Being a mom of a 3-year-old has definitely changed my preferences in many things, like food choices, shopping locations, and TV shows. It has also forced me to just roll with the punches and to take life as it comes. When my daycare had to close for a couple of weeks, I took advantage of the opportunity to make myself not care as much about the piles of laundry and dishes to clean or work to accomplish. I made an effort to really evaluated some of the toys and shows that my son truly enjoys. While some cartoons that my son gets a kick out of make me cringe in annoyance or roll my eyes in its brainlessness, I have to remind myself that these shows are written for young children. They are not meant to entertain adults. That is what shows like House of Cards or Big Bang Theory are for.
So, here a some cartoons that I found that either my son and I can watch together, or that I can let him watch while I try to accomplish some tasks without worrying about what he is watching.
1. PJ Masks – This brand new show centers around 3 elementary-aged kids who, like most super heroes, lead a double life. During the day, Connor, Greg, and Amaya are friends leading normal lives and attending elementary school. However, after bedtime they activate their amulets and change into Catboy, Gekko, and Owlette in order to keep villains “from messing with your day!” None of the villains are scary and their crimes are not terrifying. They are actually kind of entertaining. In each episode, the PJ Masks have to learn to work together in order to keep their villains in check. They overcome typical behavior issues that elementary-aged kids go through, such as learning to share, apologizing when needed, and cooperating with others. The villain’s plan never works out, usually because they are unkind, selfish, or cannot work with each other. While I do not condone 5-year olds sneaking out of their homes at night in their pajamas to confront villains, I do enjoy the lesson learned in each episode. I especially love that my son now does things at “super sat speed”! “PJ Masks all shout hooray, because in the night we save the day!”
2. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – “Miska Mooska Mickey Mouse!” This is always a go-to show in our house. Most of the classic Mickey Mouse characters are represented in this show – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Pluto. Other characters like Pete, Claribel, Chip and Dale, and Willie the Giant, make appearances. Unlike most other classic cartoons, there is no violence, no racism, no biases, no sexual innuendos, and no smoking/drinking. The group is presented with a simple problem at the beginning of each show and can use the tools out of the “Toodles” toolbox in order to solve the problem. Skills like counting, matching, spelling, and identifying shapes are needed in order to save the day. At the end of each episode, Mickey and friends encourage kids to get up and do the “Hotdog Dance” with them. My son loves this part! He bounces and sings all over the living room. Thanks to this show, my son has gotten help with identifying shapes, counting, and even problem solving. I know that he is trying to work something would when I hear his say “oh Toodles!”
3. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – Remember Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? This show follows a preschool-aged tiger, who is friends with many of the characters from the original show, like Caterina and Trolley, in the world of Make Believe. Kids can relate to the typical behavior and social issues that they will encounter, like sharing, not always getting their way, loss, respect of family, and curtesy. There are catchy songs that not only teach a lesson, but also get stuck in your head, like “clean up, pick up, put away; clean up everyday” and “when you have to potty, stop and go right away; flush and wash and be on your way”. Many times these little verses remind my son to put toys away before taking another one out, to deal with separation anxiety, and follow simple hygiene rituals. While there are a few hidden stereotypes in some episodes, this show is fantastic for preschool-aged kids to learn appropriate ways to interact with other kids and adults. “Ugga-Mugga”!
4. Tom & Jerry – The classic cat vs. mouse, with the occasional bulldog! Despite the occasional cartoon violence and scenes with smoking, this vintage cartoon completely entertains its viewers, young and old. Most of the time, I am watching this cartoon with my 3-year-old because it takes me back to my childhood. I have yet to come across something that I have needed to fast forward past or explain to him. There is no racism or biases in this cartoon that other cartoon series of the time, like Bugs Bunny, contain. Common sense should prevail here. I grew up watching Tom & Jerry and have never thought to hit my dog or my sibling with a brick or an axe. The ridiculousness of Jerry trying to best Tom in each episode ensures that my son knows it is all pretend and cannot actually happen. If you want to sit and enjoy a cartoon with your youngster, I recommend this one.
5. Super Why – This show is great for 2 – 4 year olds. The colors are vivid and the graphics do not overload its very young target audience. Wyatt, Red, Princess P, and Alpha Pig jump into a book and travel through fairy tale stories, such as The Princess and the Pea and Jackand the Beanstalk, in order to find an answer to the problem presented at the beginning of the episode. Viewers learn letters, numbers, phonics, and basic problem solving while seeing classic fairy tales comes to life. The characters also have to work together and help each other out in order to find the answers needed to solve problems. There are no scary villains and basic social skills are taught in this show. My 3 year old son loved this show for a couple of years. However, I think that he has gotten bored already with it. That is why I think that it is great for a very young audience.
6. Dinosaur Train – Brightly colored dinosaurs, educational facts about dinosaurs, and a TRAIN! My son was first attracted to this show because he loves trains. Then, he got to know the Pteranodon family and Buddy. He is learning about the different types of dinosaurs, basic facts about them, and the different eras of time they lived in. Viewers learn what some scientific terms mean, like hypothesis, biped, and ecosystem. This show also instills the importance of family and that not every family looks or acts the same. Unconditional love from family members and curiosity about different lifestyles is the reason I love that my son loves this show.
7. Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends – While this cartoon series has very few female characters and they only give value to trains that are “useful”, it has behavior-shaping lessons for kids at a very young age. This show has some rude and snotty characters, like the Troublesome Trucks and Diesel 10, but it teaches children that not everyone that you come in contact with is going to be nice with good intentions. We cannot isolate our children from “mean” people, and this show has good lessons on how to live with those types of characters. Thanks to this show, my son now categorizes people he comes in contact with to characters on the show – devious people are like Diesel, know-it-alls are like Emily, calm and helpful people are like Victor, cheeky and self-centered people are like Thomas. When I am not around my son, this helps him relate an experience he is having to an episode so he can deal with the situation. I believe that my son only finds this show interesting is due to his love of trains. If you have a girl who is not all that interested in trains, she may not enjoy this show at all.