A five year gap between children means you can be very deliberate second time around and I certainly am with telly. There is good stuff out there but its not always widely known. As I keep promising to follow up on conversations, here are my picks. Frankly, now the school holidays have started it’s ever more of a preoccupation!
NB: For reference so you can judge me as a parent, my benchmark is no more than 30 mins a day. Does that make me good or bad? I dont mind, I use it as behavioural incentive, as a way to cut fingernails and as downtime to prevent grouchiness (needed on both sides) and it works for us!
What makes good pre- school telly? I dont think its the ‘educational’ numbers and letters aspect; I like the ones I do for three reasons: They foster imagination, their characters and celebrate what’s good in childhood and they encourage a connection to the natural world. My top five do all each of these to a greater or lesser degree. Does it matter? I think it does because the characters and stories preoccupy their minds. So whilst all our children act like Peppa at times, I would rather she wasnt their ideal.
In order of relative obscurity (least well known first):
1. ‘POCOYO’ (youtube) Originally a Spanish series (meaning “Little Me”), Pocoyo is an animated little blue person with a set of friends including Pato the duck, Ellie the elephant and the wonderfully named ‘sleepy bird’ and her baby. Pocoyo inhabits a white world where things only exist if they are part of the story and so appear out of nowhere to be explored. Through his play and adventures each 7 minute episode reinforces something about relationships or resilience etc. It is beautifully narrated by Stephen Fry.
2 ‘Puffin Rock’ (Netflix original) Oona is a girl ‘puffling’, a conscientious older sister to ‘Baba’, a much younger puffling. They live with their parents in their burrow on Puffin Rock, which the narrator,Chris Dowd gives a strong Irish feel. Oona and Baba have adventures with their friends such as the seal, the hermit crab and the perennially hungry pygmy shrew. Each 7 minute episode is an adventure in a particular season, discovering or interacting with a different creature or animal behaviour. It is gentle, delightfully animated and makes me want to go there!
3 ‘Spot the dog’ (youtube UK episodes) originally made in the 80s, true to the Eric Hill books. Gentle in pace, from an era of drawn animation where expressions change with minute line details and the voices all by Jane Horrocks. Spot is a puppy and a child. You see the world from his perspective, the screens are full of table legs, parental legs, and under the stairs cupboards. He embodies all that is charming in childhood exploration.
4 ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’ (CBeebies) is a series made in Tanzania, essentially an animated take on the ‘just so stories’. Each episode (11 mins) answers a ‘why?’ question about an animal. The characters are great, the voices include Lenny Henry and Miriam Margoylees and as an added bonus the music (in the form of the bird choir) is very different to most tv tunes.
5 ‘Octonauts’ (CBeebies) My all time favourite. Beware the ear worm theme tune but embrace the strong role models, the delightful characters out in a mission to protect the oceans and enjoy the flashes of humour for grown ups. The creatures in Blue Planet 2 are made accessible, the accuracy of the biology is impressive and the story formula works well. Enjoyed by my 7 year old and 2 yr old alike.
And an extra one for free, ‘The Clangers’ (Cbeebies). From a series first made I think in the early 80s from knitted puppets in a garage. A family of space mice-like creatures, living on a planet with a family of soup dragons and an iron chicken. Whats not to like?
But I am sure there are loads of other unknown gems out there and would be very grateful for new suggestions….