When I was pregnant with Emily, I made many proclamations: My child will not have sugar before the age of 2. I will not let my child play with my phone. I will somehow remove all swear words from my vocabulary so I can be a good influence.
I also decided that TV would be off-limits for the first two years of my daughter's life, if only so she could learn how to entertain herself with books and blocks and the power of her imagination before becoming a slave to the screen.
One by one, all of my best intentions crumbled.
Except for that last one.
Emily is about to turn 2, and I have yet to plunk her down in front of the TV. The question on everyone's lips, of course, is: what will you let her to watch first?
"Reading Rainbow," of course. Everything else is crap.
It's tough to find quality children's television these days. And a recent report on Deadline mentions a loophole in the Children’s Television Act that has led five commercial broadcast networks to increase ad time by simply abandoning programming for kids under 13. Which only compounds the problem.
Luckily, it's still possible to access some of the educational TV we grew up on. Here are seven shows to start with:
Sesame Street - Sure, I find it problematic that its newest season will be available only to HBO subscribers. And I also resent the mad reign of Elmo over all other characters when Mr. Snuffleupagus is clearly the most awesome character of all. But "Sesame Street" is a classic, with much to offer kids and the adults who belong to them and, frankly, I find it impressive that they're still chugging along when so many others are not. In addition to firing up your HBO GO account, you can also access videos, games, and art activities on the PBS website, and can find even more on the official Sesame Street website.
Fraggle Rock - I probably shouldn't admit to this but, about a year ago, I spent $50 on Fraggle Rock: The Fraggle Rockin' Collection box set. I now rock out to it in my car when I am not already rocking out to the Hamilton soundtrack. I also own the DVD of "Muppet Family Christmas" (though several scenes have been egregiously cut). Now that Em's almost 2, I have my eye on this $75 30th anniversary collection of all four seasons of Fraggle Rock on DVD.
Science was never my forte, but Bill made it fun... at least for 30 minutes at a time.
The Inside Story With Slim Goodbody - John Burstein created the Slim Goodbody character in 1975. He used it to teach healthy living in a hospital environment and, eventually, got his own show on PBS. Years later, you can find old episodes on Slim's YouTube channel, book Slim for school assemblies, purchase one of Burnstein's health education books, access his online health class, and more.
Bill Nye the Science Guy - Science was never my forte, but Bill made it fun... at least for 30 minutes at a time. The show is still available to stream on services like those offered by Netflix and Amazon. Not only that, but Nye still releases videos and other educational resources on his website, and has written a slew of books.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? - While looking for more info on this one, I found this delightful, rockapella version of the theme song. You're welcome. Based on a computer game created to help children learn about geography, you can snag the entire series (almost 40 episodes in all) on DVD for cheap.
Ghostwriter - A mystery television series that aired in the early '90s, this show revolved around a circle of friends who solved neighborhood crimes with the help of an invisible ghost named Ghostwriter, who communicated by manipulating text and letters to form word and sentence clues. Yes that sounds crazy, but that's not going to stop me from spending the next few days watching all of the old episodes on this YouTube channel.
Reading Rainbow - In 2014, LeVar Burton launched one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time in order to create the Skybrary, an interactive digital library of books and video field trips. I contributed to it, of course, because the Reading Rainbow theme song is in my blood. It is now a subscription-based app. Then, when the original show became available for streaming on Netflix near the end of 2015, I immediately added it to my queue and began counting down the days until I could watch it with my daughter. If Emily does not love it as much as I do, I will pretend to be OK but, inside, I will be shattered and may even cry into my pillow at night, every night.
There were other shows I tried to track down. Shows that the uber-nerd in me loved to death. Shows like "Square One," :Pinwheel," "3-2-1 Contact," "Today's Special," and the obvious drug trip that is "Zoobilee Zoo".
Unfortunately, I could only find random episodes on the VHS black market, or in random snippets on YouTube.
To atone for my failures, I leave you with this: