Top 10 preschool TV shows

Sure, you limit your preschoolers' time in front of the tube. But there are plenty of programs that do no harm, are fun and even help little ones learn. We consulted an expert panel and compiled our own Top 10 list

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Blue’s Clues
Mix of live action and animation; DVD or iTunes

What they see Each episode involves a puzzle — like why is Blue (the cartoon dog) feeling shy today? An unseen child and the viewers point the show’s grown-ups to the paw-print clues.

What they get Children are drawn in by prompts for help to put together clues and find a solution. The show’s slow pace and constant repetition help them use logic to master the puzzle.

Dora the Explorer
Animated; Treehouse

What they see Spunky heroine Dora and sidekick Boots are up for anything, from trips to the beach to saving a crystal castle. They sing as they go, sprinkling in some common words en español.

What they get Dora is a strong, smart female, and she fights for justice. Plus, there’s an interactive component where kids advise Dora what to do next.

Franklin
Animation; Treehouse; Canada-Singapore

What they see Franklin is “everykid”; he’s got the best intentions, but often hits a snag — like losing his Valentine’s cards on a windy day. Luckily, he has great family and friends to help him out.

What they get The warmth of the relationships in Franklin’s home make this a cozy watch for young kids. They identify with the little turtle’s scrapes and are heartened by the solutions he finds.
The Jungle Room/The Ocean Room
Live action; Knowledge Network, ACCESS TV, TVO

What they see Real kids in a real preschool class paint with toy-truck wheels, pretend-crash an airplane, discover the largest magnet in the world, grab things from each other, cry, kiss and make up.

What they get An honest preview of JK. Kids see how much fun school can be, how smart it will make them, and how they are able to make friends while still standing up for themselves.

Max & Ruby
Animation; Treehouse

What they see Max looks up to his big sis, Ruby, but doesn’t let her boss him around. Ruby often feels outdone by Max, but when push comes to shove, she’s got his back and admires his talents.

What they get Kids identify with this typical sibling set-up and can see in it ways to work through their own jealousies. Also incorporates some “harder” teaching, such as the rules of baseball.

My Friend Rabbit
Animation; Treehouse

What they see A gang of forest pals find solutions to dilemmas, such as how to make up for eating someone else’s blueberries or how to tell your best friend his work of art is less than perfect.

What they get Kids soak up the top-notch design and voicing, while absorbing the advice Rabbit offers his friends about working together to fix problems.

Peep and the Big Wide World
Mix of live action and animation; TVO; Canada-US

What they see Bird buddies Peep, Chirp and Quack learn things, such as how to build dams, make shadows and what the wind does. Then a segment follows in which real kids do the same.

What they get This is science disguised as story, with dialogue that’s funny, smart and exquisitely voiced (Joan Cusack narrates), and simple yet stunning design. Makes learning a pleasure.
Roll Play
Live action; Treehouse

What they see Life imitates…puppets! On alternating white and black screens, energetic preschoolers mimic the motions of an array of animal puppets. Canadian musicians provide catchy background tunes.

What they get With their bright colours and physical exuberance, the kids and puppets practically pop off the screen, inspiring those watching to get up and dance along.

Sesame Street
Mix of live action, animation and puppets; Treehouse

What they see Though not as popular today, Sesame Street is still seen as the gold standard in kids’ TV. Big Bird and Oscar live on, while newer segments tackle such subjects as the importance of exercise.

What they get Kids love the human-puppet mix as well as seeing real children on TV. The writing remains first-class; much of the content is pilot-tested for educational effectiveness.

Toopy and Binoo
Animation; Treehouse

What they see Toopy is a goofy, lovable, oversized mouse, and Binoo his sweet, silent feline sidekick. Their adventures happen inside colouring books, amidst puzzle pieces, everywhere kids play.

What they get The characters are cute and the power flip — a mouse who’s bigger and bossier than a cat — is part of this program’s appeal. Mostly this show is pure, silly fun.

Our panel

-Clive Vanderburgh, interim chair of the School of Radio and Television Arts at Ryerson University in Toronto, with a research focus in children’s TV
-André Caron, director of the Centre for Youth and Media Studies at the Université de Montréal and Bell Chair in Research on Emerging Technologies
-Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behaviour Development, Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute