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 shows 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UPDATED JULY 7, 2015: Sarah & Duck has been replaced by Puffin Rock.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
5. PEPPA PIG
It’s getting a little old these days (it began in 2004, and hasn’t had new episodes since 2012), but Peppa still deserves an honourable mention for the way it pioneered the idea of making TV that was somehow watchable for both tiny kids and adults. While the animation, colour palette and voice acting are shooting straight for the three year-olds in the house, many of the jokes are aimed squarely at grown-ups. The “dad’s kinda drunk at a BBQ” episode above being a particular highlight.
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.
3. 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.
2. 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.
1. 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 perfected. 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. It’s the best TV show for small kids aged 2-5, hands down.
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