Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Best and Worst of Kids TV

I don't like using the TV as a baby sitter, but it happens. Especially now that he's older and knows when to turn it off on his own and doesn't freak out when I leave the room to do something else. Sometime though I will feel bad, and I sit and watch things with him. Usually it's a ploy to get a few more minutes of shut-eye (like now as I'm nursing a miserable head cold and don't feel like doing much else but watch tv) while he's otherwise distracted.

People complain about kids TV. Most of it is too 'soft' or sparkly or sing-song-ish. And as a result they let their kids (and by "kids" I mostly mean 2-5 year olds) watch stuff that's not appropriate for their age. Or maybe they think it is but because they don't sit down and watch with their kids they just don't know.

I find there are some fantastic kids shows out there that even I enjoy watching, and even look forward to.
I've listed below some my faves and least faves.
Note that I'm not necessarily judging educational value or the child's enjoyment, although that comes into play in some of them.

Fist of all, some TV tips:
-Turn off Treehouse.
I know it's on 24/7 and will entertain your kids at the drop of a hat. But most of it is annoying.
-CBC Kids has a great morning line-up that ends at 11am on weekdays and Noon on Saturday. That's the big thing for me. IT ENDS. Unless your toddler is hooked on Heartland or Dragon's Den, they will turn it off, time for lunch, then carry on with the day.
-TVO has some good shows too, but again, it carries on all day without rest.
-If you want afternoon entertainment, invest in DVDs, or scrounge Value Village for VHS tapes that are easier to handle around young-ins. DVDs and tapes END. Then the TV goes off. Or if another show does get started, they usually only last 20 minutes.
-I've also recorded several hours of CBC Kids onto VHS which I can pop in if I"m desperate.

Here's my list of shows I can't stand/refuse to watch.

Toopy and Binoo - I don't know much about them, I've only seen a few episodes, but from what I've seen it's just...5 minutes of a rat making up games with his stuffed cat.

Dora The Explorer - I don't like her voice. I don't like the excessive amount of pink and purple. I don't like the painful pauses waiting for 'us' to answer her questions. I don't like the computer cursor that takes part in the adventures, implying that we're in a computer game. I don't care if we're learning Spanish words, French is Canada's second official language and I'd rather my kids be learning that.

Peppa Pig - We used to watch this as kids, and found some humour in it, but now it just feels painful to sit through the nasally Pig family make their way through their day.

Thomas and Friends - I know there are die-hard Thomas kids out there, and yes trains are cool, but I can't stand watching the shows. They feel rushed and chopped together and someone is always being angry or mean or reckless. Sure it may get resolved in the end, but it happens so fast I'm not sure that any of the resolution sinks in.

Backyardigans - One time I liked them. I liked the concept of imaginative play and exploring different genres of music. But the songs just drag on. And the episode drags on. And we loose interest. The same story could be told in half the time and with less annoying characters.

Barney - Is this even on anymore? I had to include it because just no. This and Teletubbies was the start of the decent of quality children's programming.

There are more shows like Caillou and Teletubbies and other whose names I don't remember, but I haven't actually sat through an episode or watched long enough to report on.

These are some shows that BOTH Toby and I like (ie. I will usually stop what I'm doing to sit and watch these shows with him):

Super Why - I didn't like this show at first because I didn't like that they took a classic fairy tale and changed the ending just to solve the problem in the book. However, the subtle way they teach letter recognition and phonics in the show it what I attribute to Toby being able to read early. Plus the characters within the fairy tales often have personality quirks that adults can find humour in as well.

Sesame Street - The original series. Not the "Elmo's World' stuff.
Because of the adult actors in the show, there are often subtle parenting coping strategies tucked into conversations with the puppets. Celebrities add interest for adults, as well as open children up to pop culture. The humour was often made for adults, but with tones that were funny for kids as well.

Dino Dan - The original series, not Trek's Adventures. Sorry Trek, your older brother had better story lines. Not only does this kid talk to dinosaurs, but we actually learn interesting stuff about them. He knows the names and characteristics of every single one at the snap of a finger, which keeps my interest because it's often things that I don't know myself. Plus his classmates are hilarious. Subtly flamboyant and zany Cory is my favourite. This Canadian made show is also full of a whole host of Canadian Actor cameos.

Zoboomafoo - The toddler's version of Kratt's Kreatures from back in the day, but just as interesting. I know the new Wild Kratts show is the 'it' thing now, but there's still something about the live-action animal exploring with the Kratt brothers that I like better. It's funny and I learn new things myself. A number of their animal friends were provided by the now non-existent Muskoka Wildlife Centre.

Zerby Derby - A new one on my list as it's on TVO which we hardly ever watch anymore. The basic concept is it's this assortment of vehicles that drive around their forest home and try to solve everyday problems. Sound's hokey, but instead of being animated it's all done with live-action remote controlled cars. The humour I get out of it is imagining this groups of grown-up guys playing with remote control cars all day and then voicing them over. The credits include a blooper reel which, in itself, is worth the episode watch.

Stella and Sam - We have the Stella and Sam books, which we love, and I had no idea it was a TV show until Toby found a DVD at the library. 9 year old Stella looks after 4 year old Sam and teaches him about the world as they go on outdoor adventures in their yard. The 'teaching' often involves whimsical explanations of things and tall tales (like polar bears eating snow flakes for breakfast with milk and sugar) but are always rooted in fact (like frogs hibernating in the winter). Just a really nice, conflict-free television show.

The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That - I was never a fan of the Cat in the Hat stories growing up, so I wasn't eager to start watching this one. However, instead of being chaotic and mischievous, this version of the Cat in the Hat, voiced my Martin Short, is clever and intelligent. He takes Nick and Sally on adventures (always with the permission of their parents) to find answers to questions they have. It's always science and nature based and you find you're learning things without knowing you're learning things. All the science is accurate as well as entertaining.

Bear in the Big Blue House - The fact that I started watching this show while at college, maybe says something about me.
From the Jim Henson workshop, these puppets come to life as only Jim Henson can do. The range of scale of these puppets must be a chore to not only maintain and operate, but to film. Bear is an over-sized full body puppet, much like Big Bird. There are some 'normal' mid-range characters, and then Tutter, the mouse hand-puppet who is often filmed in the same scenes as Bear.
The best part of the show is at the beginning when Bear pauses to smell a smell, and ends up sniffing right into the camera lens before exclaiming IT'S YOU! I get stupid giddy about it.

Magic School Bus - Nuff said.

Shows that Toby likes and I'm indifferent to:

Bob the Builder - I always told myself I wouldn't get sucked into the Bob the Builder thing, but I found some VHS tapes at Value Village and had to admit that two-year-old Toby would love them. And he does.

Dirtgirlworld - I do actually like this show, just maybe not as high on my list as some of the others. The unique animation takes a bit of getting used to, but in general the stories are about a girl who runs her own farm and isn't afraid to 'go get grubby', which I think is great.

Paw Patrol - Toby has newly discovered this show and has become obsessed with it. It's fine enough, just doesn't always grab me to want to sit an watch. Basic premise is boy Ryder and his team of 6 dogs who each have a different specialty and catch phrase as they go out and help the residents of Adventure Bay.

Bookaboo - A new addition to the CBC line-up, it's actually pretty good, but I'm maybe not as obsessive over it as Toby is. Bookaboo is a dog puppet in a rock band who often loses his enthusiasm when he hasn't been read a story. He sulks in his tour bus, making up games for himself, until a Canadian celebrity comes with a book to read him and get him out of his funk. It's pretty cute and the books are good. It's kind of cool to see these famous people 'out of character' and just being themselves as they read a book to a friend.

Busytown Mysteries - Toby loves it, I don't really care all that much. I was never really in to the Richard Scary books as a kid. The stories can be entertaining and it's all bout using logic to solve problems, but it's not my personal favourite to watch.

I'm sure there's more I could add to each list, but these are the one's off the top of my head. Do you have any show that you refuse to watch/love watching/your kids watch and you don't understand why?

I'll leave you with John Green's video reviewing popular children's television shows :)

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