I have been a parent for less than two years, and so far, I consider my parenting style to be more on the free range end of the spectrum. I never worry too much when Wolf gets sick, I always let him make a mess while he learns to eat by himself, and I let him sleep long even if it means a later breakfast.
If there is one thing I do try to control, it is Wolf’s screen time. I believe that parents need to place strict limits on young children’s media use. Babies and young toddlers are at a developmental stage wherein passive media consumption offers no learning value. In line with the guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, I waited until Wolf was 18 months before letting him watch shows, and even then, I did not make it a daily activity. Normally, per day, he gets as little as no screen time at all to a maximum of 25 minutes (the length of one episode of shows for small children is usually less than this). The exception is when he is sick and needs to nebulize three times a day, and screen time is the only way he will sit still long enough to nebulize. On such days, he exceeds 25 minutes, but I do my best to keep total screen time under an hour.
I am also very particular about the shows that I let Wolf watch. I look for shows that are interactive, have good storylines, have characters worth emulating, and are paced appropriately for Wolf’s age. This last criterion is something that I see other parents overlook but I think is really critical. I’ve come across many shows that are deemed appropriate for young viewers but are actually way too fast-paced and overstimulating. These shows have too many flashy images and superfluous sound effects that actually cause distress to young brains. When I preview a new show, I also watch Wolf’s face carefully. If he seems overwhelmed, the show does not get my vote. If he becomes engrossed to the point that when I ask him something, he cannot respond, I also deem it inappropriate. I find it of utmost importance that even during screen time, Wolf and I can engage in conversations about what he is watching. That way, his consumption is not passive. He can verbally identify the objects in the shows. He does not just sit and watch. He reacts to what he is viewing, and that is how I know that his brain is somewhat able to process the show.
Even considering that I expose him only to high quality shows, I realize the stark difference in his development between when he watches shows and when we read together. It is night and day. 100% of the words he has learned is from reading and actual conversations with adults. He has not learned any new words from watching, although he is able to recognize and identify objects that he has learned when they appear in the shows. And so as much as possible, I limit his screen time—both the amount and the type of shows he watches.
I know that not all parents, especially those who are working, have the time to scrutinize which shows are good choices for their young kids. And so I have come up with three shows that I recommend for toddlers to assist parents who are on the lookout for high quality shows. These are all available on Netflix. I will discuss the factors that make these shows high quality. Being a musician, I will also talk about the superior musical qualities of each show. Haha.
The Furchester Hotel
The Furchester Hotel is the latest series of Sesame Street, which is the show that holds the distinction of being named specifically by the American Academy of Pediatrics as high quality and recommended for young viewers. The story follows a family of monster puppets and their misadventures in managing their half-star hotel business. Every episode features a conflict (dubbed a “Furchester catastrophe”), several attempts to solve the problem, a “monster idea,” and then a solution. The show strongly imparts key values of perseverance, resourcefulness, and cooperation. There is also a lot of singing, and the musical style does not take after the usual sing-song nursery rhyme tradition of many kids’ shows. The songs are fun, jazzy, and cleverly written.
A Netflix original, this show revolves around the Kazoops family. The main character is Monty Kazoops, a boy with a pet pig and a huge imagination, which he uses to think outside the box and challenge preconceived notions about the world. The rest of his family are all unique and interesting characters. From his hyper grandmother who loves to surf and paint to his sister who is a budding rockstar, the Kazoops family demonstrates to kids how the world is our oyster, and there are so many wonders to explore if we “just imagine.” Every time Monty goes on an adventure in his mind, there is a song unique to the episode’s theme. The songs are usually accompanied by an acoustic guitar and feature laidback, folksy voices, reminiscent of campfires and roadtrips.
Another wonderful creation by Netflix, Puffin Rock follows Oona the puffin and her little brother, Baba, as they grow up and explore their home, an island on the coast of Ireland. There is a narrator and beautiful 2D animation, making this series the closest to an actual book among my three recommendations. Through their adventures, Oona and Baba learn about other animals on the island and the value of friendship and family. This show is like a mini Discovery Channel or Animal Planet because of the many interesting facts about animals that it presents. Even adults are able to learn new things about various animals such as puffins and seagulls. The animation is a treat for the eyes. It is like watching a painting in motion. The theme song is a dreamy number that succinctly encompasses the beauty of the animation and gentle temperament of Oona and Baba. The theme song is so good that I look forward to hearing it again and again! Haha.
And that rounds up my top three shows for kids. I hope you guys enjoy watching these with your kids as much as I do! I’d love to hear your recommendations too, so hit me up with any of your personal favorite shows for kids.