Beyond ‘Bluey’ and Ms. Rachel: 20+ Shows for Toddlers to Educate and Entertain


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Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider

When it comes to screen time for little ones, quality matters as much as quantity. If the show is age-appropriate and educational, you can feel better about turning it on. You might even find yourself wanting to watch the shows along with your toddler—which is better than checking out, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Tedious as this may sound, it can also be very sweet when a 2-year-old turns to you in excitement after seeing something cool happen on their favorite show as if to say, “Are you seeing this?!”

Of course, there’s no replacement for meaningful interactions between kids and caregivers, but adults need some breathing room sometimes from active playing—especially during long breaks and rainy days. Keep in mind that the AAP also advises exposing toddlers under 18 months old to no or very little media (except for video chats with loved ones). Beyond that, they strongly recommend limiting screen time. Some psychiatrists say no more than about an hour of non-educational screen time for children aged 2-5 on weekdays—weekends can be more flexible.

If you’re looking for some quality media, here are some recommendations for young kids, from traditional TV shows to all ages media that happens to work for young kids. We’ve included some heralded toddler favorites, like Ms. Rachel’s Songs for Littles, as well as YouTube channels, read-alouds, and some general categories of media you might not have thought of but are perfect for toddlers and little kids.

The Best Shows for Toddlers and Little Kids

1. Sesame Street and Elmo’s World

Where to watch: PBS Kids

While it may be a bit obvious, Sesame Street has the rare distinction among kids’ TV shows of being approved by AAP. “Well-designed television programs, such as Sesame Street, can improve cognitive, literacy, and social outcomes for children 3 to 5 years of age,” the organization states. It’s diverse, it’s fun, and there are even YouTube compilations of celebrities singing on the show for those adults who want their kids’ content with a side of Bruno Mars, Usher, and Janelle Monae.

2. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

Where to watch: PBS Kids

A mainstay in so many toddler households, Daniel Tiger also tends to evoke some nostalgia in many Millennial parents with its connection to Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. The animated show can help develop little ones’ social-emotional development through relatable situations like coping with parents leaving (and coming back) or the arrival of a new sibling.

3. Tumble Leaf

Where to watch: Prime Video

A Prime Video find, Tumble Leaf has gorgeous stop-motion animation that is engaging for grown-ups and kids alike. The show promotes exploration, discovery, problem-solving, friendship, and learning how to understand the world around you.

best shows for toddlers
Source: Tumble Leaf | Prime Video

4. Look, Listen + Learn

Where to watch: YouTube

This Seattle-based channel, reminiscent of Mister Rogers’ gentle style, is tailored to 3- to 8-year-olds and aims to support social-emotional learning and nurture healthy interactions. It also features People of Color, making it a great way to make sure kids are seeing themselves and people of diverse backgrounds represented on screen.

5. The Fable Cottage

Where to watch:

These modernized versions of fairy tales, such as The Bear and the Bee and The City Mouse and The Country Mouse, are read in a slow, soothing tone with cute animations. They’re also available in multiple languages, including Spanish, French, Italian and German.

6. Bluey

Where to watch: Disney+ and YouTube

Australian show Bluey is a huge hit for a reason. The show features a charismatic 6-year-old puppy and her family and their various everyday adventures. The parent characters are loving and playful, often making up games that inspire kids to play more without screens. Plus, episodes are short (10 minutes), so you can be mindful of screen time. New Bluey episodes come to Disney+ in January 2024.

best shows for toddlers

7. Songs for Littles

Where to watch: YouTube

Though most parents have heard of this YouTube lifesaver already, we’d be remiss to not include a nod to Ms. Rachel and her crew, who have captured the hearts of so many tots. If you’re not familiar, there aren’t really plots or stories to this channel, but there are lots of fun songs and a focus on very simple concepts like letters and vocab, making it one of the best shows for toddlers.

8. Super Simple Play with Caitie!

Where to watch: YouTube

This YouTube channel is in many ways similar to Songs for Littles, with lots of nursery songs and very basic concepts, but it has some unique qualities. For example, they sometimes take fun field trips to places like the dentist or a dance class.

9. Dora the Explorer

Where to watch: YouTube and Noggin

Loved for its adventurous storylines and featuring a Latina main character and many strong female figures, Dora is still a favorite of many.

10. Octonauts

Where to watch: YouTube and Netflix

This BBC import is great for your littlest adventurer. The show dives into different underwater worlds, often encountering a curious sea creature. The characters usually have to uncover a biological fact about the creature to save it or themselves from danger. For little animal lovers, this is a win.

best shows for toddlers
Source: Octonauts | Netflix

11. Thomas & Friends

Where to watch: YouTube and Prime Video

What is it about trains and kids? As soon as my daughter turned 2, she promptly became obsessed with “choo choo trains.” The British TV series Thomas & Friends, which first aired in 1984, is another nostalgic watch for many Millennial parents. Newer episodes are animated with CGI, but I personally prefer the classics, which used only models, because they’re slower and seem like they have less potential to be overstimulating. Some vintage episodes can be found on YouTube.

12. Real train and truck footage

Where to watch: YouTube

For kids who are deeply in a train phase, videos like this one, which is just raw footage of real old-fashioned trains making their way down the tracks, can be surprisingly fascinating to them. You could also search for videos of garbage trucks, buses, and other municipal vehicles.

13. Mister Roger’s Neighborhood

Where to watch: PBS Kids

It may be super old now and not quite as easy to watch (though airs vintage episodes on a rotating basis), but Mister Roger’s is still a legend when it comes to gentle, educational kids’ content. It makes everything modern seem chaotic in contrast. And if you’ve never seen this testimony he gave to the U.S. Senate about his philosophy on children’s media, I dare you to watch it without crying.

14. Doc McStuffins

Where to watch: Disney+

I don’t know about you, but my toddler is obsessed with all things doctor. She has a toy stethoscope and Band-Aids and isn’t afraid to use them. This Disney show is all about doctoring stuffies—the main character is a 6-year-old girl who does just that.

15. My World Kitchen

Where to watch: YouTube

Like PBS, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is just a solid, trustworthy source when it comes to appropriate, substantive content—plus, for those of us living in the U.S., you get charming accents. This cute cooking show introduces kids to dishes from all over the world. You could give a young toddler some toy cooking supplies (or even real ones like a wooden spoon and bowl) to practice while they watch.

16. JoJo and Gran Gran

Where to watch: YouTube and Noggin

Another BBC production, this sweet show gets points for featuring a Black main character and putting the grandmother relationship at the center. For grandparent caregivers or a kid who’s close to their grandma, it’d be especially meaningful—perhaps they could even watch it together.

Source: Jojo and Gran Gran | Noggin

17. Super Why

Where to watch: YouTube

Designed for kids 3 to 6, this show encourages a love of reading and curiosity by delving into classic storybooks to find the answers to everyday problems. Episodes are 22 minutes—perfect for a quick watch to wind down after school.

18. Blue’s Clues and Blues Clues & You

Where to watch: YouTube, Prime Video, Noggin, and Paramount+

Blue’s Clues is another oldie but goodie, but did you know they did extensive research into child development and early childhood education when creating it? The show invites viewers’ involvement and includes deliberate pauses to allow young viewers to think or respond. There are also “thinking games” to encourage learning. The original show ran from 1996-2006, but you can still watch it on various streaming services, while a newer version—Blue Clues & You—launched in 2019 with a new host, Josh Dela Cruz.

19. Girl Meets Farm

Where to watch: The Food Network

This show, featuring influencer turned cookbook author and star Molly Yeh, is not made for kids, but it’s perfectly fine for all ages. She talks through her recipes slowly and shows herself going through each step one by one, and you can pick up ideas while your kid watches along.

20. Children’s Books Read Aloud

Where to watch: YouTube

Pro tip: If you search for any classic children’s book on YouTube, some well-meaning librarian or aspiring influencer has recorded themselves reading it. It’s a fun way to experience books you don’t have or to give yourself a break from reading them. For example, StoryTime at Awnie’s House features a host reading beloved children’s books like David Goes to School aloud.

21. Baby Animal Content

Where to watch: YouTube

You might think any nature documentary is a safe bet, but then you throw one on and are quickly reminded that the lion is hunting down the poor gazelles, and you have to cover your kid’s eyes. That’s why specifically searching for baby animals is usually a safer bet. Nat Geo Kids has a bunch.

What I do more often, especially in desperate moments, is just search “baby animals eating” or something similar on YouTube or Instagram and see what comes up. For example, this Tortoise Eating from Animal ASMR. Why do people of all ages love a small tortoise nibbling an even smaller strawberry? I couldn’t tell you, but we do.

22. Music Videos

Where to watch: YouTube

Hear me out. While many music videos are not appropriate for kids, some are surprisingly clean, and having a little dance party with your kid could be just what you both need to get out excess energy on a dull day. Of course, you’ll have to revisit any video to make sure it doesn’t have violence, suggestive images, and so on. Here are a few suggestions:

Shake it Off” scene from the family-friendly movie Sing

Happy” by Pharrell Williams

Dancing Queen” by Abba

But if you want to be extra safe, there are plenty of music videos made specifically for children, like Kidz Bop.

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