Turning your toddler onto TV for the first time can feel like a big, scary step. Once you introduce screens, is your kid ever going to want to go back to reading books? Are you going to hear nothing but the whiny whimsical voices and grating music of young kids' cartoons for the next few years? How will commercials, gender stereotypes, characters' bratty behavior and the lure of a candy-colored on-screen world affect such impressionable young minds?
Yes, TV feels like a slippery slope. But if you're thoughtful about your choices and balance TV time with other activities, there's no reason not to allow your toddler to enjoy some quality entertainment.
Start out slow with toddler-targeted shows that are gentle, brief, and full of age-appropriate content. Make an effort to find well-made programs that truly engage your toddler (if she's singing the songs to her stuffed animals, it's probably a good one!). Use the shows' subjects as starting points for pretend games and conversation.
Co-view when you can, or follow up with questions about the shows when they're over. And take heart in the fact that kids can actually learn both preschool skills such as letters and numbers and social-emotional skills from well-chosen viewing.
When you're ready to turn on the TV for your tot, get started with a few of our faves right here.
"Beat Bugs" (Netflix)
Even parents will enjoy this sweet show inspired by the enduring magic of Beatles' songs. With messages of friendship and teamwork, there are a lot of great takeaways (and, of course, it's never too early to turn your kids onto good music). Check out the TV movie musical spin-off "Beat Bugs: All Together Now" for more Beatles-inspired fun.
"Little Baby Bum" (YouTube)
Little ears will perk up to this channel's familiar nursery rhymes and lullabies, like "Wheels on the Bus," "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," and "Hickory Dickory Dock" sung by cute, animated animals. Many of the videos introduce early learning concepts like colors, numbers and shapes, and at two to three minutes a pop, the videos are perfect for short attention spans (although there are curated playlists for longer viewing as well).
"Nina's World" (Hulu)
This lively show celebrates family, friendship, and diversity through content that incorporates English, Spanish and even some American Sign Language. Simple elements such as Nina serving traditional meals and using Spanish phrases teach kids in a natural way.
"Sesame Street" (PBS)
Sesame Street remains a superstar of early childhood programing. Since 1969, Big Bird and friends have delighted and entertained toddlers around the globe. With engaging learning lessons, diverse characters, catchy music and celebrity guests, you really can't go wrong with this enduring classic.
"The Stinky and Dirty Show" (Amazon Prime)
Truck-obsessed toddlers will go nuts for this sweet show about best friends Stinky the garbage truck and Dirty the backhoe based on the books by Jim and Kate McMullan. With minimal characters, it's easy for toddlers to follow the story, and despite what their names may suggest, Stinky and Dirty are terrific role models for kids and really demonstrate the power of teamwork.
"Storybots Super Songs" (Netflix)
In every episode of this music-centric spin-off of the popular "Ask the Storybots" program, you'll see multiple short music videos about various topics, from outer space to farm animals. It's an absolute visual treat, as it skips around effortlessly among various types of animation; one segment might be done with stop-motion puppetry, one may use traditional 2D animation and the next might look like a watercolor painting.
"Super Simple Songs" (YouTube)
Music is key to engaging and entertaining young kids. In "Super Simple Songs," cartoon characters and puppets act out nursery rhymes both familiar and new and encourage the kids to sing along. Similar to "Little Baby Bum," many of the videos introduce early learning concepts like letters and counting.
"Tayo the Little Bus" (Hulu)
Originally developed for South Korea's Educational Broadcasting System, Tayo the Little Bus offers lots of fun adventures and positive lessons that toddlers can understand and enjoy with a focus on friendship, learning and doing the right thing. For kids into vehicles, this one is a surefire winner.
"Timmy Time" (Disney Channel)
"Timmy Time" centers on a mischievous young lamb who's always looking for ways to fix the trouble he's gotten into with his friends and teachers at nursery school. From the engaging animation to the show's dialogue-free format, this one is perfect for toddlers because it packs each 10-minute story with important social lessons about responsibility, good sportsmanship and fair play.
"Word Party" (Netflix)
Created by the Jim Henson Company, the interactive cartoon features four baby animals who ask the "big kids" watching from home for help answering questions. Along with vocabulary building, the series has positive themes that relate to emotional awareness, friendship and getting along with others. (Warning: The "Word Party" jingle may drill itself into your head. At least your toddler will get a kick out of you humming it 24/7.)