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The Best TV Shows For Kids That Won’t Fry Their Brains

Positive screen time without the guilt.

Wherever you stand on screen time, we can all agree that, as parents, we have enough guilt on our plate. With my first child, I was on a mission not to let her absorb a single skerrick of television or screen time in her first year of life (hahaha, is what I’d say to that version of me now, while gently breaking the news that there will be much bigger fish to fry in my parenting pot than a bit of TV). I’d even turn my baby away while we watched the news during her night feeds. The overstimulation! She won’t sleep!

By the time my second child came onto the scene, she was pretty much a TV critic by six months old, watching every show I’d pop on for her older sister just by proxy. The funny thing is that it has made no difference in her appetite, or lack thereof, to watch TV. She’s a very busy two-and-a-half-year-old and would rather play for hours than sit still and watch a show. On the other hand, her older sister is the one who we kept away from screens and is TV-obsessed.

While everyone has a different philosophy and strategy for managing their children’s screen time, the good news is that many educational shows and YouTube series will teach them something. Most recently, I’ve started showing my ribbon-twirling-obsessed daughters YouTube videos of Olympic rhythmic gymnastics routines, and they are completely transfixed and inspired.

So, whether you’re trying to work from home with a sick toddler by your side or it’s just feeding time at the zoo, you need to get bums on seats and dinner in mouths. Here are 12 engaging and educational TV shows for kids that you can put on and park that guilt, knowing it’s not just another episode of Peppa Pig (anyone else clock how much that family body shames poor Daddy Pig?! Not cool), and they might learn something along the way. Happy watching!

Puffin Rock

Wholesome, feel-good, and achingly sweet, Puffin Rock is the perfect antidote to Peppa Pig fatigue (who, let’s face it, can be a real handful). Maybe it’s the heavenly Irish accents of the fact it’s narrated by actor and comedian Chris O’Dowd or the poignant life lessons shared in each episode, but this show needs to be put into immediate rotation. The animated series chronicles a young puffin called Oona and her little brother Baba as they explore the wild and beautiful Puffin Island and learn and grow together.

Age range: 3-5 years

Where to watch: Netflix, ABC iview

Episode duration: 19 minutes

Numberblocks

Learning numbers doesn’t have to be dry and boring, and Numberblocks is the epitome of making something that’s often very bland, fun. The BAFTA-awarding winning show uses colourful, personified blocks to demonstrate how numbers work and teach kids how to count. Even better is the fact that every episode has been made under the watchful eye of NCETM (National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics), so every episode provides the essential numeracy skills that help create a solid foundation of numbers sense. Yep, this show proves that maths can actually be fun!

Age range: 3-6 years

Where to watch: Netflix, ABC iview

Episode duration: 5 minutes

Mira, Royal Detective

Mira is a bright, ambitious young girl who the Queen has given the role of royal detective. The animated adventure series is set in the fictional kingdom of Jalpur against a rich cultural backdrop. With her keen observational skills and trusty mongoose sidekicks, Mikku and Chikku, Mira solves mysteries and helps her community along the way. The show celebrates Indian culture through its colourful visuals, music, and customs, teaching children about problem-solving, teamwork, and cultural diversity. Each episode is a mix of excitement, education, and creativity.

Age range: 2-7 years

Where to watch: Disney+

Episode duration: 26 minutes

While everyone has a different philosophy and strategy for managing their children’s screen time, the good news is that many educational shows and YouTube series will teach them something.

Play School

You don’t mess with the classics, and for over five decades, the iconic Australian TV series Play School has been educating and entertaining children with its unique and memorable style (seriously, we can all remember watching this show in our childhood and feeling inspired to try and recreate one of their craft projects at home). The format of the show is super engaging, with the talented presenters (which have included names like Miranda Tapsell, Justine Clarke, Eddie Perfect, and Takaya Honda over the years) singing, telling stories, reading books, and performing imaginative play with toys to help promote cognitive and social development. By exploring themes like nature, art, and problem-solving, Play School provides a fun educational experience, assisting children to develop essential skills playfully and interactively.

Age range: 2-6 years

Where to watch: ABC iview

Episode duration: 25-30 minutes

Ms. Rachel

As far as celebrities go, Ms. Rachel is like the Taylor Swift of the toddler world. And for good reason. The real-life music teacher decided to start her now wildly popular YouTube channel with her husband in 2019 to help their then-two-year-old son, who had a speech delay. Using techniques recommended by speech therapists and early childhood experts, Ms. Rachel’s content provides an educational offering for little ones. Her interactive videos focus on essential preschool skills, such as letters, numbers, colours, and animal sounds. With a master’s in music education from NYU, Ms. Rachel’s mission is to give children high-quality screen time. She incorporates nursery rhymes, sign language, and fun activities, making learning engaging and effective for toddlers and preschoolers.

Age range: Baby through to toddler

Where to watch: YouTube

Episode duration: 30 minutes

Dinosaur Train

Granted, it will be hard to get the theme song out of your head, but this quirky animated series will teach your kids about natural science, natural history, and palaeontology as they jump on board the Dinosaur Train. The magical train can time-travel to visit the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous time periods while also going underwater to look at prehistoric animals. At the end of every episode, a live-action segment hosted by educational consultant and palaeontologist Dr. Scott D. Sampson dives deeper into the information from the episode in more detail.

Age range: 2-6 years

Where to watch: Netflix, Apple TV

Episode duration: 13 minutes

Mister Maker

Millennial kids will fondly remember watching Art Attack, and Mister Maker has a similar vibe. While the UK show aired from 2007-2009, it still stands the test of time for creative little art lovers. Created and presented by Phil Gallagher, the lively episode features seven different segments, including an innovative idea, exciting visits to Mister Maker’s colourful Doodle Drawers, and a make-it-in-a-minute challenge, and teaches children the joy and fun of arts and crafts while promoting creative expression and problem-solving in a vibrant and educational environment.

Age range: 4 and over

Where to watch: Netflix, ABC iview, Apple TV, Prime Video

Episode duration: 19 minutes

Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood

This nostalgic, heartwarming show teaches little ones how to deal with new and often overwhelming situations they may find themselves in. The sweet animation follows the shy but brave Daniel Tiger, a four-year-old learning to find his way in the world. Daniel Tiger develops deep emotional intelligence as he navigates his way through school, family dynamics, and new friendships. He learns to be aware of and label his emotions by singing songs. Parents rave about this show and how much it teaches their kids (and them!) about being a good person, communicating, and regulating their emotions.

Age range: 2-5 years

Where to watch: ABC iview

Episode duration: 11 minutes

 

Sesame Street

Another classic kid’s TV show that has stood the test of time, Sesame Street, has been educating kids around the world since 1969. Every episode uses live-action, sketch comedy animation, singing, and puppetry to teach children about counting, spelling, science, exercise, diversity, and how to be thoughtful, well-adjusted citizens of the world. In recent years, the show has championed neurodiversity and introduced Julia, the muppet who has autism. While the series has had more A-list cameos than you can poke a stick at (seriously, everyone from Michelle Obama to Anne Hathaway has appeared on the show), it’s the long-standing characters like Big Bird, Elmo, Abby, and Oscar the Grouch that resonate most with kids.

Age range: 3-5 years

Where to watch: ABC iview, Netflix

Episode duration: 30-60 minutes

 

Grace’s Amazing Machines

For the machine-obsessed child, they’ll love Grace’s Amazing Machines. Presented by motorbike rider Grace Webb, she explores different types of machines in every episode, from propellor and rail machines to emergency and cleaning machines. She doesn’t just talk about these fascinating devices; she gets hands-on, too, hopping into the driver’s seat to experience and demonstrate how each machine works. Grace’s engaging explanations and firsthand experiences make complex concepts easy to understand and inspire young viewers to appreciate the wonders of engineering and technology. This show is entertaining and educational, sparking curiosity and a love for all things mechanical.

Age range: Early primary school

Where to watch: Binge, Apple TV, ABC iview

Episode duration: 14 minutes

Gardening Australia Junior

There’s no denying how soothing it is for the soul to watch a gardening show, and parents will rejoice that ABC has its own kids’ spin-off of its cult series, Gardening Australia, called Gardening Australia Junior. Hosted by gardening legend and Logie award-winning presenter Costa Georgiadis, the gorgeous ten-minute episodes guide kids and families through the world of gardening. Whether it’s making your own veggie garden, a bee hotel, or a compost cauldron, Cost and other hosts Tammy Huynh, Clarence Slockee, Hannah Moloney, and junior gardeners share tips, tricks, and fun projects. It’s a green adventure and a great introduction to gardening and nature.

Age range: 3-6 years

Where to watch: ABC iview

Episode duration: 10 minutes

 

Bluey

Ahh Bluey, it’s the top dog in every household in Australia (and the world!), and honestly, what would we do without it? The ABC kids’ show has become a cultural beacon for Millennial parents feeling their way through raising kids and, without even realising, our unofficial parenting bible. And it’s not just the parents who are learning from the show, which follows the life of the Heeler family, made up of four Blue Heeler dogs, including sisters Bluey and Bingo, and their mum, Chilli, and dad, Bandit. Set in the suburbs of Brisbane, Australia, its tender and gentle observations into play-based learning shine a light on the dynamics of siblinghood, family, friendships, and, most importantly, learning how to become a good dog.

Age range: 2-6 years… (or any age!)

Where to watch: ABC iview

Episode duration: Normal episodes are 7 minutes long. A new 28-minute episode called The Sign landed in April, and three minisodes (1-3 minutes) will air in June 2024.

 

By Bella Brennan

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