There was a time when you’d be frowned upon as a parent for plonking your little lovelies in front of children’s TV. But the good news for us is that we’re in a truly golden age for children’s telly, with programmes which are not only designed to help pre-schoolers learn, but which are also little gems in their own right.
So don’t worry about screen time and get comfy on the sofa to enjoy these animated treats…
Sarah and Duck
Funny, moving and charming, Sarah and Duck is a real treat for parents as much as younger viewers. The gentle adventures of a seven-year-old girl and her adopted mallard take place in a surreal, lushly decorated world, in which the buses are fuelled by the sea; the moon is an amateur artist; and the clouds are made in a tower in the middle of the park (providing a wonderful cameo for kids’ TV legend Derek Griffiths). Roger Allam narrates the whimsy.
In the Night Garden
A garish, Dadaist landscape of chaos and squawking sound doesn’t seem the best way to get your little ones to sleep – but it works. The lovable characters – Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka, Iggle Piggle, The Tombliboos and the teeny-tiny Pontipines – are all different sizes and shapes, but they all get tucked up into bed with a story at the end of every episode. It creates a lulling routine for your children, and you soon find yourself excited by a rare appearance from the Pontipines’ lesser-seen next-door neighbours, the Wottingers.
You might find yourself wondering how on earth the ever-patient Flop, Bing’s carer (voiced by Sir Mark Rylance), stays as calm as a cucumber even when Bing accidentally smashes his mobile phone and hides it in a bin. But Flop is a welcome and unusual role model for men on TV – nurturing, understanding and kind, in a show with resolving problems at its heart. Kids can enjoy seeing things through Bing’s eyes in the unique “point-of-view” shots, while regular viewers will watch out for Bing’s buddy Pando kicking off his trousers.
Alexander Armstrong lends his posh polish to this stylishly animated story about a big, cuddly dog who looks after little animals outside of school and awards them badges for their skills. The keen, excited voices of the child stars playing the “Squirrels” give a really spark to the scripts, and there are plenty of subtle jokes for grown-ups too. It’s also more relevant to some viewers than others that Happy the Crocodile has an elephant as a parent – he’s adopted.
Need some calming TV to decompress hyper children? Waybuloo is your saviour. Mindfulness and yoga are becoming more and more popular with tiny ones nowadays, and Waybuloo provides a good introduction to both. Children can engage with the wide-eyed floating characters as well as the real-life children who come to visit them, as well as taking part in gentle stretching and relaxation.
Michael Palin’s timeless voice lends itself perfectly to this stop-motion retelling of the vintage children’s animation from Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate. Those of us who remember the original will find this a pleasant continuation of the story; newer viewers are captivated by the stories on the Little Blue Planet and the range of characters including Sky Moos, Froglets and, of course, those knitted swanny-whistling mice.
Don’t argue with me: Grandmaster Glitch is the real star of Go Jetters. The ever-present spanner in the works of our four explorer heroes is there to provide jeopardy in every episode, and succeeds in being a baddie who somehow has you rooting for him. As well as all that, Xuli, Lars, Foz and Kyan learn Funky Facts about landmarks around the world, mentored by a disco-dancing unicorn.