o backpack, o map, where hast thou led me


Those without kids or not majoring in child development please avert your eyes, because I’ve got a question for the collective parenting hive. We’re at a weird period in Lucy’s media digestion: catering for a five-year-old, we’re a little lost between TV shows that are too young and unchallenging, and the kind of batshit micro-edited craziness inhabited by the Spongebob and Phineas & Ferb world.

As a disclaimer, let me say that no TV is allowed in our house during daytime hours, and only very rarely on weekday nights, when she and I will watch something like Planet Earth or Great Migrations. On weekends, she gets a few videos of her choosing, and when we travel, the plane/car ride turns into an iPad videofest, which we curate pretty carefully.

She knows how to read (albeit slowly) and string words together, which makes shows like the new Electric Company perfect, but there aren’t many of those episodes out there. She totally digs Johnny and the Sprites for the Broadway-style songs and fairies; she grooves on the Imagination Movers and absolutely feasts on the documentary-style Kids Adventures from the Smithsonian Channel and Dino Dan.

But there’s a weird spot that seems to be missing from entertainment – the shows for 5-7 year-olds who just can’t handle screaming, relentless non sequiturs or some animated character getting kicked in the balls. Unless, of course, there’s something huge I’m missing. I’ll try to make a list showing where she’s at:

• liked Dora well enough, now way too old for it

• loved Olivia, but now seen every episode multiple times

• moved past Word World

• likes Jack’s Big Music Show, but it’s also a little young for her

• went through a big Sid the Science Kid phase last year and LOVED the research aspect of it, but the repetition and never-changing format made me insane (and eventually made her crazy too)

• loved the ballet, but thought Angelina Ballerina was kind of a whiner

• can still rock a good Backyardigans and chow down a Super Why, but not sure how much longer.

She will gladly watch all these shows again; she’ll even sit through something that drives me batshit fuckin’ insane like “Caillou”. She is in no hurry to grow up, and is quite vocal about things above her pay grade (at the “Toy Story 3” screening, she yelled “how can you take a KID to this???”). Scared but entranced by narrative, and utterly transfixed by science/history/zoology, I put it to you, my wise friends… what shows do you recommend?


I confess, sometimes I miss the days of constant Pingu

0 thoughts on “o backpack, o map, where hast thou led me

  1. jason savage

    watching a “Super Why” as I write this….and will agree to sort of missing Pingu. only the country that served as an incubator for LSD can bring you that trip-fest.
    I wish they’d make Word Worlds for different age groups. never can get enough of that one.

  2. Claverack Weekender

    Similar media restrictions at our house. Some winners right now: Curious George, Sagwa, Fresh Beats, George Shrinks, Word Girl. Also have you tried concert DVDs? e.g. Concert for George, Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, etc.

  3. Matthew E

    Seconding WordGirl. Also, Between the Lions.
    My kids have discovered the Disney-ish tween/teen sitcoms on YTV and the Family Channel, and it’s slowly killing us. iCarly is actually pretty okay, but the others aren’t. I miss Backyardigans and Little Bear.

  4. once a heel

    It’s all about Hot Wheels, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Phineas & Ferb around here these days, but both Martha Speaks and Peep & the Big Wide World were favs and could be in Lucy’s wheelhouse.
    We also liked to watch the Heels games but may have to put a temporary hold on that due to mom’s foul language….

  5. Mindy

    My Lucy is a few years older, but at that age enjoyed (and often still does) Peep and the Big Wide World (http://www.peepandthebigwideworld.com/f)and it’s one of those very simple cartoons that I actually didn’t mind watcher with her. She also liked Word World; Little Bear; Ni Hao, Kai-Lan; Toot & Puddle; Pinky Dinky Doo; and Maggie and the Ferocious Beast. For the record, I hate the Disney Channel. The programs they market for little kids are just horrid. Oh and another vote for the Magic School Bus — my daughter loved watching those over and over again.

  6. Greg T.

    Zaboomafoo fit that niche pretty well for us.
    For pure nostalgia sake we bought DVDs for “The Adventures of Pete & Pete” and “Pinky & The Brain” – Quinn loved both.

  7. GFWD

    I preface this by saying that I don’t have it all figured out as a parent and I respect people who monitor television consumption like it’s a plutonium repository.
    That being said, my kids like Scooby Doo and Wild Kratts and Wipeout and Rescue Heroes. They’ve seen Ghostbusters and all of the Star Wars movies. They like Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mamma Mia and Mary Poppins. They’ve seen every Disney and Pixar movie and most of the classics from my youth. They like the Magic School Bus, too.
    Methinks parents spend too much time forgetting that their kids are . . . wait for it . . . fucking KIDS! We shield them from bad news and Jack Bauer on 24, of course, but they sit with us and watch Modern Family or play in the room when other sitcoms might be on the tube.
    Get over yourselves and let the kids watch cartoons like we did and have fun. Every life experience does not need to be part of a calculated plan to get into some prep school. I’m actually amazed at some of the vocab my kids pick up from watching the TV they watch. So many of the shows have good lessons and teach kids relevant learning tools. Are they able to recite a McDonald’s jingle? Perhaps. Can they also tell the curator at a museum that bats navigate by way of echolocation? You bet your sweet ass. (Should have seen the curator’s face when my 4 year old dropped that bit of knowledge on her).
    But, aside from the “good” TV, sometimes kids need to see a light saber battle on TV and then go out and play with their light sabers in the front room, while alternating between their alter egos of Darth Maul, Darth Vader and Yoda (depending on the color of the saber, of course). Or they need to sing the Scooby Doo song in between their bites of cereal or they need to play hide and go seek and pretend they’re running from ghosts.
    But then again, I could be wrong.

  8. chm

    I agree with GFWD here. And it’s not just that parents can easily overestimate the harm done by “regular” television. More to the point, I feel like a too-rigorous policing of your kids media intake can make them kind of homeschool-y. You know the type. Fucking weirdos.

  9. julie

    Don’t have much to add here as my kids are boys and all-boy at that. They are 6 and 8 and when not watching Scooby Doo, Beyblades, and Bakugan on Cartoon Network, they tend to like I Spy and Crashbox on HBO Family. I believe eveything else they like (star wars, spider man, super heroes in general) would not be much to Lucy’s liking.

  10. Neva

    I second Word Girl and Between the Lions. We also liked Cyber Chase but that’s more math-y.
    We got the entire DVD set of old Electric Companies and I think I enjoyed them more than my kid but, so what! Same with Schoolhouse Rock.
    Now, my 10 year old daughter loves the cartoon (not the movie) Avatar, The Last Airbender but that’s a little old for your Lucy.
    At that age I think we were still all about Mary Poppins, and Sound of Music too.
    I too hate the Disney Channel and all its shows but finally gave into it about a year ago.

  11. Amy

    Sponge Bob and Phineas and Ferb and the like always appealed to my boy more than my girl. the girl likes barbie movies now. There’s a bunch of them and they are not the sexist drivel you would expect.
    We also watch all the disney and pixar movies, including the old musicals’–she loves sound of music and chitty chitty bang bang, much to her brothers dismay. A few things that appeal to them both: scooby do, looney tunes.
    But really, the last few months, it’s been barbie world around here. She’s six.

  12. jp

    I love Sponge Bob and Phineas & Ferb. What are your objections to them? Or perhaps I am asking you to translate “batshit micro-edited craziness.” Have you watched a couple of full episodes of either show? Because they are often very sweet. Of course, my 5 year old has an older brother, so I’m not sure what he’d be watching if it weren’t for the older brother and our lazy parenting approach for kid number two. Sponge Bob is a bit more frantic, but Phineas & Ferb is pretty funny.
    Anyway, I have a 5 year old who is sensitive to any kind of stress, tension, or conflict on tv or in film (Toy Story was too much for him, as was the Pixar film Up’s dramatic moment on top of the balloon). Here are some things that work for us:
    TV shows
    Harold & The Purple Crayon (it just showed up on our free preview of HBO on demand, and it’s lovely; Sharon Stone is the narrator, so I imagine this is a remake from what I saw as a kid)
    Max & Ruby (it’s hard to imagine anything could be gentler)
    Winnie the Pooh
    Martha Speaks (on Netflix streaming)
    Mickey’s Playhouse (if she hasn’t seen it; it might be too young)
    Ramona & Beezus (the big naughty word is “guts”)
    Ponyo, maybe
    My comment on Disney stuff: I find the Hannah Montana and iCarly shows to have too many mean teens. I don’t want my kids thinking that people actually treat each other that way.
    However, some of the Disney movies are okay. High School Musical (yes, I’m serious!) is pretty darn tame–much less annoying and offensive than Hannah Montana. And really less terrifying than some of the Disney animated films like the Princess and the Frog.
    I’ve been experimenting of late with older movies. The original Shaggy Dog is pretty fun, once you decide to go with it instead of actually believing the plot. Not that old, but another good one is The Secret of Roan Inish. Even 15-20 year old movies are much less frenetic than most kids’ movies today.
    Also, Ask Metafilter had a couple of threads I’ve been combing for ideas: http://ask.metafilter.com/165747/You-can-look-at-the-screen-again-now-honey

  13. Caitlin

    I guess we’re risking weird and homeschool-y but we are a DVD only family, helped along by our failure to buy a digital converter box. I thought this would help shield our daughter from ad-induced consumer desire but no – she is requesting a Zhu Zhu pet, a pillow pet, and Pokemon.
    Another reason we do this is to reinforce German (second language), so most DVDs are sent over by Grandma. We even have a bizarre antiauthoritarian kids show from the 70s called Rappelkiste, which my husband enjoys more than my daughter.
    In English, we also enjoy musicals – Annie, The Wizard of Oz – and old episodes of the Muppet Show. Though I was surprised to see Peter Sellers singing a song called “Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wild, Wild Women” on a Muppet Show episode we watched recently.

  14. xuxe

    my choices with an inkling of her taste are: (lots of these are out of date and you have to go get the box sets or download episodes)
    – Arthur (absolutely, no question)
    – Hi-5 (which is annoying and you will hate but she will probably love)
    – gullah gullah island (also annoying but more multi-culti?)
    – powerpuff girls (awesome!)
    – Growing up Creepie (independent minded goth girl who lives with a bug family – great theme song)
    – spongebob (of course)
    – kim possible (more girl power)
    – wild thornberry’s (great cartoon about a girl who could talk to animals and her parents are scientists and they all travel around in a comvee, no longer on)
    – rocky and bullwinkle (fractured fairytales???)
    – hey arnold (great show about kid who lives in a boarding house in an urban setting with crazy neighborhood characters, no longer on)
    – dangermouse (penfold!!!)
    – inspector gadget (right?)
    – fosters’s home for imaginary friends (a newer fave)
    – love love avatar and samurai jack and magic school bus, but i think they are too old for her.
    – zobomafoo and crocodile hunter would probably work.
    – might be just not quite ready for “you can’t do that on television” and “zoom”
    p.s. i think the key is to find *GOOD* cartoons that you guys also enjoy so you can watch with her or at least pick up on fragments as you muck around the house, so you can share the laughs about them together. i remember when my two were little, whenever the rugrats themesong came on, everyone in the house would yell “ba-BAH” right on time when they hit those chords at the end. anybody know what i’m talking about? plus if you mostly watch them together you can avoid having the kid try to tell you the story of an entire episode he saw.
    i think also key to making sure she gets good taste out of the whole experience, is to worry less about the pure educational aspect and more about making sure it’s good entertainment value. i love electric company, but between the lions is just freaking boring. those straight-up educational types of shows are just plain hard to pull off. i think cartoons and most kid shows work nicely for situational ethics, relationships, and learning about cause-effect type stuff in a person’s choices, not straight-up teaching basic subjects.
    but i also gauge whether my kids are now successful tv consumers by the fact that my 11 year old has turned into a huge Ren and Stimpy fan and both him and the 8 year old are big into Dr. Who and House of Anubis. YAY!! Wizards of Waverly place i can live without, but hey, i watched Bewitched so yes, i do get it.

  15. Salem's Little Sister

    I’m with GFWD. We watch a fair amount of TV with Ben and it’s either stuff like Phinneas and Ferb from Disney, Tom and Jerry, old Scooby Doo, Arthur and Curious George. I don’t like the sassy teen-shows that Disney plays, so we don’t watch those(unless Ben is at mom’s and then he watches whatever is playing on Disney with his big cousin.) We love all of the Disney/Pixar movies and also enjoy America’s Funniest Home Videos which we have always called “kids fall down.”
    Ben gets so much from his private school that is challenging, intellectual and cultural and with that being said, I don’t think that every moment of his busy day needs to be teachable moments. Sometimes you just want to watch what crazy invention Phinneas and Ferb are going to create. And sometimes, Mommy needs a break especially when Daddy is away for days at a time on business trips.

  16. xuxe

    oh hells yeah.
    i hold nothing against people who want to put constraints around tv consumption for a variety of reasons, but i do take issue with the underpinning philosophy that certain types of media are inherently *bad*, i.e., books = good; tv = bad. it makes about as much sense as saying painting = good; sculpture = bad. and what’s worse is that it seems like just a vaguely cloaked extension of all the elitist angles on taste, like classical music = good; hip-hop = bad, theater = good; movies = bad.
    the idea that it’s bad for kids to consume electronic media is baseless, luddite propaganda promoted by the amish hippie waldorf folks to support their sales of crappy wooden blocks and silk scarves.
    maybe i’m biased by the copious amounts of hong kong phooey, grape ape, three stooges, mr. magoo, and monkees episodes i consumed, but i still managed to graduate like everybody else.

  17. Joanna

    I’ve appreciated Spongebob since the day my 8 y.o. son, when dragged into a clothing store, said, “I’d rather be washing an old man’s back.” It’s funny stuff and at his age he actually gets it.
    Of course, Spongebob is not ideal for my 5 y.o. daughter, but I assume it’s normal for siblings of different ages to watch each other’s shows.
    When her big bro’s not around, she prefers Little Bill, Oswald or Maggie and the Ferocious Beast. Also, she is mesmerized if she ever gets to see iCarly, which I am completely aware is not age appropriate. They both love old Pink Panther. We’ve been reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books before bed and I’m planning to try the TV series.
    tregen,do you watch movies? Read? I’m actually curious.
    This discussion reminds me of one of the funnier chapters of David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim ( or Naked?) in which he describes his teacher saying “Danger, danger, Will Robinson” and one of his classmates, denied TV at home, having no idea what was going on.

  18. emma

    I am so surprised by reading this. I have a ten year old and an eight year old and I might recognize about 25% of the shows that have been named. I don’t put a limit on TV watching, but I guess we just don’t have much time to watch it.
    How bout dem Heels?

  19. Mark

    We do regulate TV time, or at least we try with the youngest girl. She’s all “Dora” and “Diego” non-stop. And all Sprout shows, esp. Calliou, mostly because the ages of the brother and sister on the show mirror that of her and her brother.
    The six year old has become obsessed with trying to sneak a peak at Adult Swim’s offerings, but he doesn’t mind some Sprout viewing. He — and I — really like Adventure Time, though it’s a bit above his pay grade. Anything with cute teen girls seems to catch his eye, though we have been so hard on poor old Miley and the rest of the Disney gang he has abandoned them for iCarly. Anything with live animals is okay with us.
    He’s absorbed my comic book interest and used to watch the great Batman series from the late 80’s -90’s. And he’s on The Clone Wars now.
    They’ve seen the entire Miyazaki catalogue and some other Ghibli works. Whenever we can get them, they watch Doraemon, Anpanman and other less combative NHK series (they are both bilingual). Maybe Kiki’s Delivery Service will be a hit with her, though the main character is a pre-teen.
    We’ve gone through (and will soon revisit) the shows you’ve mentioned.
    Mostly though, we read. He must read at least three age appropriate books on his own a week and we read to them (alternating Eng. and Japanese nightly)

  20. Caitlin

    I appreciate xuxe’s point about elitism and no-inherent-badness-or-goodness of any particular media, but that should apply to the “crappy” wooden blocks and silk scarves too. They can make for some cool creative play.
    I agree with Emma, I have never heard of a lot of these shows. I’m hoping that with the explosion of cable channels and other forms of entertainment, there will be less consensus about TV shows — so less chance for kids who don’t watch any one particular show to feel out of it.

  21. jje

    Graham at two watches Thomas obsessively while I eat my breakfast in peace after the big guys are off to work and school. Once in while, I’ll offer Bob the Builder. But he is all Thomas 24/7 – train set, books, etc. Luckily, he really only half-watches it, catching scenes then doing something else, then coming back to it. I honestly think he could forget about tv entirely if I made an effort to break out of the current morning routine.
    Connor at five is all about Star Wars, so I have two Clone Wars shows taped. He just got into Lego Ninjagos, so I have two of those shows taped. We also have a neat show from the history channel taped that discusses the science of Star Wars (what technology is available today vs. what isn’t possible, etc.). Every once in a while he’ll watch the real movies. He also enjoys Dino Dan from time to time. But these days, he really doesn’t watch too much tv. When G was born, I admit it was my babysitter at times when I needed to nurse or nap, either PBS or Noggin shows only, but now I’m able to keep him busy with other things.
    xuxe’s comments made me laugh – thanks! I’m a mostly mainstream kind of parent with a healthy side of crunchy because I hang out with circles like the one you describe. I love me some wooden blocks and silk scarves (just used them on Monday in our Music Together class), but I get what you’re saying and I agree.

  22. ken

    Now I’ll admit I skimmed some of these comments but did not see any references to Word World. It’s produced by our local PBS station (WTTW, Chicago) and our 22-month old girl loves it but I’d imagine a girl closer to actual reading/writing age would get a lot more out of it. The characters (duck, frog, sheep, shark) are all made up of the letters of what they are as are most of the items in their world. It gets a little repetitive at times “It’s time to build a word, let’s build it, let’s build it, now!”
    I need to know how to get her off the Christmas TV fare she just won’t shake. She requests, The ‘Ginch’ and ‘Fossy’ Snowman EVERY DAY.

  23. tregen

    I occasionally go to the movies although I can’t recall off the top of my head the last movie I went to the movie theater to see. Has there been something epic that is a must see anytime recently? I
    We do have a TV / Wii and will occasionally rent a movie via netflix if there is something I want to see. In addition, my wife occasionally rents series to watch (makes me nuts) but I generally pass. Although I tried Dexter as I heard it was extremely good… but it gave me anxiety and recently she has rented “modern family” which actually made me laugh….. but reminds me why I am a TV addict and why I stay as far away as possible and continue to try to get people to understand that it is an addiction discussed as “entertainment” that is designed to get you to sit and watch advertisements for the corporations everyone hates.


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