Let me start this post by saying this: I’m not going into the screen time debate. It’s been done. Over and over and over again. As far as I’m concerned, everything that can be said about it, has been said.
Ok? Great! Now that we have that cleared up!
While my mom-guilt rears it’s ugly head every time I switch on the TV, it’s still a tool I use on a daily basis and I have actually seen my daughter learn things from watching, so I try my best not to feel bad. I also try view her TV time as her ‘down time’, and never force her to watch something purely based on educational content. If she doesn’t enjoy it, off it goes. If she does and she learns something at the same time – score!
There are 3 basic criteria which I try stick to when choosing her programmes:
- No violence.
Seriously, the amount of violence in kids tv shows is truly mind-blowing. The old Loony Toons are an absolute no-no. We had such fond memories of watching Tom & Jerry when we were kids that we did start out letting her watch that, but we very quickly stopped. I don’t think it’s old fashioned, I just don’t think such a young mind needs to be exposed to such senseless violence. Especially towards animals.
- It should engage her intellectually, artistically or emotionally.
Intellectually – she should be getting exposure to good values or teachings she will need later on. For eg. Introductions to the alphabet in a fun way, or a hidden message on how to treat your friend.
Artistically – I like beautifully done programmes such as the Julia Donaldson short films on Showmax, or even Pokoyo (on Netflix) which shows that minimalism can go a long way.
Emotionally – Again, those programmes with good hidden messages like how to treat others or how to understand her feelings. Animal programmes fall into this category for me too, because they trigger that emotional response to a living being which is not a human that I believe is so important.
- Keep her attention for longer than 5 minutes.
This is not easy, even with TV. Believe me!
Simple as that. So here are our top choices, based on what our daughter enjoys at the moment (she is just shy of 3 years old):
Series or short films on Netflix:
‘Phonics Farm’, ‘Numberland’, and ‘Letter Factory’ – all by LeapFrog and all on Netflix.
It’s never too early to introduce phonics or numbers. In fact, the earlier the better! These ±30 minute episodes make it fun by adding animals (always a win with my daughter!), so they learn without realising it.
On a side note, the entire LeapFrog series is available on Showmax, but we personally didn’t enjoy the other episodes and found these 3 to be, not just the best, but really great. I feel like Netflix agreed with that, and only took these 3 for a reason. So, if you are looking for more of the LeapFrog family, have a look on Showmax.
I mentioned this one above. It’s actually one of the first TV shows that Olivia engaged with, we even planned her 2nd birthday around this theme! This is a very minimalist programme centering around a little boy and his animal friends. The background is completely white, allowing for less distraction (and I would say a bit less over-stimulation) while the characters themselves are brightly coloured and wonderfully animated. Pokoyo learns basic lessons in each episode, such as to treat others as he wants to be treated. This one is still a hit with our daughter even though she’s seen every episode a ton of times. You’ll find 2 seasons with a total of 26 episodes on Netflix, each about 28 minutes long.
I think this one leans more toward the upper 3 age group, but Olivia loves it for 1 simple reason – she is dinosaur crazy at the moment. The programme is pretty much what the name says, a train filled with dinosaurs. In each episode a family of pterodactyls’ travels on the train and learns about a new kind of dinosaur. It’s easy watching and the dinosaurs are all super kind and friendly (no attacking T-rex in this one!) There is only 1 season on Netflix, but it has 40 episodes so you should be good for a while! The episodes are just under 30 minutes each.
Puffin Rock is just the sweetest. As the name suggests, it’s about a family of puffin living on the cliffs of Ireland. The story closely follows Oona and her baby brother puffin, Baba. I like to put on Puffin Rock when I’m trying to keep Olivia calm and relaxed. The delicate colours and the beautifully drawn scenery make this one all about the artistic element for me (plus I love an Irish accent!), while Olivia goes nuts for all the little animals especially the ones she doesn’t know which she can then learn about. Each episode is about 20 minutes long and there are 26 episodes available on Netflix.
The Julia Donaldson Collection, mainly ‘The Snail and the Whale’ but also ‘The Stick Man’, ‘Zog’, and the ‘Highway Rat’.
(I’ve left out ‘The Gruffalo’ because I know of 2 children who find the creature a bit scary, and I’ve left out ‘Room on the Broom’ which, while an amazing story 90% of the way, ends with a scary dragon scene that never fails to get my daughter running from the room.)
As expected from a series based off the Julia Donaldson books, the animation is stunning, the rhymes are brilliant, and the stories are just plain enjoyable. ‘The Snail and the Whale’ is a firm favourite with our whole family and I often find myself requesting it! Each short film is just under 30 minutes in duration.
Dora The Explorer
Please don’t hate me for this one, it really is a great little show! Dora and her monkey friend, Boots, set off on adventures with nothing but the (gadget filled) backpack on her back.
Along the way they teach numerous skills such as memory, numbers, size ordering and even a bit of Spanish. Showmax has a whopping 6 seasons, with each episode running 24 minutes.
Duggee is a dog who teaches a group of young animals called the Squirrel Club, wholesome lessons while they have fun and earn badges. He encourages the Squirrels to explore their world while being responsible and thoughtful, and compassionate to those around them.
This one is a true winner, but while Showmax has 3 seasons, the episodes are just 7 minutes long! So you will be begging for more.
Kiri & Lou
This is a strange one, but I think it’s too cute and my daughter really enjoys it. Kiri and Lou are dinosaurs (though it’s not clear which kind.) learning to navigate their world. It focuses on feelings and empathy, and it really does it well, with thoughtful lessons and funny songs.
There are 20 episodes on Showmax, each 5 minutes long. (I challenge you not to get the ridiculously catchy opening song stuck in your head all day!)
Munki & Trunk
I’ll be honest, I struggled with this one a bit. Munki & Trunk can lean towards being comedically aggressive sometimes, for example with a swarm of bees chasing the title characters. But I think I may be being a bit pedantic with this one, so because my daughter loves it, I decided to add it to the list. Munki & Trunk are a monkey and elephant best friend duo who get up to mischief in the jungle. It is very cute, there are some good lessons and the animals don’t talk so your child has to guage their feelings using their facial expressions which is always good practice for life! Showmax has 14 episodes, running 7 minutes each.
Ok, this one you are going to hate me for! It’s unlikely that you will enjoy this programe, no matter how young at heart you are. But your child is going to love it. I don’t know why, but for some reason watching a man run around and do crazy kid stuff is just thrilling for a toddler! Blippi takes kids on adventures to the coolest places around – aquariums, dinosaur parks, playgrounds – and shows them what they can do and see there. It’s like a field trip from your couch.
Another one which I think leans towards the older 3 year olds, but again another one Olivia loves just because it’s about dinosaurs. They speak and do pretty silly things, but at 2 ½ years old she can name quite a few dino’s already so it must be teaching her something.
I'm A Dinosaur
This is a 2-for-1 because while these are similar in that they are all kids songs, they are completely different. Give them both a try, the songs are catchy and the animations are cute. Super Simple Songs was something Olivia watched right from her beginning forays into television, and as she got older she preferred Dave & Ava. She still enjoys both though.
Super Simple Songs or Dave & Ava
There are 3 or 4 of the +1 hour compilation videos, that’s what I’m referring to here. It goes over counting, animals and animal sounds, the alphabet and a ton of other subjects with fun animated videos.
The Best Of Toddler Fun Learning
I actually only learned about this one recently and it’s on here because my 1 ½ year old niece is crazy about it. Olivia will watch it for a bit but she does get bored of it quicker than the others, so I’d say this one is better for the younger children. It introduces shapes, numbers and letters in a fun way with Bob the Train leading the kids in the lessons.
Kids TV with Bob with Train
I think the educational value of this one will be lost on younger kids, as the lessons taught are done so in such a subtle manner. That being said, it is a lovely programme. The cat, Pretzel, caught my daughters eye at first, but she ended up really enjoying the show as a whole. I’ll be honest here and say that I really enjoy this one too!
Hello Ninja (Netflix)
Better for younger kids, I use this one when I want to get Olivia from 100 down to zero. It’s similar to Teletubbies but much less annoying!
In The Night Garden
Olivia outgrew this one, but I think it would be great for kids just learning to talk. Yakka Dee is a loud mouthed but lovable little cartoon who teaches children new, simple words. It’s fairly annoying for adults, but not so much that you won’t get through an episode or two.
A good one for the current times, with different episodes teaching the kids how (and why) to wash their hands. This is the only one I’ve recommended off the Apple TV app because the subscription to Hopster can be a bit expensive, and I think it’s less popular than Netflix & Showmax in South Africa.
I’m not sure how many of your kids can get through a full movie, but we like The Lion King (the animated one on Apple TV), Barnyard (Netflix), Walking with Dinosaurs (Netflix), The Lorax (Showmax) and Sgt Stubby (Showmax).
And that’s that! It seems like a lot, but Olivia generally only watches about 20 – 30 minutes before she wonders off to play so I keep a fairly extensive arsenal for when I need an hour to catch up on work or make dinner.
Do you have any suggestions? I’d love to hear them!