One of the worst things about being the parent of a small child — I’m talking 2-5ish here — is the television. Green shit, sleepless nights, food spitting, all of those things are manageable, but the hours of inane TV they start to watch as they develop tiny, useless little brains? It’s the worst.
From shows that are 100% education/0% entertainment to preachy singfests to colour palette showcases that are probably too simple for chimps in a zoo, there is an ocean of garbage out there that if you’re not careful will swallow your kid (and your patience) right up.
It’s not a total loss, though. There are lighthouses twinkling in the darkness. A few rare shows that aren’t just great for preschoolers, but more importantly, also at least tolerable for you adults as well. Because let’s face it, you’re probably running the remote control (and the kid), and if your kid needs some downtime in front of the TV and you’re around, you may as well put something on you can both watch.
Here, then, are the five best TV shows for small children. Or, to be more accurate, the five least terrible shows for you to have on while your small children are peaceful for 21 minutes or less.
UPDATED JULY 7, 2015: Sarah & Duck has been replaced by Puffin Rock.
UPDATED MAY 3, 2016: Hey, Duggee enters at #2, which means we say goodbye to Yo Gabba Gabba
UPDATED NOVEMBER 3, 2019: Bluey enters the list straight at #1, which finally ends Peppa Pig’s stay on the list. And as a sad aside, this is probably the last time I’ll update this list, as both my kids are now too old for the age bracket this was originally intended for.
I love the Octonauts. They’re the closest thing kids TV has these days to the badass “hero team” cartoons of the 1980s, which I blindly believe to be the best kind of shows since they’re the ones I grew up on. Only, instead of being a bunch of gruff, kinda-sexist dudes (or robots) beating the snot out of each other, the Octonauts are a multinational team team of…cute animals, who…have to adventure all the time to save animals. Who are usually cute as well.
tl;dr: It’s like Sealab x GI Joe. Only cuddlier.
4. PUFFIN ROCK
It’s made by the same team behind Book of Kells and Song of the Sea. It stars Chris O’Dowd, aka Roy from IT Crowd. It is the cutest fucking thing you have ever seen on a TV screen. If you can’t sit down and watch this with your kids, and love every second of it, you are a cold and heartless monster.
3. HEY, DUGGEE
While other programs on this list appeal to adults with winking jokes to more mature subject matter, Hey Duggee shows that you can also win grown-ups over with style. This show is gorgeous to behold, has amazing voice work and some of the catchiest music on television. I dare you to watch the clip above and not fall instantly in love.
2. BEN & HOLLY’S LITTLE KINGDOM
Made by the same team (and even mostly the same voice actors) as Peppa, Ben & Holly’s is the same basic principle — make a show for both tiny kids and adults — only better. Freed from the constraints of a town full of animals, B&H is instead set in a magical kingdom, giving the writers an excuse to try their hand at everything from alien invasion homages to superhero tales to cowboy stories to maybe the single best joke I’ve ever heard on a show made for kids.
B&H is smart, funny and fresh. It doesn’t preach to kids, doesn’t talk down to them, and is pitched at an almost perfect point not just for grownups and children, but different ages of children as well.
And now we come to Bluey. A relatively recent Australian series, it’s about a family of dogs, and their extended family of dogs, living in a world full of dogs. All of them very cute. It takes many of the things that stand out about individual shows above—beautiful animation, joyous voice work from actual children and just the right mix of jokes of both kids and adults—and pretty much perfects them.
Bluey is one of the happiest TV shows I have ever seen, and I’m as eager to watch it with my kids as they are to watch it with me. Which is more than enough to earn it the top spot on this list.
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