You know I have pretty high standards for kids’ TV shows and think most of them are crap for various reasons – violence, sexism, meanness, etc.
My kids watch plenty of TV – we’re not screen-free by any means. But I am pretty strict about letting a new show into the rotation.
First I check what Commonsense Media has to say about it, which helps get an idea about levels of violence and meanness, though they’re not great at noting how diverse the cast is, and things like that. Then I check Wikipedia to see if I can tell the gender and ethnicity range of the characters, and look for other red flags. Then the kids and I agree to test out an episode and they need to give me their opinion on whether it’s a show that is appropriate for them, considering all those things.
I’ve previously put out a list of some of my favourite shows that pass the Maisy Test for sexism, mostly aimed at kids under about seven years old, and there are heaps of comments on it from people with other recommendations.
Since then I’ve seen – and assessed – a lot more shows.
[Because some people asked for a poster of The Maisy Test to print out and put on the wall, here is a PDF copy of the infographic that you can download: the-maisy-test-4-questions-to-expose-sexism-in-kids-shows-1 ]
With so many families in lockdown, and juggling the needs of different family members, I thought I’d do a brainstorm of shows I have watched with my kids (or half-listened to in the background…) in case you need something new. These are shows that you can feel good about having your kids immersed in. They’ll learn all sorts of things – not just the ‘educational’ stuff – like problem-solving, social skills, kindness, bravery, and creativity.
Knowing that everyone has access to a different range of platforms, I’m grouping my current recommendations in two categories: 1) shows currently on Netflix (at least in New Zealand) and 2) shows on TVNZ On Demand, the New Zealand free-to-air channel which includes lots of great local content. If you have a VPN you can probably watch these from anywhere.
These shows are not (too) violent, pass the Maisy Test, and have characters I want my kids to spend time with – unlike plenty of shows made for children!
I haven’t included documentaries, generally, because they’re pretty much all great, and don’t need sorting through in the same way.
Please add your favourite shows in the comments below. I’m sure there are plenty I haven’t seen.
Best Netflix shows for preschoolers and up
Puffin Rock: The best kids’ show on Netflix, hands down. Absolutely charming Irish show about little puffins having gentle adventures, with a bit of ecological science thrown in.
Dinosaur Train: from the Muppets family, this is a palaeontology show with sophisticated, but age-appropriate, science messages, set among a family of pteranodons, including Buddy, an adopted tyrannosaurus. Many families with adopted kids find it a positive, matter-of-fact representation.
Treehouse Detectives: Not my favourite, but beloved by my youngest. Preschool science, logic, and problem-solving with animated forest creatures.
Alpha Blocks: very young alphabet show.
Number Blocks: what it says on the tin.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood: spinoff from American social skills classic Mister Roger’s , with repeated jingles to reinforce skills like perseverance and friendship. Pretty annoying and earwormy for adults but very effective and helpful for small children.
Mister Maker: BBC craft show – and quite nice to have a man doing arty stuff.
Best Netflix shows for school-aged children
The Magic Schoolbus original + reboot (incl new special): great ‘educational’ show, whacky and fun, with diverse cast and great messages.
The Inbestigators: new Australian show with kids solving mysteries. Diverse cast.
The Deep: sci-fi show with a mixed-race family of marine scientists solving mysteries and having adventures.
Odd Squad: slightly silly maths detective show, with positive social interactions and diverse cast.
You Vs Wild: an interactive outdoor survival adventure show where you try to save Bear Grylls!
Spy Kids: adventure cartoon at a junior spy academy. Includes bad guys and some fighting.
The Babysitters Club: I haven’t watched this tween show yet myself but have heard detailed rave reviews. Diverse cast and socially progressive storylines.
Brain Child: fun science show with a range of people and puppets. I honestly can’t remember a thing about it, but our account says my kids watched the whole season…
Hilda: quirky animated magic realism show based on comics.
Earth to Luna: Brazilian/American animated science show with songs.
Best TVNZ shows for pre-schoolers
Kiri & Lou: The very best show on TV, for sure! Here’s what I wrote when it first came out:
What if you could make a home-grown kids’ TV show that combined the endearing quirkiness of The Muppets, the deadpan hilarity of Flight of the Conchords, and the emotional education of Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood? Oh, and make it gorgeous, please?
It’s been done. Kiri and Lou is a claymation musical comedy with songs by the original Front Lawn duo, Harry Sinclair and Don McGlashan. It is utterly charming and delightful and you should all go and watch it now, especially if you’re an adult in need of a bit of TLC.
It also stars Jemaine Clement. Go and watch it!
Bluey: Right up there with Kiri & Lou and Puffin Rock for charm, wit, and fun, this is also inspiring for parents, because the Mum and Dad of this blue heeler dog family are so relatable, and so good at being parents. I choose to believe they are only this brilliant for seven minutes at a time and then fall down exhausted, but it’s still has actually made me a better mum.
Māia the Brave: a perfect show for little kids, paced with their brains in mind, and focusing on things they really care about. Māia helps real kids face real-life problems, like being sad about moving house, or being scared of a dog, and walks them through practical approaches and solutions. Put this at the top of your list for littlies.
Darwin and Newts: science and reo with a brother and sister team.
The Drawing Show: animated art lessons, with bonus silliness.
Tales of Nai Nai: Twins have adventures through their Grandma’s stories of Asia. Cool and fun.
Tamariki Takeover: Super-cute vignettes of kids around Aotearoa
199 Little Heroes: a day in the life of kids around the world.
Feel Brave: storytime to help with big feelings.
Goodnight Kiwi: bedtime stories with celebrity storytellers.
Best TVNZ shows for school-aged kids
Wild Eyes: a series of outdoorsy challenges, with a matching website where you can upload pics of your results. The activities are demonstrated by two very charismatic young presenters, Nova and Christian.
The Feijoa Club: culture-shock drama following Perry who moves with her two dads to a small town.
Kai Five: healthy cooking show with fabulous tween hosts.
Kids Cookout: kids learn to cook dishes from their cultures. First season includes food from Samoa, Korea, Fiji, Colombia, Italy, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Aotearoa.
Brain Busters: quiz show where 11-year-olds compete in a range of subjects, from maths to te reo rangatira. They’re very smart!
Kea Kids News: kid reporters take on current events.
The Exceptional Squad: diverse bunch of kids solve problems and, um, do dance breaks. Quite cool. One of the key characters happens to use a wheelchair.
What’s Your Problem?: creative invention show with Jiwi’s Machines star and Rube-Goldberg machine afficionado Joseph Herschel.
Kitchen Science: practical experiments with Nanogirl.
Science on Ice: Antarctica! That’s all you need to know!
Tales of the Moana: fun, witty, animated Pacific stories.
Fanimals: magazine show of all sorts of animal and pet goodness.
Legendary Polynesia: mythology and LOLs.
Young Ocean Explorers: What a life! Follow Riley and her photographer dad as they explore the ocean environment. Great show, with heaps of online resources to match.
Wilde Ride: family upheaval drama, including the main character being orphaned and having to move homes.
Who Cares Stare: introduction to a bunch of different disabled kids and adults with easy and open chats about their lives.
George & Me: little vignettes on health, featuring skateboarding.
Mythbusters Junior: big-scale science experiments to explore questions – think explosions and cranes!
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