Kidspot asked me to write an article that helps parents choose the best TV shows for children now that there’s so much choice available. In addition to free to air, we now have new online TV subscription services such as Stan or Presto come with their own children’s packages. There is also a booming range of apps or sites offering children’s programs. Children have more to watch on TV than ever!

Parents often want their child to learn a thing or two while watching TV, not just be advertised to or be TV zombies; however not all children’s shows are educational. Some may be categorised as educational but why isn’t clear. Similarly it might be teaching maths but it’s boring and the quality questionable. Here are some things to help when choosing educational TV shows for your child.

1. Education integrated in a fun way: If the educational content is explicitly teaching school subjects, then it must be integrated into the program in an entertaining and creative way. It is TV after all, not a school lesson. Horrible Histories on ABC TV is a great example of this. Educational TV that focuses on school subjects can be just as (or even more) effective than books in teaching your child about their world, problem solving, helping them to prepare for school or to reinforce school learning.

2. Teaching social and emotional skills: Many educational TV programs focus less on school subjects and more on teaching children social and emotional skills. This, however, doesn’t reduce its educational benefits. I was fortunate to be a writer for ABC TV’s PlaySchool program for many years.  There were stringent quality measures to ensure we delivered positive messages to children about families, relationships, different cultures and gender equality. These messages were built into the presenters’ dialogue, the craft or play episodes, and in the selection of toys and presenters.

The newly launched app Playkids takes a similar approach in providing good role models and positive agendas. These programs extend beyond learning school subjects to enhancing a child’s self esteem, how to relate to others and developing their communication and collaboration skills. These are identified as key skills children will need to live and work in the 21st century.

3. Stimulating new play ideas: Another key measure of quality educational TV is whether it stimulates new play ideas for your child. A child’s learning is strengthened when they experience an idea in different ways. For example, they might view a rescue dog on TV, watch dogs being walked while at the park, then play at being a dog themselves -panting and pretending to sleep in a kennel. These various experiences help a child to have a deeper understanding of a dog. If your child is taking ideas from the educational shows they’re watching and building on it in their play in a positive and constructive way, it’s a winner.

kids_tv_vintage-600x420Educational kid’s TV has added value if you can spend some time watching it with your child. It’s a great relationship builder as it shows that you take an interest in what they like. Also importantly, it gives you the opportunity to take ideas from the show and build on them with your child. It might simply be pointing out the real life version of the animal depicted in the show. Helping them to shift the idea from screen to real life (and vice versa) is a great way to support your child’s learning and to also enjoy you’re time together. Happy viewing!

You can also view this article on KidSpot