By Polly Conway, Common Sense Media
Caillou. Thomas. Elmo. Dora. TV is full of characters kids love but who drive parents up the wall. These shows have their positive qualities, from teaching real educational concepts to making kids laugh like crazy. But with so much great stuff out there, you don't need to endure mindless repetition, outdated stereotypes, or less-than-inspirational role models to serve kids with some quality entertainment. With classic characters such as Miss Piggy and Cookie Monster as well as new friends puffin Oona and friendly aliens the Clangers, the shows below can keep you sane -- and may even tempt you to watch along on purpose.
Clangers, 3+, Sprout
This sci-fi-lite treat tells sweet, calm stories about a family of mice-like creatures living on their own tiny planet. Narrated by the one and only William Shatner, it's a fun whole-family watch featuring compassionate characters who work together to solve problems.
Creative Galaxy, 4+, Amazon Prime
Visually appealing and packed with great messages about relationships and caring for others -- with simple art-history lessons thrown in for good measure -- this fun series is sure to inspire your preschooler's own creativity.
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, 3+, PBS
This gentle series is a well-rounded choice for little ones who are learning how to deal with emotions. Parents who have fond memories of Mister Rogers will enjoy revisiting his messages too. Daniel and his family treat each other with kindness and respect. (This updated character may in fact be less annoying than the incessantly meowing original.)
Dinosaur Train, 3+, PBS
Dinosaur Train encourages preschoolers' curiosity about the world. It's a solid intro to basic scientific principles and several real dino species. Each story exposes kids to science terms such as "hypothesis" and "herbivore," and even kids who aren't dino-crazy will enjoy Buddy's adventures.
Doc McStuffins, 4+, Disney Junior
Doc encourages independence and a can-do attitude in preschoolers. The fact that the show centers on an African-American family whose parents take on reversed gender roles (mom at work, dad at home) reflects society's diversity, and Doc's a great role model for any kid.
Lily's Driftwood Bay, 3+, Sprout
Lily explores her cute paper-cut world and adventures with friends, and she has a particularly sweet relationship with her single-parent father. This darling series is, paradoxically, a great way to impress upon young kids the joy of simple, screen-free playtime and can inspire your kids to explore their own worlds with curiosity.
Muppet Moments, 3+, Disney Junior
Remember the old-school segments of Sesame Street where Kermit or Grover would just talk to a kid off-the-cuff for a few minutes? Muppet Moments offers the same fun, conversational vibe in two-minute snippets.
Puffin Rock, 3+, Netflix
Irish actor Chris O'Dowd warmly narrates this delightful show about kindhearted, curious puffin Oona and her family. Kids will learn all about their island environment while following Oona's adventures (gorgeously animated by the folks behind Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells). Bonus: It has a theme song you won't mind having in your head for days!
Sesame Street, 2+, PBS
Yeah, Elmo's still on it. But this classic show continues to churn out hilarious parodies that both kids and parents will dig. Cookie Monster stars in many of these pop-culture spoofs; recent notables include "House of Bricks," "Birdwalk Empire," "Homelamb," and "When Cookie Met Sally."
Timmy Time, 2+, Disney Channel
The dialogue-free adventures of Timmy the lamb and his preschool friends are super fun and pleasant for the whole family to watch. Timmy gets to learn how to get along with his fellow woolly creatures, and kids can see how he deals with feelings and emotions on a day-to-day basis.
Tumble Leaf, 3+, Amazon Prime
Vibrant animation and colorful characters will draw preschoolers to this gently paced series, where sweet animal characters make exciting discoveries that teach simple science concepts. Positive examples of problem solving and other prereading skills such as rhyming and basic shape recognition are woven into the stories as well.
Yo Gabba Gabba!, 2+, Nickelodeon
This one might divide parents. Though its songs can be funny and charming, they may get less funny after the millionth time your kids request a replay. But the candy-colored world rivals Sesame Street for cool guest stars, and its quirky dance parties can help your preschoolers burn off a little of their boundless energy.
More TV Tips From Common Sense Media
Yes, You Can Make TV Time Count
Best Fall TV for Families
5 Tips for Picking Your Preschooler's First TV Shows
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org