When I was a kid, we had the Smurfs, a few Saturday morning Hanna-Barbara cartoons and Looney Tunes. That was it, take it or leave it. Now I have five kids channels, and all are cartoons for at least half the day. The cartoons are extremely varied, from gentle animation and story lines to scary and slightly pornographic anime cartoons. The choice can be overwhelming, especially when the cartoons are not aimed at the same age ranges. Here is a guide to the best and the worst for the most impressionable cartoon watchers- the preschooler.
The Baby Channel
Anything on this channel is safe, and much of it is still of interest to preschoolers up to the ages of three or four. For kids above that age, it is simply boring. There is no programming on this channel that would be inappropriate for a preschooler.
Dora the Explorer
This is surprisingly not one of the best. It is simplistic and annoying- having characters who mostly just stand around yelling to each other. Preschoolers almost universally love it, and parents feel that it is “educational”, since it teaches three or four Spanish words. But the lack of imagination and innovation is troubling, and it is best avoided for more imaginative, colorful fare. If a parents pick a handful of Spanish words and use them a few times a day, kids will get the same educational effect without the glazed eyes. This is passive entertainment at its worst.
Go, Diego, Go!
This is a spin off of Dora the Explorer, and is a little more animated. This one is better if you are trying to teach imagination and creativity, but is still a little stilted.
This perennial favorite is imaginative, uses bright colors, and has the added bonus of teaching a few basic American Sign Language words. The stories are varied, and the concept of trying to solve the question by using three clues keeps the child actively involved.
This one was very popular a few years ago, and seems to have gotten a little lost among all of the new cartoons, but is still a gem. Maisy is gently drawn and narrated, and has Maisy, a little white mouse, doing different tasks each episode. the imaginative play is reinforced with maisy dressing up in costumes, assuming new jobs, etc. There is not much educational value, but it might spark some imaginative play.
The Wild Thornberries
The cartoon often serves a bridge between the earlier young children’s programming, and the late afternoon cartoons for older children. younger children may like it for the talking monkey and the exotic animals. But this is a very tense, frightening cartoon in a lot of ways, depending heavily on cliffhangers and the characters facing dangerous situations. These are not the Dora or maisy dangers of getting lost or losing a book, the kids in this cartoon face down charging rhinos, almost drown in rivers and get trapped by brush fires. It is largely inappropriate for preschoolers, and may be inappropriate for an older child who has a nervous temperament.
The Fairly Odd Parents
The young boy and his fairy godparents look fairly benign at first, but this is a very intense cartoon full of violence, sarcasm and rude language. This one is completely inappropriate for preschoolers, and probably for anyone else as well.
A Pup Named Scooby Doo
This spin off of the original series is all right for preschoolers- the scary scenes are very cartoonish and unreal, and are not tense or frightening. It does nothing to encourage imagination and provides no educational value, but is worry-free entertainment.
All kids seem to love Spongebob, and for the most part it is imaginative, it is interesting for kids and there is very little worrisome violence. This is a show, however, that has to be taken on an episode-by-episode basis. Some are completely benign and silly, and others have some rude language (put downs, etc). If this show is watched along with parents, it can be a fun experience and elicit talk about underwater environments and the habits of land and sea animals.
Max and Ruby
Arguably the best cartoon for preschoolers, it features a brother and sister rabbit and their everyday lives. The sister rabbit takes a lot of responsibility for her brother and tries to help take care of him, making him snacks, tying his shoes, etc. The two of them dress up, go for outings and generally have fun in imaginative ways. There is never any violence or sarcasm, and any problems the two of them have are resolved with patience and communication with each other. This one is a gem, appropriate for any child of any age.
The day care east gwillimbury has an important video library that shows all the classic cartoons for the entertainment of children after a hard day’s work at school on every Friday and Saturday.