I have a confession: My husband and I are media consumers. We love movies. We watch TV … daily even. So, when we had kids, it didn’t make much sense to us to ban them from something we enjoy.
But that doesn’t mean its a TV free for all. TV can be educational and entertaining as long as its used in moderation within certain perimeters.
Our first measure is that we watch together. I learn the characters and songs, so later, when they want to act out the stories, I can help. Sometimes, we talk about a show while we watch. Other times, I build on a viewing experience later with games or books. Since we only watch children shows when they are around, we’ve never encountered a program we had to censor, though we have censored movies a few times. And since we watch together, that means there’s no TVs in the kids rooms, or electronics that function in the same fashion.
I used to worry about counting minutes. Now I think about it in a less stressful way: Is watching detracting from another type of play creating an imbalance? Sometimes, it is and sometimes it isn’t. For example, a day we are snowed in from a blizzard or are all sick with the flu, we will watch a lot of TV. Other days, we are busy all day and watch less than 30 minutes after bath as we snuggle. Unless we are watching to wind down, I usually continue to prompt the kids to play, sometimes using toys and crafts that directly relate to what we are watching.
In general, I try to anticipate my kids’ needs, but with TV, I deliberately delay. I wait until they request a show, and then I attempt to distract them by introducing another activity. Of course, sometimes I mentally shout, “Yes! Yes! That’s a great idea! You’re driving me crazy!” I like recordings because a new show doesn’t start immediately, so the kids must make a new request.
We limit exposure to commercials. Commercials are where inappropriate content leaks through, not just unwanted consumerism. I avoid letting the kids watch channels with commercial breaks that interrupt the program. Most of the time, we watch recordings and skip over all forms of commercials.
If you stick to Sprout, Nick Jr, and Disney Jr, the content is preschooler appropriate; in other words, ranging in educational value, but at least exploring character building story lines. Any other channel, it depends on time of day and the commercials may still advertise shows for older children. While we might try out a new show, we mostly stick to our favorites. We might as well spend the time on want we enjoy the most. And I’m not afraid to bluntly tell my kids no to a show I find inappropriate, even if it is just because I find it annoying!
Below are our four favorite shows for our two and four year old. Watching one of each of these without commercials remains under the two hour recommended limit for each day.
Yo Gabba Gabba. Bright and colorful with lots of music, including songs you can repeat in every day life. Movement encouraged usually two or more times per episode. Short segments with a reliable pattern. Age appropriate topics. The celebrity appearances help to keep adults entertained. Sadly, its no longer on Netflix, so the best plan is to use DVDs or record and skip the seven minutes of junk at the end.
Bubble Guppies. Each episode focuses on an age appropriate topic, mostly new experiences and places and people in the community. Equal number of male and female characters and their gender really doesn’t affect behavior much. Model of Preschool classroom. Opportunities to participate by answering questions (though the wait time isn’t long enough). Lots of music and encourages movement at least once an episode. Predictable structure. Its on Nick and NickJr, like YGG, so you need to follow the same procedure to get it commercial free.
Daniel Tiger. Amazing, that’s what this show is. The topics perfectly target preschoolers’ fears and other emotional needs. Fred Rogers would be proud. Each episode shows the same lesson used in two shorter story lines by utilizing the same sing-song rhyme. It airs on PBS, so very limited commercials, but you can also watch on Netflix.
My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic. True, its on HUB with the worst commercials. But, we watch it on Netflix; problem solved! It stars six female characters focusing on friendship, adventure, loyalty, kindness, and generosity. A show with more than two female characters, especially ones that break traditional girly roles, is a rarity. Its also a great introduction to fantasy, without scary violence.