Watch And Learn
Remember back before you had kids and you told everyone how your children would never watch TV? Yeah. So, then, around the time your kid turned one and still wouldn’t let go of your leg for the 30 seconds you wanted to race to the bathroom by yourself, just this once, you turned on the magic box, and watched your child stare in wonder. And it was very good.
Okay, okay, so your kid watches TV sometimes. Or more than sometimes. That doesn't make you a bad parent, and it doesn't even mean that your kid is wasting time—or that his brain is atrophying. In fact, there are a lot of shows out there that are downright educational. And if you don't mention that to your kids, they might just learn a thing or two.
For the youngest kids, Blues Clues is nothing short of brilliant. If you have a DVR, have your kid watch episodes the way they were originally aired on Nick Jr. – watch the same episode five days in a row. The repetition allows young kids to catch on and chime in with the answers towards the end of the week, which gives them immense satisfaction. Blues Clues is also one of the best interactive shows – those long pauses that make you uncomfortable are just the right length for your child to think about the question and come up with the answer. Blues Clues is terrific for all preschoolers, but it's a must if you have a child with any developmental delay. Watch it on Nick Jr. and Noggin.
If you want to get your kids into science without realizing that they're getting into science, check out Dragonfly TV. The rock music and funky graphics might distract your kids from all the learning going on as a group of refreshingly diverse kids ask questions and experiment to find answers. And we're not talking Bunsen burners in a lab here – this is hands-on science like racing sailboats and sending electrical currents through the body. Watch it on PBS with your kids, and be prepared to visit your local research librarian afterwards to learn even more about favorite topics.
Next time your kids want to know exactly how the lead gets inside the pencil, tune into National Geographic's Ultimate Factories. It's an up-close look at every aspect of some of the world's biggest producers and discussions with the people who make it happen. You'll see the interplay of people and technology and gain a real appreciation for how each individual part fits into a cohesive whole. Remember how Mister Rogers used Picture Picture to show us how that box of crayons went from wax to shelf? This show is Picture Picture in HD. It's cool, and older kids will find it riveting.
If your kids enjoy Ultimate Factories, you can also tune into Extreme Engineering on Discovery. As you might expect, the show focuses on the steps involved in major engineering projects, which makes it a perfect choice for kids who are interested in construction or practical applications of math and science. A nice aspect of the show is that while it covered actual projects as they're being done, it also speculates on future projects, using interviews with experts and computer-generated graphics to demonstrate the details.
As always, the key to getting the most from a TV show is to watch it with your kids and talk about what you're seeing. Help your older kids research their interests to take their learning even farther.
More for your kids to watch: