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25 Shows for kids: Sweet, wholesome … and not annoying!

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Amazon Studios | ManAlive Enterprises | Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Family Communications | Penguin Books

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 01/14/22 - updated on 12/31/22

These shows are calm and realistic, and model friendly, kind behavior that kids will imitate.

If you’re a parent of young kids, you’re probably letting them have a little more screen time this time of year than you were before winter began. Here in Chicago, we’ve been stuck inside with a big storm, so it’s been a fun time for my kids to catch up on great kid movies and shows they haven’t seen.

I’ve been reading about kids and screen time, and research shows that kids learn behavior patterns from what they watch. Even very young children imitate behavior they see on TV.

So parents can encourage social behavior and imaginative play by choosing shows that model them in a positive way. Sounds good to me!

Some families may choose to forego screen time completely, and there’s a lot of wisdom to that. But it’s not the right choice for every family or every season of life.

As my kids have been getting more screen time lately, I decided to do a deep dive into the research on screen time and find out which shows are the most wholesome for young kids. 

My first goal was to avoid shows with any kind of mean or rude behavior (unfortunately all too common!) since I know my kids will imitate it. I also wanted to find shows that are fairly calm, realistic, and not annoying to watch.

I found a very cool resource called Raise Wildflowers, where Jerrica Sannes, an expert in child development and early childhood education, reviews and scores kids’ shows using a detailed rubric. She writes,

Upon scoring nearly 100 children’s TV shows by popular request, it became obvious that the vast majority of shows for young children, especially those advertised as “educational,” are fast-paced and attention-grabbing with high-stress scenes and inappropriate modeling of negative behavior. 

Only a handful of children’s shows have passed the rubric. These shows are slow-paced with natural color tones. They don’t use unnatural visual effects such as dancing letters, swirling shapes, flashing colors, or high-contrast backgrounds to hold the child’s attention. They speak in normal voices and use rich vocabulary within character conversations. The high-quality storylines provide context for the vocabulary and they are careful not to distract from character conversations with music and sound effects. 

Most importantly, they model kindness, empathy, friendship, prosocial skills, and emotional intelligence.

Modeling kindness and friendship? Sign me up! These are the best shows that Sannes awarded an “A” score:

  • If You Give A Mouse A Cookie
  • Trash Truck
  • Guess How Much I Love You
  • The Snowy Day
  • Stella & Sam
  • Elinor Wonders Why
  • The Bug Diaries

I like this list as a starting point, but I knew there had to be other shows out there that model positive behavior. I’d seen some of them myself and shared them with my kids. 

So I turned to my most trusted resource, my mom friends! I asked them to give it to me straight: Which kids’ shows are genuinely not annoying to watch, and don’t include rude or unkind behavior from the characters?

Here’s the list I compiled! Hopefully these suggestions will help you find the right show for your kids. (And if you’re not sure where to start, my personal favorites are Mister Rogers and Puffin Rock.)

  • Little Bear
  • Bluey
  • Puffin Rock
  • Brambly Hedge
  • Magic School Bus
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • Kipper
  • Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
  • Mister Chris and Friends
  • Beatrix Potter (from the BBC)
  • Veggie Tales
  • Molly of Denali
  • How Things Are Made
  • Octonauts
  • I Love Toy Trains
  • Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
  • Tumble Leaf
  • Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom

If you want Catholic shows in particular, you have to check out these 6 sweet TV shows for Catholic kids. They are so much fun! These shows include Benjamin Cello, Marcam, Juice Box, Brother Francis, and others.

Hopefully this list makes it possible for you to make dinner in peace, work out, wash your hair, or even take a nap. Dream big!

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