TV: America’s babysitter. While it’s true that kids in general watch too much tv these days, tv itself isn’t evil or all that bad. There are some very good shows on television, you just have to find them. We’ve just come off a nine month digital satellite detox. All we had were our videos to watch. Now, for the first time in nine months we have tv again, and for the first time in 7 years or so, it’s LIVE, IN THE MOMENT, WITH NO WAY TO BACK IT UP OR RECORD OR ANYTHING, television.

Oddly enough, we’re not flocking to the tv set like salivating dogs who’ve been starved to death. I’ve noticed that if the tv gets turned on early in the day, we watch more of it. If we resist turning it on first thing, we’ll go most of the day without it. Still, for the parents of preschoolers, tv can be a helpful tool–when used wisely.

It can help you cook supper.

Or do school work with the older children.

Or, you know, ACTUALLY BATHE and get dressed and not hang around in your pj’s all day.

It’s all about moderation and monitoring what your child is watching. After all, monkey see monkey do, right?

So you’re not going to find me singing the praises of the Teletubbies, Boobah, the Wiggles or Yo Gabba Gabba. There are just some levels of absurdity that people should not have to endure. Ever. And I prefer shows that talk to my kids with some kind of intelligence instead of talking down to them.

In other words: not all preschool shows are created equal.

Here are my top 10 favorites (in no particular order):

1.) Blues Clues This show was my son’s FAV-O-RITE show, exclusively, for the entire second year of his life. Whether you prefer Joe or Steve, Blue’s Clues may seem a little goofy to us adults (don’t most preschool shows?) but it does foster good thinking skills – not to mention good manners, getting along and that sort of thing. Added bonus, your kids will pick up their alphabet, numbers, colors and other basic skills along the way. I credit Blue’s Clues for teaching my son his entire alphabet before age 2. It sure wasn’t me!

2.) Dora the ExplorerSeems like my girls preferred Dora over Blue’s Clues and vice versa, but my 3 yr old son does like Dora, too. The thing I like best about Dora is that they have to solve puzzles along the way and they pick up some Spanish, too! (They say learning another language makes your child smarter, right?) How else would my 3 year old child know to holler “Abre!!” at the top of her lungs in the middle of a restaurant??

3.) Wonder Pets – I bet you didn’t expect to see THIS one on here!? I confess, the first few times I watched it I thought: “You have GOT to be KIDDING ME.” I rolled my eyes a time or two. But my kids loved it and so we kept watching it and I came to love it, too. I mean, the SONG, the SONG is so… catchy!! 😉 Their adventures are a little silly, but there’s nothing wrong with working together so Wonder Pets can stay on the list.

4.) BackyardigansOne of MY personal favorites – EVER. Love the idea behind it – that these friends get together in their backyards to imagine a different adventure each day. Not sure that you can claim it teaches any basic skills or anything much more than having fun with your imagination – but I don’t care. It’s creative and fun and sometimes it’s okay to just have fun, right?

5.) Charlie and LolaL.O.V.E. it. First, this was created from a book series. My kids like the books and I like that the show and the book series encourages them to read more. Secondly, I love that they kept the animation looking like the illustrations you find in the books. Thirdly, I adore Lola. Lola is the embodiment of 4/5 yr old girls. She’s a lot like my own 5 yr old girl. Fourthly, I enjoy listening to my kids copying Lola’s British accent. But the BEST PART, hands down, is that Charlie models the ideal older sibling, the way that I want my kids to treat each other, especially the older ones when the younger ones are just down-right annoying. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but kids copy what they see and it would be nice if they copied Charlie.

Up to this point, I’ve only addressed cartoons found on Nick and Disney channels – which isn’t available to everybody. Since we don’t have digital satellite anymore my kids like to watch some of these shows online sometimes, and you can also find them on videos and DVDs if your child is just bonkers for one of these shows.

What we have now is a set of rabbit ears and a digital converter box and we can actually pick up some channels way out here in the middle of nowhere (who knew?!) We don’t have Nick Jr. anymore, but the loss is lessened with the addition of the Qubo station, an all day cartoon network which carries, among other things, Veggie Tales and 321 Penguins.

6.) Thomas and Friends Little Prince really didn’t get into this until just recently, but with his new train obsession and now that he’s a big three year old, he likes watching Thomas. I like it because it’s sweet and calm – and CALM is GOOD. It’s also nice that each show features some kind of moral lesson the characters learned.

7.) Barney and Friends BARNEY?! Yes, I know. It’s Barney. I know a lot of people can’t tolerate Barney, and to be honest, I used to not be able to either. He’s just a little over the top, over exuberant, giggly and too-sweet. But I can get over his uber-enthusiasm because, y’all, Barney is uber-educational. Maybe you can’t see it because you can’t get past the “I love you” song, but give Barney a second chance. Kids learn their basic skills, basic science, health & hygiene, and good manners. Drama Queen could count to ten before she was two thanks to Barney, and every time Barney tells them to wash their hands or brush their teeth they’re suddenly more excited about hygiene than when Momma says it. Now, it may be sad that my kids will listen to a giant purple dinosaur when Momma’s been saying the same thing for years, but at least Barney’s on my side, right? It’s good to have an ally.

8.) Word World How cool a concept to build the characters out of the letters that spell their names? The show is very basic but demonstrates how letters combine to make words or change around to make new words. Even my older girls enjoy watching this with their younger brother.

9.) Super Why – What World World doesn’t get into, Super Why does. When Wyatt visits his fairytale friends in Storybook Village, he helps them solve problems with his “power to read.” Super Why addresses alphabetical order, letter sounds, early phonics, spelling, and making sure words make sense in the context of a sentence. At first glance it seems a little “too old” for preschoolers, but mine adore it. My son runs around with a mask on “playing superwhy” and calls out the letters when he sees them, giving their names and sounds. It’s important to have a good foundation in reading, so that’s very cool. Or should I say, SUPER?

10.) Veggie Tales (& Larry Boy & 3-2-1 Penguins.) As mentioned above, these come on the Qubo station, as well as on NBC on Saturday mornings. Mostly, we watch them on video and DVD anytime we want. Yes, some of them are more biblically based than others, and some of them are only very loosely based on biblical truth. But if we’re talking about cartoons here (which we are) I don’t expect more out of it than what it is. I DO prefer them over many of the other options available on tv. That’s all I’m sayin.’

So these are our ten favorites. Sure there are some other good ones out there, but these make my “great” list in the midst of a sea of mostly not-so-great cartoon options.

So what are your favorite shows to sit down and watch with your kids? Who do you let in to babysit your children so you can have 5 minutes of peace cook up some breakfast?

Updated: Some of my commenters recommended Sid the Science Kid. I must whole-heartedly agree! This is a wonderful show teaching preschoolers and elementary aged children about the basics of science. They’ve addressed topics such as the five senses, sound waves, and simple machines. All three of my children enjoy watching it. Likewise, there is a show on the Qubo channel called the Zula Patrol which is also Science oriented. They tend to focus more on space and planets, but they’ve also addressed simple machines. Watching shows like these reinforces what my kids are learning in their books – as a result, my kids have learned to apply them in real life, building their own see saw with a fulcrum and a lever! Go Sid and the Zula Patrol! Another science show mentioned: Magic School Bus, another winner!

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Hey, y’all! I’m Amber and I wear many hats. I drink a ton of coffee and I’m constantly sweeping crumbs off the floor. After 18 years of homeschooling, I’m getting close to graduating my third child and now we are starting over at preschool with our fourth, Lil Miss Mouse. She keeps us young and she’s the main reason for my excessive coffee consumption. Drink up!