When I was growing up, we didn’t have cable television. Apparently our house was too far from the main road for the cable company to run a line. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that my parents just didn’t want to pay for cable. So instead we had PBS and a small handful of other channels.
Since I was home-schooled, I didn’t hear much from other kids about what I was missing. But even if I had, I don’t remember wanting to watch TV much anyway. Maybe it was because it was too hard to adjust the antenna to get a clear picture. Or maybe it was because I was too busy playing, or riding my bike, or coloring, or any of those other typical kid activities that seem to be so “boring” to my children.
Don’t get me wrong, as I got older I enjoyed my share of Saturday morning cartoons and singing along to Jem on my plastic Barbie microphone. But other than “Sesame Street,” “Reading Rainbow” and “The Magic School Bus,” I don’t remember there being many educational shows for young children in the 1980s and 90s. For older kids there were shows like “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego,” but those weren’t exactly preschool appropriate. Now it seems like the show options for toddlers (and even younger) are endless.
Following in my parents footsteps, we also do not subscribe to cable or satellite television. Instead we watch Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. When watching Netflix, each of our boys — ages 2 and 4 — have their own profile which is set to only show age-specific shows for them. I’ve also done “mommy research” to find some of the best educational shows. I then make sure those are the ones the kids are picking from. Well, I do my best.
Usually while the kids are having their “TV Time,” I try to do chores nearby, particular folding laundry. This way I can keep an eye on what they’re watching, especially since my oldest, James, has a vivid imagination and is prone to nightmares based on things he’s watched. I admit, I don’t always hang on each word of the show, but I get the gist of what’s happening. And yes, I have my favorites.
My most recent favorite is “Peg + Cat,” a quirky PBS show that teaches young kids basic math skills and teamwork. The dialogue cracks me up and the theme song is catchy. The boys and I quote the show frequently, particularly the line “come here, you amaaaaaazing cat you” since we have an extremely docile fluffy cat. James is a jokester so he enjoys shows with a sense of humor, like “Curious George” or “Jake and the Neverland Pirates.” He also loves to figure things out and solve mysteries, so “Special Agent Oso” and “Super Why” are big hits for him.
My 2-year-old, on the other hand, likes the slower-paced shows that ask him to interact like “Daniel Tiger,” “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” and the classic “Blues Clues” (the original episodes with easy-on-the-eyes Steve). From the same creator of “Blues Clues” is a new Amazon Prime-exclusive show called “Creative Galaxy” which both my boys adore. At the end of each episode they show real kids creating the art project that was featured in the story, and almost each time my kids want to run off and get creative. Luke also loves music so he could watch “Little Einsteins” and “Backyardigans” all day long.
If the kids are wound up and need something calming to watch, I always turn on “Tumble Leaf,” another Amazon Prime show. Maybe it’s the unique stop motion animation, or soft tinkling chimes and beach sounds, but it always gets them focused and chill, a major plus for a tired mama.
I’m a tad bit paranoid about letting my kids have too much “screen time,” but I’m pretty impressed with the quality of shows that are currently available for young kids to watch. Now if I can just get them to watch me that intently when I’m trying to talk to them.
Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 4-year-old James and 2-year-old Luke.