving.
“Thomas and Friends”
These old books have been translated into an animated series that appeals to boys as well as girls. Currently airing on Sprout and PBS Kids, the animated trains work hard to perform their assigned tasks without creating “confusion and delay.” Nevertheless, personal foibles and attitudes sometimes get in the way. Preschoolers and kindergarteners learn early on that listening to sound advice is good while going it alone is not always a good solution to a problem. Since there is little in the way of math and reading, kids do not realize that they are learning.
“Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman”
This educational PBS kids’ show is for older kids. Targeting the six to 12 year old demographic, it only lasted five seasons. But those 100 episodes are pure gold. Part reality show and part game show, the main character is animated canine Ruff Ruffmann. Teams of young contestants must solve riddles and problems that involve hands-on tasks like map-reading, carpentry or food science. Some dares call for physical feats while quiz rounds tax the gray matter. Teamwork and excellence are rewarded with extra points. Because there were copious pop culture references, the show retained its relevance. Since girls are on equal footing with the boys in the challenges, my – then older – elementary school-aged daughter adored “Fetch!”