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Raise your hand if your kids are getting more screen time than they were in the past! Everyone? Probably. I know mine sure is.
When we’re busy trying to keep kids happy during quarantine, crisis schooling, or working from home with littles, TV becomes more of a necessity than many of us might like. Let’s give ourselves a break and rest better knowing we’re at least turning our toddlers and preschoolers onto educational tv shows.
Lots of shows call themselves educational, but some ACTUALLY are. And I don’t know about you, but right now, my sanity relies on finding good educational shows for toddlers and preschoolers!
Because every family watches different TV shows on different platforms, I went to the best source I knew to get a variety of information: other mamas.
They gave their recommendations, I vetted them in the obnoxiously over-researched way that I do, and we’re here to present you with an amazing list. The BEST educational TV shows for kids, all in one simple place.
Educational TV Shows on Netflix
- Ask the StoryBots – We all know how inquisitive little people can be, and this show actually answers their questions! Episodes like “How Do You Make Music?” and “Why Do People look different break down actual scientific questions for your toddler in a way that they can understand. Plus, the episodes are fun to watch (and are super entertaining for adults, with celebrity guest appearances like Jason Sudakis as the plumber explaining what happens when you flush a toilet.)
- Storybots Super Songs – Des your kid love to sing and dance? This show will teach them all about things like dinosaurs, emotions, and outer space–all while keeping it light and super entertaining. Parents can zone out, but if you do sit and watch, it’s cool–because it’s HILARIOUS!
- The Magic School Bus Rides Again – You remember how excited you got when your teacher popped in a VHS tape of The Magic School Bus? Mrs. Frizzle’s little sister Fiona is the star of this revamped childhood favorite, and she’s here to teach your kid all about things like glaciers, how flying works, and the nervous system! The plot of this show is a little more advanced, so it’s more one of the best educational shows for preschoolers (& even elementary school kids!)
- Octonauts – This show is all about what happens under the sea. A team of brave explorers will entertain your child and explain mysterious creatures of the deep like blobfish, whales, spider crabs, and more. The show also teaches empathy as the explorers help out creatures in need.
- Charlie’s Colorforms City – This show focuses primarily on shapes and colors and is a great way to help reiterate your home lessons on these topics. Charlie goes on plenty of adventures, which keeps things fun and lively for your little one.
- Super Wings – Is your kid into things that fly? Then this is the show for you! The cast consists of a jet and his friends who fly around seeking answers to problems. It’s basically my kid’s dream show. It also teaches critical thinking and peacekeeping skills–SCORE!
Educational Shows for Toddlers on Cable
Cable offers tons of great shows for kids. I’m admittedly a Daniel Tiger fanatic because it’s taught me how to parent as much as it’s taught Jack lessons. So of course it tops the list. But it’s not the only amazing option.
Best Shows on PBS
PBS kids is an absolute go-to for television for young children. Most of Jack’s favorite shows were originally made by PBS kids, known for classics like Sesame Street, Odd Squad, Sid the Science Kid, and even online compilations of nursery rhymes.
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – We LOVE Daniel Tiger! It’s especially great for emotions (like conquering anger), manners, & social skills. Daniel teaches children key skills for school and life, and we find ourselves singing Daniel Tiger songs outside of watching the show all the time to help calm down a fit or soothe anxiety.
- Super Why – Super Why is geared towards children age 3-6, and its primary focus is on reading skills. The characters in this show are reading-powered superheroes, which makes this English major pretty happy.
- Peg + Cat – This show follows Peg and her sidekick Cat as they navigate all sorts of adventures. They use math, historical figures, culture and fun music to solve problems. There is also one math-based problem per show.
- Word World – The “WordFriends” help kids learn how to solve problems by building words. They focus on letters and how putting them together makes words. They also explore the meanings of words in creative and fun ways. GREAT for toddlers and preschoolers!
- Sesame Street – Who doesn’t love Sesame Street? Alongside teaching colors, numbers, and the alphabet, Sesame Street tackles cultural and emotional issues with a beloved set of characters that we all know and love.
- Wild Kratts – Do you have anima-loving kids? If so, this show is SO much fun for them. The Brothers Kratts take kids on an animated-turned-real-life adventure in every show in which kids learn all about animal habitats, environmental issues, and more.
Best Shows on Nick Jr.
- Blue’s Clues & You – A new host, Josh, leads preschoolers on an adventure to find clues. Solving puzzles together, Blue and Josh will captivate your child and teach them critical thinking skills along the way. A super solid revamp in my book.
- Blaze & the Monster Machines – This show tackles hard vocabulary, engineering, and more in-depth storylines. But while the show is more complex–definitely a fit for preschoolers–many toddlers love it too. My friend Kat says Blaze is the character her son chose for his underwear. If a potty training kiddo cares enough to not pee on a character, it’s a win in my book.
- Bubble Guppies – Another underwater-themed show, this one features fish-tailed preschoolers with original music. The show teaches math, science, and literacy skills in a creative and imaginative way.
Educational TV Shows on YouTube
- Storybots is on YouTube! Check them out for sure.
- Blippi: It seriously pains me to write this because Blippi drives me up the wall. BUT, his show really is educational, as long as you watch the newer episodes. Blippi has helped Jack hone his colors, numbers, shapes, and knowledge of every piece of construction equipment on the planet. Here’s what you need to keep in mind with Blippi. He built his TV show status through his YouTube channel, so earlier videos are way less educational, while later ones actually teach kids a lot.
Best Educational Shows for Kids on Amazon Prime Video
We’ve discussed all but the first two of these shows already, so I’ll just summarize those for you. The rest are great options we’ve talked about above that also happen to be available on Amazon.
- Tumble Leaf: Free on Prime Video because it’s an Amazon original! It follows the adventures of Fig, a little blue fox who’s always discovering. It promotes play, curiosity, and helps kids see that learning is fun!
- The Stinky & Dirty Show: If your kid loves construction equipment half as much as mine does, this show will be a HUGE hit. Best friends Stinky (a garbage truck) and Dirty (a backhoe). Their antics teach fun, resourcefulness, innovation, and problem-solving skills. The episodes are also super short–like 10 minutes–so they’re great if you don’t want your kid sitting down to 30 minutes of TV time.
- Super Wings
- Daniel Tiger (partial seasons)
- Super Wow
- Peg + Cat
- Word World
- Sesame Street
Making Shows Educational for Children
One thing to keep in mind when you’re letting your kids watch educational shows is that you have the power to enhance the education. And if they have big kids as siblings, they can help too!
Toddlers and preschoolers taking in what they see, but they also often watch passively.
This is one of the reasons I love Daniel Tiger. When Jack insists he doesn’t need to go potty but I know it’s time to try, I just break out in song. “Do you have to go to potty? Maybe yes, maybe no. Why don’t you sit and try to go?”
Daniel also taught us a great way to handle transitions, and I use that with the potty, as well, but also with basically every transition we make.
These tools don’t work just because Jack saw them on a TV show he loves. But when I can pull a tool from a TV show he enjoys (or a favorite book), he’s far more likely to go along with the learning than if I just create my own system. This is especially true of emotional lessons, like dealing with separation anxiety and transitioning out of fun activities.
Also remember to talk to your children about what they saw. “Oh no! Prince Tuesday is sad that his crown is dirty. Did it make it better when Daniel apologized? What did he need to do next? Did that make it better?”
These conversations start off easier, with questions about colors, shapes, and eventually, what emotions characters are feeling. But eventually, you can take these shows and turn them into lessons in learning comprehension. And as an English PhD, there’s nothing I love more than a kid having fun while building comprehension skills!
What’s your favorite educational TV show for toddlers and preschoolers?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.