What Is The Best TV Show For Pre-Schoolers Right Now?

Published: Thu 11 Jul 2024 03:33 PM
Dan Slevin, Film Reviewer
I don't have children of my own, so the reputation of these shows comes to me second-hand. But I am a professional, and I feel confident that nearly 60 years of watching television - five of those early years watching classics like The Magic Roundabout, Mr Benn and Bagpuss - means that I am well equipped to take on this challenge.
One of them is the biggest kids' TV show in the world and also currently a spokesdog for Queensland tourism. Another is one of the most successful local television production this century - a BAFTA award nominee. And a third is a typically classy production from Apple. Until this week, I hadn't seen a minute of any of them!
If you are concerned that your children - or the children you look after - are spending too much time with screens and not enough time with books, I recommend you turn on captions (aka subtitles) so that kids still get to see the words on screen at the same time as they hear the dialogue. It will familiarise them with words and help them match the shapes to the sounds. It's not quite as good as sitting and reading to them with your finger tracing each word as you speak, but it's not a bad compromise.Bluey (TVNZ+)
A family of anthropomorphic Australian cattle dogs navigates the vicissitudes of life with good humour and love.
I was at Te Papa on Wednesday for another job and while walking around the Bush City outdoor exhibition a pre-schooler ran past me yelling, "There's a bear after me!"
I'm reasonably confident that there was no actual bear, but it reminded me of the power of a child's imagination, and it is imaginative play that is the focus of Bluey's early episodes. Like improv, it suggests that parenting is a case of never declining a suggestion - it's always "Yes, and …"
In fact, I'm reasonably sure that Bluey is more about helping parents be better at their job than the development of pre-schoolers.
Animation: The look of Bluey is very flat with a limited colour palette and the backgrounds are not very detailed. That just keeps our focus on the characters and the animation uses champion timing to keep us all entertained.
Voices and music: Dang, if the Bluey theme isn't one of the catchiest ever. The show occasionally adds extra songs to the mix, too. Its Australian-ness isn't a problem for local audiences, and it evidently hasn't prevented it from achieving world domination either.
Commitment and bingeability: There are 154 episodes online on TVNZ+ and most are short at seven minutes or so, but the producers went longer for a story that carries a bit of extra emotional punch. In The Sign (Season 3) Bluey's family prepares to move to another city at the same time as wedding preparations for Uncle Radley and his girlfriend, Frisky, are headed off the rails.
Be prepared if your young viewer starts that 28-minute episode when you really need them to get dressed to go to school.
For grown-ups: Bluey works magic on so many levels, to the extent that I don't have any problem recommending it as a grown-up watch when you need a palate cleanser. The observations of adult behaviour are subtle but keen and ever-present.Frog & Toad (Apple TV+)
Based on Arnold Lobel's beloved series of books from the 1970s, this is a show about an unlikely but genuine friendship and the community of creatures that they share the forest with.
Animation: There are book aesthetics to be honoured here, so Frog and Toad has quite an old-fashioned hand-drawn look with textured backgrounds where you feel like you could smell the nature.
Voices and music: The characters in this series speak very slowly and clearly and don't shorten or elide phrases. This might sound a little quaint in this day and age and it means that each show trundles rather than motors along.
Commitment and bingeability: There are only two series of Frog and Toad currently (plus a Christmas special) which means there are only 19 episodes in total. Each one is about 22-23 minutes but contains more than one story, so it's possible to pause each episode and pick up later with a fresh adventure.
For grown-ups: There's probably more nostalgia here than there is entertainment value for grown-ups. The life lessons are clear enough that parents probably don't need to sit and watch alongside but if you do, you may well get a bit misty as the kindness and affection between the two friends is illustrated over and over again.Kiri and Lou (TVNZ+)
Aotearoa's own entry in this wonderful cacophony of children's television, Kiri and Lou is also about navigating relationships: Sharing, communication, consideration.
Kiri (Olivia Tennet) is a little yellow dinosaur and Lou (Jemaine Clement) is a purple something else living in a stop-motion animated primordial world. It's nice to have te reo sprinkled throughout.
Animation: Stop-motion animation is incredibly hard work so you can see the care and attention that's gone in. Hard work is nothing without good character design and effective animation and along with plenty of that there's a pleasing tactility to the visuals.
Voices and music: Lots of familiar local-sounding voices and a quite staggering number of original songs by Harry Sinclair and Don McGlashan (The Front Lawn). In fact, there are three albums available to keep the magic going when the TV is switched off.
Commitment and bingeability: There have been four seasons since the show debuted in 2020 and each episode is quite short, so it should be relatively easy to duck in and out. And the prehistoric location means the show should never date - generations of local children should appreciate it.
For grown-ups: There's more charm here for parents than there is grown-up content or sly gags that slip past the young viewers. Nothing wrong with that, but you won't be watching these to get the taste of Game of Thrones out of your mouth before bedtime.
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