My kids, sadly, have pretty much aged out of the lovely, commercial-free television zone that is PBS Kids. Ciao, “Curious George.” So long, “Sid the Science Kid.” “The Dinosaur Train” has left the station. But when I started looking around this summer for the next generation of educational shows, I came up almost empty.
It’s not that I think there is anything inherently wrong with “SpongeBob SquarePants” or “Phineas and Ferb.” I do find both shows annoying, though, and had hoped to find something that had some educational value.
I spoke with Sierra Filucci, the television editor at Common Sense Media, to get some perspective on the programming for kids in elementary school. The organization’s Web site rates all kinds of media to help parents find age-appropriate material. She pointed out that there are all kinds of educational programming.
“People think that if a TV show is not labeled explicitly educational, it doesn’t have any value,” said Filucci. “We talk a lot about things kids can get from television and entertainment: emotional intelligence, the benefits of cooperation, the value of helping others. There are a lot of shows that have very strong messages about ethical behavior.
“When kids get into that tween period, they are looking a lot toward peers to find out what’s cool, what’s acceptable. TV can be a good learning tool in that age range, as long as parents are keeping an eye on what they’re watching and inserting their own messages alongside the TV’s messages.”
Fair enough. There’s more to life (and TV) than math and science. Even if they’re learning social skills, though, I’d rather they be of the “sharing and cooperating are the way to go” kind than the “it’s funny and even desirable to be rude or disrespectful” type.
Filucci also said that programming on TV is one of many options available to parents, from DVDs to streaming online video to using the DVR to zip through commercials.
“If you dig a little deeper and find the things that appeal to you and to the kids, you can find good shows,” she said.
Filucci suggested several shows for older kids, including “Cyberchase,” “The Electric Company,” “Wild Kratts,” “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “The Legend of Korra,” “Design Squad Nation,” “MythBusters” and “Victorious.” She cautioned, though, that with some shows that have more mature themes, it’s best to watch with your kids and use the programming as a jumping off point for a discussion about your family’s values.
Here’s a clip from “Cyberchase”:
I’m sure there are more good shows out there. So before I resort to all-retro, all-the-time programming (“Leave It To Beaver” or “The Cosby Show,” anyone?), I’m putting out the all-points bulletin. Help a desperate mom, please, and tell me: What shows do your elementary-school-age kids watch?