Pediatrics published a study in 2011 pinning attention problems in children on everyone’s favorite cartoon character who lives in a pineapple under the sea: SpongeBob SquarePants. Researchers believe that the program causes an attention problem in many kids after just nine minutes of viewing. Lead author of the study, University of Virginia psychology professor Angeline Lillard, says SpongeBob shouldn’t be the only show chastised for its frenetic action and obnoxious noises, as she found similar problems in other children who watch fast-paced cartoons.
So what cartoons should your child be watching? Here are 19 that I think everyone in your household will be able to get behind. Not only are they calm and educational, they won’t make you fall asleep, either. (Sorry, Caillou.)
1. Berenstain Bears
The Berenstain Bears are a wholesome bear family, “a lot like people, only more so.” Sister and Brother Bear are in elementary school, and learn lessons about things like being kind and responsible. The show can seem a little too goody-goody now and then, but it never gets annoyingly so.
2. Curious George
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: watching Curious George is like staring at a lava lamp — it soothes the tired parent’s soul. George is best for younger kids, since most of what the show focuses on are simple lessons like learning shapes, numbers, and colors, but honestly — I would watch it without my daughter. (#RealTalk I have.)
3. Dinosaur Train
The premise of Dinosaur Train makes no sense: there’s a train that allows a talking, English-speaking dinosaur family to travel through time during the Mesozoic Era. Oh, and did I mention that there’s an adoption allegory in there, too? All that said, the bottom line is, kids love dinosaurs, and this show is super educational. (And it’s less spazzy than Nick’s Dino Dan, but my daughter loves that show, too.)
4. Max and Ruby
Ruby and Max! As my 5-year-old put it, “It’s a nice little show about bunnies.” Each 30 minute episode centers on Max, a determined three-year-old bunny, and his big sister, Ruby, a smart, goal-oriented seven-year-old. Max and Ruby play together and resolve their differences respectfully. Great for dealing with sibling rivalry.
5. Super Why
Who’s got the power, the power to read? My kid does! She’s loved Super Why since she started watching TV, and I love it, too. The female characters are racially diverse and strong, the stories are fun and the reading lessons effective. Plus, kids get the whole package: flying spaceships and a princess in the same cartoon? Yes, please!
6. Sid the Science Kid
Sid the Science Kid is not only filled with great songs that teach kids about things like decay, dirt and worms, the sun as energy source and more — it also has a segment called “Good Laughternoon” during which your kid will learn jokes like, “What kind of tree fits in your hand? A palm tree!” Sid’s buddy Gerald has kind of an obnoxious pace and voice, but other than that, I have no complaints about the show. Another very educational show that knocks it out of the park. Go public broadcasting!
Olivia “is designed to invite preschoolers into the life — both real and fantasy —of an adventurous, can-do 6-year-old girl, her family and friends.” Olivia is somewhat unrealistic in the sense that no matter how much trouble she creates for herself, she never seems to have to deal with punishment, but it’s an exciting show that plays out in a calm way, and for that reason alone, I’m fine with my daughter’s love for it.
8. Martha Speaks
Martha Speaks is, simply put, a show about a talking dog. The cartoon’s educational goal is to teach kids new words, and it does so with aplomb. (See, I’m paying attention!) Martha is a lovable creature who is always trying to solve some sort of mystery, an element of the show that is sure to hook your 4- to 7-year-old. Plus, the theme song is great.
9. Wonder Pets
My co-hort Madeline Holler thinks that the Wonder Pets will ruin your kid’s brain, but I’m (SpongeBob) squarely on the other side of the fence about it. I love the operatic element of the show and feel compelled to point out something we all already know — classical music is good for kids’ brains! (Even if it’s sung by baby animals.)
In Word World, words come alive! It’s not just the animal characters that are made of the letters that spell their name, all of the items in Word World are. This show is done so well and is so creative, you can’t help but fall in love with it. The characters are all voiced brilliantly and the simple storylines are kept engaging by the third-person omniscient narrator.
Cyberchase is an award-winning, research-based adventure series that helps kids develop strong math and problem-solving skills. Not to mention that it features voice acting from the talented Christopher Lloyd and Gilbert Gottfried.
12. Word Girl
Wooooooord up! Word Girl is one of my favorite cartoons on TV right now, including adult-oriented animated shows like Family Guy. (Seriously, your kids should not be watching Family Guy, you know that, right? I know it’s hard to keep them away…) Word Girl features the voice talents of comedians Maria Bamford and Patton Oswalt and somehow manages to combine a killer comic book vibe with female empowerment and vocabulary lessons. Another PBS hit.
13. Daniel Tiger
Daniel Tiger will subtly take you back to the good old days of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. It’s actually produced by The Fred Rogers Company! The show features the children of the original cast of the show — so precious. This show is simply super cute and teaches children about enjoying their neighbors while simultaneously learning nice morals.
14. Ask the Storybots
This fun, educational show is based on the Storybot apps. The premise of the Ask the Storybots get your kids thinking right from the start, as creatures live in the world beneath our screens. Each episode answers one of the many questions kids ask like, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do I have to brush my teeth?” The best part, surprisingly? They answer the question through song!
15. Doc McStuffins
Let’s talk about how cute Doc McStuffins is! She nurtures stuffed animals back to health in her playhouse clinic, encouraging all of our little ones to grow up and become doctors/vets! Just wait and see how your child’s eyes light up when Doc pulls out her magical stethoscope.
16. Paw Patrol
Paw Patrol does an excellent job of introducing littles one to police, firemen, and more helpful community members. Honestly, what’s cuter than a puppy police officer? Probably nothing.
17. Sofia the First
Sofia the First is one of my personal favorites. She does a wonderful job of teaching about friendship, compromising, and other lovely life lessons. Your kids will also love the occasional appearances of their favorite Disney Princesses — always a bonus.
18. Peppa Pig
Make way for Peppa Pig! Possibly the best part about this show? It’s only 5 minutes long. Peppa is a female pig who lives amongst her animal friends and teaches the kids about animal sounds and much more. With over 52 episodes in one season, you’re be begging for more Peppa.
19. Elena of Avalor
Since it’s recent debut, we’ve been big fans of Elena of Avalor. Deriving from a special episode of Sofia the First, Elena’s show teaches kids the value of family as well as working together. We also love that she’s the first official Latina Disney Princess!