I am probably the pickiest person you will come across, when it comes to kids’ videos. Maybe because I am a psychology person, or maybe just because I’m sensitive. I have spent a lot of time watching my children and trying to understand how they learn, how they see things. When I then see most shows or videos, I am sensitive to what I call the Adult-Child Gap. That is when adults think they’re teaching children one thing, but because of how children learn, they actually teach something else.
I believe this phenomenon is responsible for a lot of the bad attitudes/behaviors kids pick up from TV… in fact, I suspect it is number one after the actual choice and frequency of the media is considered. I have found that as I add or eliminate shows from their diet, that my kids’ hearts immediately change. It truly impacts them a lot, perhaps because video is one of the most powerful forms of media available.
That said, I have some comments on popular series my kids have seen. Remember, they are only 4, 3, 2, and 7 months… these are comments from a young preschooler perspective.
I hate to say it, but as much as adults cringe to hear the sound of Barney, it is a pretty good series for little kids–I’d say two-year olds especially. There is something about that purple dinosaur that kids really learn from, and there are educational topics like nursery rhymes, manners, farm animals, letters, or hygiene. The kids are fake but nice to each other, and they talk respectfully, which is a rarity these days. They also talk through their feelings and issues, which I think is especially educational for little guys. The other characters are less educational, however, and Baby Bop in particular, shows some bad examples whenever I’ve caught it. Best for youngest ages, 1-3.
And, of course, you have to leave the room once you turn it on, if you want to stay sane =)
Boz the Bear
Definitely the best kids’ series out there. Since it’s made by evangelical Christians, there is very little that is objectionable on the videos I have seen. Non-Christian kids could watch it too, as it teaches good character traits without hitting them over the head with anything that would be offensive. My kids loved pretending they were “Drew” and “Gracie” afterwards, and singing all the silly songs on there. Good for all ages, one to five.
They make a Boz preschool workbook that is very good, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Bob the Builder
Also a pretty good series. It’s on PBS and Nickelodeon, and it is not as educational as Barney, but it still teaches a lot… about tools, teamwork, completing a job, fixing problems, personalities, etc. I haven’t seen all the shows, but we have five or six videos, and I’m surprised at how good they are for a secular show. There are occasionally bad attitudes (i.e complaining, jealousy) or events of disobedience (especially from Pilchard and the pets), but generally it is respectful. Definitely watchable too, in comparison to Barney! Best for threes and fours.
I have since taken these videos out of my collection because I didn’t like my kids impersonating the grouchy and envious character in the shows (Tiger), but I have to say they were very instrumental in my oldest child’s ability to retain and understand a story. Probably because the character sketches and plots are very simple. It is sort of like Winnie-the-Pooh lite, and made by British people too. If you have a high-functioning autistic child, or one who has trouble with listening/comprehension, or even social skills (i.e. Asperger’s), you might consider this series. Minus the unrespectful parts, it is extremely well done and slow pace, witty and not flashy. Best for twos and threes.
Definitely a step-up from Sesame Street. In fact, I think it should replace Sesame Street, which has turned loud, obnoxious, and socialist. Blue’s Clues is best for preschool academic skills, although they have recently made some shows on concepts (like frustration, listening, thinking) which are fantastic. They really drill one thing at a time. My kids learned a ton from these shows, and, in combination with healthy play and interactive times with us, cemented almost all the prekindergarten knowledge they needed. Probably will outgrow by age 4 or 5.
Spot is a beloved chidren’s classic in the book department, but there is also one video that is excellent. In combination with Kipper, this video helped my oldest son with auditory processing disorder, learn a lot of language. For awhile, he talked with pieces of the Spot script, which I recognized and was able to “build bridges” from, to other things I wanted him to know. The video has lots of short stories on it and is interspersed with clips of real children doing pretend games or extrapolating on the short story just told (i.e. they ride hobby horses around, after the story about Spot’s hobby horse). Very thoughtful idea. There is some humanism and dysfunctional elements to Spot’s morals (i.e. his parents basically laugh off anything he does wrong or says disrespectfully), but this occurs more in the books than in the video. Best for twos.
Thomas the Tank Engine
Normally a Christian staple, but I have to confess we just got rid of Thomas in our house. My son was (perhaps abnormally) drawn to the negative models they gave. I think perhaps the newer Thomas videos are not as carefully constructed as the old classic ones. But even some of the older ones we have try to teach character lessons by examining a problem (i.e. wanting revenge; wanting to be the first, fastest, or best) and dwell too much on the problem rather than the resolution. I think for younger kids that this is a bad method of teaching. Older children can learn a moral story if their beloved character has a sinful attitude and then gets punished for it somehow; they see how they should adopt a better attitude. But I don’t think younger children can abstract this lesson very well. They simply see the bad stuff and get a better understanding of that. I could see my sons acting out stuff they had seen in Thomas, or using the language about it to one another (i.e. “You took this before me. Now I need to get revenge.”) And I really didn’t like that. They were sort of able to reason through the plot when we talked about it with them, but they definitely weren’t able to purge the bad language they’d learned. Alais, it had to go.
I also didn’t like the more pagan aspects of some stories, like Ghost trains.
I personally don’t like Caillou because it articulates negative emotions better than positive ones. And his parents are basically useless. He talks about jealousy, getting what he wants, taking things, not wanting to go to bed, and all other kinds of “normal” bad behavior for toddlers or preschoolers. But it gives too many bad ideas to kids instead of modeling good ideas or ways to communication/resolve problems. Especially in the area of sibling rivalry, I think it is not helpful to put in a kid’s “diet.” I have never seen the “Arthur” series, but a Christian friend of mine has the same complaint about it. This is an especially sensitive area to guard your child’s heart in. I would suggest working with your older child just one-on-one about his feelings if they are bad, rather than giving him TV to watch about it.
Esther and Jonah are really great, but some of the others are hard to follow. Sometimes they can be too silly or loud and my kids ask to turn it off. I think it is because they can’t follow the plot as easily as other kids’ series. And while they are really funny for an adult because of the wit and humor, I am not sure the kids would get it until they were teenagers! Basically innocuous series, though, and good is always rewarded while “the bad guys” get it. Best for 4s and 5s.