Educational TV for Toddlers

Guidelines recommend that children under 2 watch no TV at all and toddlers watch no more than 2 hours of TV a day, but how realistic is this really? I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with a bit of telly. I’m not about to dump Monkey in front of the TV all day every day, and to be honest he is so full of energy he would get bored with it anyway. We get out and about a lot, read books, do crafts and all sorts of things, but there are times of the day when the TV is very useful as it keeps him entertained while I get on with some other things. This is especially true since Little Miss arrived!

Am I wrong though? Am I neglecting my child or being a bad mum because he watches a few hours of TV spread throughout the day? In an article I read a while ago, Dr Trina Hinckley said TV viewing can be ‘harmful to children’s physical and mental health’ speaking specifically about children under 4. She said that although parents think that TV programmes help children with learning language etc, that this is not true according to research.

  • I am not a doctor or an expert but I am a mother and I disagree with this to a certain extent. I think it depends on the programmes they are watching, as actually there is some great TV  aimed at toddlers which is very educational. I’m not just talking about the ones with letter and number learning (though I will come back to those in a minute) but lots of TV aimed at toddlers can teach them about life. Programmes like Peppa Pig or Mike the Knight or Timmy Time (to name but a few) often contain messages about sharing or kindness or trying again if you fail. Messages that aren’t exactly harmful for them to learn!

    They also, I think expand kids horizons. Monkey currently loves robots and dinosaurs, but I have to say neither of which are frequent topics of conversation in our house. I’m not even sure we have any books about dinosaurs or robots, or any toys. So where does he suddenly learn about robots to the point that he puts on his own robot voice and walks around saying “I a robot.” It can only have come from the TV. There are other things he picks up in the same way, watching Peppa plant things with Grandpa Pig will show him that you plant seeds and things grow. He constantly wants to make pancakes with daddy and flip them in the air, but we have never made pancakes (we had some at granny’s house a long time ago, but he wouldn’t eat them and wasn’t interested in them) so I am pretty sure it’s because he has seen an episode with pancakes being flipped. There is a huge world outside our door and so much to teach our children about. Does it really harm them to learn about some things from the TV?

    They can obviously learn negative things too, a friend once let her 3yr old watch Kung Fu Panda and didn’t think anything of it until she caught him trying karate chop his sister and then try and put her in a headlock! Not ideal things to learn! I am not keen on Monkey watching something like Tom & Jerry either, little kids are like sponges and pick up on all kinds of things. Monkey particularly likes a programme on Cbeebies called Bing Bunny at the moment. I think it is quite a sweet programme and has nice themes to the episodes, but Monkey has picked up on a new phrase since he started watching it. “Don’t want to.” Hubs is adamant he has learnt that from the TV programme and isn’t sure it is a good influence on him. It has made me think about it a bit more, but he could have picked that phrase up anywhere, and it isn’t possible to shelter your child from any negativity is it? We have semi successfully persuaded him that “No Thank You” is a nicer way of saying “Don’t want to” now anyway because if your child learns a negative behaviour, from anywhere, it’s our job to teach them that it is not nice, isn’t it?

    There are a number of toddler TV programmes which are more explicitly educational too. Monkey has loved Numtums on Cbeebies since he was tiny. When he was weaning (so yes, very young) he hated being cleaned up afterwards and I found that a couple of minutes of TV at the end of a meal meant I could clean him up without any of the stress or fuss. If that makes me a bad mum then so be it. Numtums was the best way to do this. Something about the music or the colours, I dunno but it had him transfixed… and I was able to convince myself that there is nothing bad about watching a programme about numbers. All I can say is that it may be a coincidence but we have a toddler who is obsessed with numbers. At 2 1/2 he can count unprompted up to 40 and recognise numbers up to 99 (3 digits plus is a bit much at the moment!). He is even trying to write numbers a lot at the moment (with varying degrees of success) which is a bit crazy!

    There are some other fab programmes too and I think Alphablocks is a great way of introducing the concept of phonics and spelling. We have also found some other fab videos on YouTube which Monkey adores and that are definitely helping him learn. It started because hubby had great memories of some of the Sesame Street counting songs from when he was a kid, so with Monkey loving numbers he wanted to show him some.  His favourites are 14 Trains, Number 12 and The King of 8 but there are loads of great ones! From watching those videos we have since discovered a huge amount of stuff from clicking on the suggested videos at the end. Here are some of Monkey’s favourite educational videos from YouTube.

    The phonics song

    The Phonics Song

    There is actually three versions of this and Monkey loves them all. He can often be found singing “Ah Ah Apple, Buh Buh Ball” and his knowledge of letters has improved so much since we found these videos and he can recognise all the letters of the alphabet now and when reading books often points out letters and says the related word such as “O O Octopus.”

    big numbers song The Big Numbers Song

    The people who made the Phonics Songs also make a number of other videos and this is a great one as unlike many number related videos it goes above 10 or 12. I think this has really helped Monkey with his understanding of bigger numbers. It goes a bit far when it gets to the millions but I often stop it before it gets to that point!

    Bob The Alphabet Train Bob The Train – Alphabet Adventure

    Another Alphabet one, Daddy actually hates this one as he finds it a bit dull but Monkey loves it. It’s quite long and he gets transfixed, and loves telling us what all the letters are up to! “K up a tree Mummy!”

    Storybots Alphabet Song StoryBots – Alphabet Song

    The Storybots are great fun and Monkey adores them. They sing a whole load of classic nursery rhymes in their little robot voices. I like this Alphabet one and since watching this Monkey gas gone from very cutely singing “A B C D E F G W X Y Z” to actually singing the song with all of the letters of the alphabet! He also loves their versions of Incy Wincy Spider, Wheels on the  Bus, and Songs about Shapes – Triangle to name a few! There is literally loads of videos in this range from shapes to body parts and all sorts.

    We of course do lots of other play focussed learning of songs, numbers, letters, body parts etc, Monkey is not learning these purely from TV and YouTube but I do think they complement his learning. I don’t think kids should be in front of the TV all the time, of course I don’t, but I don’t think it does them any harm either. In fact I think they can learn things from TV, they just probably shouldn’t learn everything from the TV.

    What do you think, can TV be educational for toddlers?

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  • 36 thoughts on “Educational TV for Toddlers

    1. The fact that you have even thought about this makes you a better mum than me! JJ spent his first couple of years virtually oblivious to the TV (except for Mr Tumble which, again, I think is great because it shows children that there is nothing to be feared from disability and that disabled children are the same as them and enjoy the same things – and some sign language too – I love Justin!) but that was purely his nature and inability to sit still for five minutes!! Nowadays he will watch back to back episodes of Peppa or Ben & Holly but this will be after a long day or week at school away from the TV. I have to admit that I fear that his learning (of letters at least) may be a bit behind and that might be because he missed out on some of that early years educational TV. When I read about how much Monkey knows or how my friends little girl taught herself to write by watching Alphablocks (she was writing birthday cards at the age of three – not just her name) then it makes me feel like I’m getting it wrong – I think this is part of parenthood that i hadn’t anticipated – the bit where you learn how to best impart knowledge. So yes I completely agree that tv can be useful and educational in the right context and the supposed dangers are no more worrying than taking your child past a group of teenagers using the F word – you can’t protect them from everything but you can be there to teach right and wrong. Thanks for linking to #thetruthabout (hopefully when it’s up and running!!) xx

      • Ooh I am with you about Mr Tumble normalising disability for kids, very good point. I am sure JJ hasn’t suffered as a result of lack of TV hon, as with anything all kids learn things at their own pace, Monkey is just freakishly obsessed with numbers! And wow about that little girl writing cards by age 3! Chances are other kids would be given the same TV progs and not be interested in them. Pleasure hon and thanks for hosting! xx

    2. I am super fussy about what my children watch (Cbeebies only thanks – no rubbish commercials for rubbishy plastic toys!) but there’s definitely days they watch more than two hours *cringe*
      I agree – there’s definitely some really good educational programming out there.
      Thanks for linking up with #TriedTested this week x

      • Oh I am with you on the no adverts – Cbeebies or DVDs are all that’s on in our house. I wish I could keep to under two hours everyday but at the moment we definitely watch more than that! xx

    3. I think there are certain shows on tv that can teach your child things you can’t necessarily teach them yourself. I don’t think there’s any harm in having the tv on. Since he was a newborn I’ve always had the tv on, really so he got used to noise. He can now sleep through anything and has no problem napping anywhere. It also means I can relax with a cup of tea while he sleeps and not worry about waking him.
      It’s unlikely most babie’s/toddlers actually watch much of the tv, because like you said they’re more interested in playing and doing more physical activities. It’s a parents responsibility to enjoy life outdoors and entertain heir children in other ways but a bit of tv is no harm to anyone. #triedtested

    4. I totally agree that there are things they can pick up from the TV. Every now and again my 2 year old says something that I know she learned from one of the shows I put on for her. I think if you pick what they are exposed to wisely, there’s not much harm to come from it and that it can supplement what you are teaching them personally. And honestly, I’m sure they need the break from us as much as we need one from them!


    5. My girls used to love Cbeebies…..I thought it was educational! My youngest used to copy Mr Tumble and sign. A lot of the the other channels are not as good educational wise….Plus all the adverts! Grr x

    6. I completely agree with you. I think that there are some really good programmes and as long as you actively keep an eye on what they’re watching, and even better engage with some of the programmes yourself, then I think they have a place in amongst all the other activities that we do. Kids do also need independent time, as much as we sometimes need to get things done! Sadly it is harder to avoid the dreaded adverts here… 🙂 #thetruthabout

    7. Great post Caroline!! I know TV is a bit of a taboo subject for kids but honestly, I don’t know how I would do without it some days!! If I need to cook lunch, dinner whatever for Arthur I know I can stick it on for a bit and he will be there staying out of trouble (I say this because at the moment he climbs everything, I’d rather he watched TV then climb up on the kitchen table when I can’t get to him!) Arthur too is picking stuff up. I’m sure our parents gave us TV time as kids and we are fine!! We all do the very best we can for our kids and I don’t think any one should judge us whatever choices we make!!

    8. What a great post and Annabelle loves getting some TV time and its also time for her to actually sit down after all of that running around causing havoc! I agree with it broadening childs horizons as Annabelle loves to dance along to songs in her shows too {very cute!} Thanks for linking up with #MMWBH x

    9. I think there’s a time and a place for TV and it can have a real educational value. My toddler won’t sit in front of it for long either but it is a good way for her to wind down at times. Nothing wrong with TV if you are exercising parental control over it x x

    10. Great post. My middle child (3yrs old) is a bit of a tv fanatic but I have to be really strict with her. She’s only ever watched CBeebies but bless her she joins in with them doing whatever they’re doing – the quiz one, the dancing on Show me Show me etc. I do think she’s learnt things from there, or prompted me to teach her about things she’s questioned from it. The TV has a place if used properly I think – and a LIFE saver for Mummy!!!

    11. Its such an interesting topic, and I agree that to make a blanket statement that all TV for children is bad, is a bit OTT and quite frankly wrong (as if mums don’t feel guilty enough!).
      Like everything in life, I think it all stems down to balance.
      A thought provoking post! x

    12. Hello there, I am so very glad I read your blog as it is something I wonder (and worry) about too-also my little boy loves Bob the Train! I think he has learned a lot from the television, we talk about things and now he is showing an interest in letters things like Alphablocks have been great in explaining phonics-something which I’m learning with him! x #sharewithme

    13. On work days we end up watching about half hour to am hour but on weekends it’s definitely longer and he uses the tablet too. He’s learnt so much from both. I know you do have to be so careful as they pick up a bad thing in nano seconds. Z learnt the word “stupid” once and wouldn’t stop saying it. I love the suggestion of apps here, going to look at those 🙂

    14. I totally agree with you hun. Lucas loves watching TV and it is a chance for him to wind down when we have been out and about all day. His imagination and vocabulary is well above the average and I do attribute this partly to the TV. He is loving fantasy programmes such as Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. These are classics and he wouldn’t even be aware of them if it weren’t for films and TV. Even I couldn’t stomach the entire tome of JRR Tolkein. Lucas used to watch the Wonderpets and one day I persuaded him to help me clear up and he started singing “What’s going to work? Team work……” It can also promote family time; snuggling up on the sofa to watch a film together and we love watching Agents of SHIELD and such like together. Great post sweetie x #sharewithme

    15. Lucas says – I agree Mrs Monkey. TV has taught me loads…………. how to beat the baddies, that Superheroes are REALLY cool and how to dance (the Mother watches Glee!!!!). She doesn’t let me watch TV all the time but my favourite time is when we all snuggle on the sofa to watch something together……. #sharewithme

    16. I think it boils down to some people do leave their kids infront of the TV all day and prob shout at their kids if they are doing anything else. Mine watch too much, but Mickey Mouse is very educational too #PoCoLo

    17. When I first became a parent I didn’t let Buba watch any tv probably until MM was born to be honest. I was always careful even after that not too much tv time. But then he started saying numbers and letters and I realized he had not just learned things from us but from the shows he was watching. I probably was more relaxed with two and a lot more on my plate so the tv does get turned out. But I prefer him to watch mickey mouse type shows where there is always something to learn each episode then movies that just tell stories. But we watch those in moderation as well. I think it’s just about finding balance between toys, books, learning on paper and watching. Each child learns differently so some learn better by doing and some by seeing. Great post. Food for thought. Thanks for linking to Share With Me. I hope to see you again next week. #sharewithme

      • Thanks hon and you are totally right, different things work for different kids and its all about finding the balance for your child. Xx

    18. Funnily enough Caroline I have a post in draft called ‘the truth about TV’ – because for a non-telly owning house my girls watch a fair bit of it. It’s a necessity though when you’re dealing with a baby and getting dinner on the table. I agree there are some brilliant educational programs out there, CBeebies is a wonderful thing (IMO) xxx #PoCoLo

      • Haha great minds hon! It is a necessity sometimes isn’t it, and thank goodness there is some great educational available 🙂 xx

    19. Great post hun and I think TV like everything in moderation is brilliant, as you say it can be educational and I know both my children benefit enormously and it does help home life run smoothly. I think it’s a worry when kids are only at their TV’s and computers, missing out on life, nature and social contact, all pretty rare really! Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x

    20. I feel the same. I think that TV enhanced Grace’s learning experiences but didn’t take over – it still hasn’t. She does not watch that much TV, even now, especially after school as she has so many other activities and she also transferred from CBeebies to CBBC fairly early on! Which again I think helped rather than hindered. Thank you for linking to #PoCoLo 🙂 x

    21. This post is brilliant – thanks! I was so determined in the beginning to not put the TV on until Miss M turned 2 but it wasn’t practical and I agree that shows on CBeebies are light hearted and educational.

      I have to say, she ignores the TV most of the time but I quite like watching it myself ha!

      Thanks for sharing #sundayroundup

    22. Fab post – and Im on your side here.
      I think a little bit of tv time is great! As pointed out, so long as it’s monitored, it can be quite beneficial.
      I even pop my 14 week old in his bouncy chair and put Baby TV on simply so I can get the washing up done lol. He’s not sat in front of the tv mind you, he’s looking around, but he loves watching for a few mins, gets super excited my the music and colours and chats away to the babies that come on now and then. Its a few minutes each day so Im not worried. 🙂

    23. I completely agree with you! I did keep Zach away from the tv for the first year or so but I’ve found he has learnt so much. He doesn’t pay a huge amount of attention to the tv but he catches bits and bobs. A month or so back he pointed at a cows udders and said milk – he’d watched a cbeebies programme a few weeks before and they were milking cows which he remembered!
      I also agree about YouTube – Zach has learnt to count backwards from 10 by watching a space shuttle launch!!
      Us mum’s know best and yes there are people who use the tv as a babysitter but not everyone should be generalised!

    24. Our tv is always on even if they are not watching it if we are home! I am rather pants at organising home crafts I need to do it more. I work 30 hours a week and often the time at home I am shattered and just want to childd out with the babies. Although I have found turning it off they place alot nicer. No arguing over peppa pig or the disney channel!

      Thanks for joining in with #sundayroundup

    25. The phonics song is a big fave in our house, it’s so nice and calming and non-irritating! I personally think there’s nothing wrong with a bit of TV, like you say it gives everyone a bit of a break and time to chill, and it means parents can get a few jobs done too! Thanks for linking up with #sundaystars

    26. Great post! I struggle with this. I feel so bad putting the twins in front of the TV, but it is often the only way that they will sit down and have any down-time whatsoever. As they rarely ever sit still. So it’s a way of them relaxing too. I too only have cBeebies on. They only like certain programmes at the moment anyway. It allows me to make some dinner or get something done. Jess x

    27. tThe only access to the TV we have is through the internet so usually it’s cbeebies through the IPlayer or Cyw (welsh kids TV) on the S4C player. O’s favourites by far are anything with Justin Fletcher in and Dwylo’r Enfys, which is like a Welsh version of Something Special.
      The majority of the time the TV is just on as background noise though as he often only stops to watch the musical bits lol.
      Thanks for linking up with #SundayStars

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