The Best TV Shows for Toddlers: A Developmentally Appropriate Guide

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I’ve been flat-out overwhelmed by all of the options for kids TV. Growing up, we had a TV that had one or two “kid channels” and the good shows only came on once a week. Now there are infinite options. Just looking at the Netflix suggestions for kids makes me dizzy. I’ve been on the hunt for shows that are educational, promote strong character, and are age-appropriate for my son in his toddler and preschool years. Below, you’ll find a list of the best TV shows for toddlers and preschoolers that you can feel good about.

Criteria for finding the best shows for toddlers

In general, children learn most from shows that:

Basically– those shows that give you a headache because all of the characters won’t stop singing and moving and jumping up and down? Yea, you don’t have to watch those. Instead, opt for something that’s a bit slower paced. It will be easier for your child to digest, as well.

The shows below meet all of that criteria.

Most of them are available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Not a member yet? Click here to get a 30 day free trial.

This show is one of our go-tos. The lessons in it are appropriate for toddlers- they center around things such as going to the doctor’s office, adjusting to a new sibling, and trying new foods.

(Some seasons currently included with Amazon Prime. Click here to get a 30 day free trial.)

This show is just plain adorable. It’s also got toddler-friendly plot lines and humor. These episodes have some concrete learning in each lesson. For an example, one episode focuses on color mixing, and another on how the postal system works.

(Some seasons currently included with Amazon Prime. Click here to get a 30 day free trial.)

In this genius combination of things kids love, a family of dinosaurs ride a train to learn facts about other dinosaurs. This show doesn’t shy away from using technical scientific language and each episode has a paleontologist that comes on at the end and summarizes dinosaur facts.

(Some seasons currently included with Amazon Prime. Click here to get a 30 day free trial.)

This show is sure to capture the mind of toddler engineers. Each episode is 3-5 minutes long, and Leo puts different vehicles together after hunting for their various pieces. It has very little words or action. Honestly, this one does not capture my interest, but my son loves it, and I’ve noticed that he’s started referring to different car parts by their technical name since watching it.

(Some seasons currently included with Amazon Prime. Click here to get a 30 day free trial.)

This show is another great one for vehicle enthusiasts. It has a very simple plot that kids relate to and the episodes are around 11 minutes each.

(Some seasons currently included with Amazon Prime. Click here to get a 30 day free trial.)

Based on the book series by Sam McBratney, this show follows Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare on adventures throughout the forest. It has short episodes and the focus is on the love between a parent and child, which I love.

(Some seasons currently included with Amazon Prime. Click here to get a 30 day free trial.)

This show is based on the books by Laura Numeroff and Felicia bond. I love watching these in conjunction with reading the books during our story time each day. The plot for each episode is light and the idea behind cause and effect can be a powerful one for this age group.

(Some seasons currently included with Amazon Prime)

Following the famous Dr. Seuss rhyming and illustrations, this show explores many scientific themes that kids relate to, such as how caterpillars make silk and how to build a strong tower.

(Currently available for streaming on Netflix or with an Amazon STARZ subscription)

I’ll be honest, I didn’t let my son watch this at first, because of the title. I thought it would be full of “poop humor” and wasn’t interested in trying it out. My husband, though, turned it on for my son one day (he probably was hoping it would in fact have some of that humor), and as it turns out it’s now my favorite show to watch with our son. It is based on the book series by Kate and Jim Mcmullan. The main characters, a dump truck named “Stinky” and a bulldozer named “Dirty,” are best friends and they use “what-if” questions to solve their problems. I’ve definitely noticed my son using their positive thinking and problem solving approach in real life since watching this.

(Some seasons currently included with Amazon Prime. Click here to get a 30 day free trial.)

I’ve found that many shows that are geared towards young children end up touching on topics that they’re not yet ready for. They follow the problem/overcoming problem/solution story arc, which can be very powerful for children who are a bit older. However, children in the toddler and preschool are range aren’t developmentally ready for that yet. I know for my son, he understands the problem, but then doesn’t understand that by the end of the episode, the problem has been overcome.

For an example, in Fireman Sam, there is a fire in each episode. I am teaching my son guidelines around fire safety, but I don’t want him thinking that fires are going to be starting everywhere around him on a regular basis. There are also episodes about topics such as bullying. This is an important lesson, to be sure, but my son is only two and has never seen bullying, so these shows would be his first exposure to it. He’s not old enough yet to understand that it’s not acceptable to bully another child, but he may hang onto language such as “I don’t want to play with you” or “you’re stupid.”

My son’s two, and he’s not going to learn things like that bullying is wrong from a TV show. He’s going to learn about it from discussions with me. So, until he’s a bit older, I steer away from these shows.  Plus, many shows have scary plots that toddlers and preschoolers aren’t ready for. For some reason I don’t understand, so many kid shows have episodes where they are looking for ghosts. We can just skip over those for the next few years.

Luckily, there are a lot of options out there. Good luck finding your child’s next favorite show! May the Streaming Fairies be on your side.

And, if you’re looking for some developmentally appropriate toys for when screen time is over, check out my toy guides here.
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