5 Tips for Picking Your Preschooler's First TV Shows

When you're 2 or 3, every show is a new show. Get our tips for choosing titles you and your kids will love.
Betsy Bozdech Executive Editor, Ratings & Reviews | Mom of two Categories: Early Childhood, Marketing to Kids, Screen Time, We Recommend
Executive Editor, Ratings & Reviews | Mom of two
5 Tips for Picking Your Preschooler's First TV Shows

Anyone who thinks that "binge watching" is a new phenomenon in the age of Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes has clearly never watched TV with a preschooler. When little kids find a show they love, not only do they want to watch every episode, they're more than happy to watch the same episodes over and over -- which is one of the reasons it's important to make sure your kid's first show (or shows) are really worth their time and won't drive you crazy, either.

The good news is that, for kids who've never watched TV before, every show is a new show, so you can take your pick of classics and hidden gems, as well as the latest things on PBS Kids or Disney Junior.

Try these tips when picking your kid's "starter shows":

  • Look for shows with short episodes. Although each "episode" of many preschool shows (Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, for example) may technically have a 25- to 30-minute runtime, many of them actually include a couple of shorter segments. It's much easier to turn off the TV when there's a natural break than it is to jump ship halfway through a longer-running story.
  • Pick shows that won't make you want to wear earplugs. Co-viewing is really important, especially for young children, so choosing shows that you can stand (and might even enjoy!) are important. Your sanity may stay intact longer if you avoid series with sing-songy dialogue (cough, Dora, cough). Also, believe it or not, some great shows out there are actually dialogue-free (Timmy Time, for example).
  • Think about pacing and tone. If your preschooler is going to be watching any TV before bed, look for shows that are calm and quiet (such as Kipper). Other times of day may lend themselves better to more energetic choices (like Imagination Movers).
  • Avoid ads. The longer you can fend off the "gimmes," the better. The good news is that most shows aimed directly at preschoolers already air on networks that don't pause for ad breaks every 10 minutes. But when you watch "live" on networks like Disney Junior or Nick Jr., there's still a fair bit of cross-promotion for the channel's other networks and products (even PBS Kids plugs the ability to "watch anytime at pbs.org" at the ends of their broadcasts). If you're a subscriber to a premium service like Netflix, you can watch shows completely ad-free; if that's not an option, make your DVR remote's pause and fast-forward buttons your new best friends.
  • Choose shows that promote messages and topics you care about. Whether you want your preschooler to learn more about sharing, curiosity, dance, or dinosaurs, there's a show out there for that -- and often a catchy little tune to go with it, too. Chances are you'll be hearing a lot about your kids' favorite shows (no one can recap a 12-minute plot like a 4-year-old), so use the opportunity to have conversations about lessons that are important to you.

So, where do you find these fabulous shows? From Busytown Mysteries to Super WHY!, check out our list of the best preschool TV for more than 30 of our all-time favorites.

And be sure to tell us how you pick your kids' shows below!

About Betsy Bozdech

Betsy's experiences working in online parenting and entertainment content were the perfect preparation for her role as Common Sense's executive editor of ratings and reviews. After earning bachelor's and master's... Read more

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Comments (3)

Parent of a 10 and 12 year old written by Amalthea

To me, the absolute, positive, #1 best TV show for small children is a little-known gem called "Oobi". It only has 4 main characters (and a handful of minor ones), and they're all hands. Just hands, with eyes (Ooma has a bow and Kako has a hat). They speak using very few pronouns, and all of the sentences are 3-4 words long. They touch upon little kid themes like making mistakes, forgiveness, imagination, conflict, etc. There are little games and bits with real "whole" children. My daughters loved it in their toddler years and, although they're now 10 and almost 13, if they're feeling down, sometimes they'll watch it. It's comforting to them. Best thing is, I like it, too!