Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Screen time for toddlers - the good of children's programming

If you've been stopping by the blog this week, you've already seen my post on the general recommendations for children's screen time or television time as well as how much we personally use screen time here at the Naptown Organizer household.  In today's post we're going to continue on the technology trend and discuss some of those good types of media to which you can expose your toddlers.

{Many of you responded to my Facebook post on this topic either on the thread or through private message inquiring about specific shows and I'll try to mention those shows in today's and tomorrow's posts!}

Before we start, though, I just want to say one thing... don't let your kids watch junk just to occupy them every day for large periods of time!  This has to be the most important tip.  If you're having your kids zone out in front of the TV with junk playing, they're not going to learn anything from it.  I promise you that I have days just like every other mom does when I need a half hour of TV time to be able to eat a meal and use the restroom without a small hand tugging me in the other direction to play.  When I have those days, I'm choosing something that could actually enrich my child's learning instead of just giving him something to do.  Here are (just a few) of my favorite shows and why I expose my toddler to them:

1. Thomas the Tank Engine

While I'm not a huge fan of Thomas personally {he really is the cheeky one}, there are excellent lessons to be learned from this show in terms of cognitive and social development.  Thomas tends to be a slower moving show, mostly without extraneous clips or information.  The narratives are slow with many pauses, which gives children a bit more time to process and understand what is being said.  In terms of specific benefits, children who enjoy the show can learn colors as each train has a bold, clearly recognizable color with which it is associated.  Children can also learn numbers, as many of the trains have numbers painted on their sides.  But one of my favorite parts about Thomas the Train shows is the emotions displayed.  Clear, often exaggerated displays of emotion on each train's face are showed throughout the clips and episodes, often accompanied by simple, relatable phrases such as, "Percy was mad!"  By allowing our children to learn the small details in facial expressions as related to emotions, we're furthering their social and emotional development.

2. Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood

Since this is a fairly new show - and we don't have cable - I haven't seen a lot of this one just yet.  But, there are many reasons why I'd click to this show over another, and here's why.  First off, above all else, I love how great of a character Daniel's father is.  In many shows, the father figure is glossed over and the mother is the only one shown, and I think that's putting our kids at a disservice.  Daniel's father is present just as much as his mother, and is just as emotionally present as his mother as well.  It's an excellent example of each parent being as connected and loving to their children as the other is.

Also, aside from the relevant themes for a young child (such as visiting the doctor, having a babysitter, using the potty) as in most preschool cartoons, their use of song is a great addition to aid your child in learning.  Many of the episodes have a specific song used to remind Daniel of task sequencing and task transitions.  For example, one episode details bedtime, in which Daniel rehearses a song with his father about "Bath time, pajamas, brush teeth, story and song, then it's time for bed," or something like that.  Don't judge - those songs can stick in your head, okay?  By using song, we can help more effectively transition our children between tasks as well as help them to more easily remember expectations in certain situations.

{If you see a random mama walking around a store with a baby strapped to her front and a toddler strapped to her back singing "Inside voice, quiet, inside voice" in a hushed whisper, you will know it's me!  Also, ten points and cookies to anyone who can identify from which show that song comes in the comments below!}

3. & 4. Wild Kratts / Octonauts 

I'm a huge fan of both of these shows for a the same reason - they expose my toddler to things that he'd never be able to learn in our daily life.  Both shows highlight specific land and sea animals in a way that appeals to children, both in real video representations as well as fun cartoon characters to keep their attention.  Both shows share details about animals that - while currently above my two year old's level of understanding - will soon be really interesting facts for him to learn.  I often learn something new from each show just as my child does!

5. Word World

One of the main things I love about Word World is that there is actually some research behind the show.  The Department of Education completed a (funded) study that the show actually promotes pre-literacy skills in older aged toddlers, increasing skills such as oral vocabulary, ability to read words highlighted in the show, and even phonemic awareness for children with English as a second language.  The way that Word World practices not only specific letters but puts them together visually to make a word - and then goes one step further by that word actually turning into the item itself - is an excellent visual representation for children to understand the connection of the letters and words to the concept of an item.  We've watched the show several times here when Little Man has seen letters he knows and identifies them up on the screen, as they're displayed long enough and emphasized enough that he is able to process it as a single part before it becomes the word unit.

Runner up?  Super Why
I love Super Why for some of the same reasons I love Word World, as it targets literacy skills and pre-reading skills.  It falls in my runner up category because it just isn't one of my most enjoyable shows to watch with my child as a personal preference.  Whatever your preference may be, it's a great option in young children's television!

There are plenty of options in toddler programming, but those are my top five picks of shows that I'll turn on when my toddler has some screen time.  I will say though, that as we don't have cable {I'll mention a bit more on that later this week in my Thursday Tips & Tricks post}, I do miss out on some shows, and I'm not always aware of the newest shows coming out on screen.

*Of note- just because your child's favorite show didn't make my top 5 list doesn't make it a bad show!  There are plenty of shows that are appropriate for toddlers, but just don't teach very much at face value unless you're taking that material and making it a lesson after the show.  I'll get into some of those shows tomorrow!  My top five shows are the ones I'm more likely to turn on if I can't be sitting next to Little Man and watching with him, because there's a higher likelihood of him learning something from these shows without me right there interacting with him while it's on the TV.

My next post will highlight the television shows for younger children that I consider to be in the middle and on the bottom of my list, check back in tomorrow for more information!

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*All images from this post were courtesy of pbs.com or wikipedia.com


  1. Octonauts! Probably my 5 year olds favorite show. She likes Peso the most. I do agree children can learn from this show. I have even learned a few things from it.

  2. I love Thomas for my 3 year old. He's loved it since he was 14 months old (he'd only watch a couple mins at a time at that young age) and now that he's old enough - he watches it and reenacts the episodes with his train - love it! I do NOT like Caillou (too whiny) and we are a "No Gabba Gabba" household here.

  3. I would agree with a lot of your choices, but I would replace Thomas with Super Why. My husband & I find that the characters on Thomas are very often mean to one another! Yes, they learn a lesson and resolve it in the end, but my son doesn't tend to sit still and watch a whole segment, so the beginning part with the meanness might be the only part he sees. I don't dig it.

    I actually really like Super Why. It's one of my favorites to watch, but I do find it hilarious what they define as a "super big problem." I am certain that Super Why is the reason my kiddo knows the different letter sounds, though, so that's a win. And sometimes he likes to watch it wearing a cape, which I think is the cutest.

    And I know I said this on your last post, but I'm totally fine with him spending a little bit of time relaxing and watching stuff that has absolutely no educational value whatsoever. Everyone needs downtime, and I don't need to enrich or engage him constantly. He prefers to watch YouTube clips of real garbage trucks picking up trash over any of the other television content!

  4. I agree that Thomas is great for learning emotions given the focus on their facial features and the general pace of the show (swore I would never ever watch it b/c they creeped me out...yet here I am). I have only seen Daniel Tiger once but I agree it seems quite good. I must throw in a vote for good old Sesame Street though! The show has a ton of research behind it so I have to put some faith in it. Plus, I have such fond memories of it myself :)

    1. I haven't looked at Sesame Street a ton on Netflix, but it seemed we only got the reeeeally old shows, and those did seem a bit choppy and disconnected for my liking. I will totally say though that I haven't seen ANY of the newer episodes to form a better opinion.

  5. Another good Netflix find is the Leapfrog series. Our favorite episode is "Numbers, Ahoy!" Emma gets so excited about Scout and the "Ribbits"

  6. We LOVE Daniel Tiger here. And yeah, those songs....I tried to get K to pick up her blocks twice before the song suddenly popped into my head. "Clean up, pick up, put away". She was right there, picking up those blocks and singing along "clean up, clean up".

    I tried the old Sesame Street but they just didn't keep her attention for more than a minute. Elmo's World, however, I find more geared towards toddlers rather than older kids. While Mr. Noodle can be a bit off, I like that there is a big variety of things for them to learn.

  7. I have to disagree with you on Barney. We let C watch a half hour of Barney most mornings (I watch it with her). There are a lot of episodes where the characters have to learn to share, use their manners, or do things that maybe they don't want to do. The show also teaches children about the importance of loving one another, caring about the planet, doing things that are healthy for our bodies, overcoming fear, etc.

    In my opinion, having watched several of the episodes, it's one of the few shows I actually do feel comfortable allowing my child to watch.

    1. Ha, I just realize this commented on the wrong post. *FACE PALM!

  8. My husband and I hardly watch any TV but I do see the developmental benefits of introducing your toddler to different shows here and there. My question is, what age or developmental stage is best to introduce them to different shows?

    1. I would say anytime after the age of two. If your child isn't used to watching television, I'd add it in very slowly and be present with your child while they're watching to help comment on different concepts and vocabulary!


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