The Best Preschool Science Shows (according to me)
A guide for new parents
© 2010 Gwen Dewar, all rights reserved
Preschool science television represents a special niche, and there aren't many really good science shows for young children.
Some “educational” programs seem to discourage creativity and critical thinking.
Others are too sophisticated for preschool audiences...or simply dull.
But I’ve found a few that I really like. They succeed on several levels--as entertainment, as resources to stimulate curiosity and discussion, as inspiration for a
preschool science curriculum.
Here are my personal ratings--my favorite science programs for preschoolers. But one proviso: If you live outside North America and want to buy these shows on DVD, check to see if they are compatible with your DVD player. Most of the DVDs are compatible only with DVD players in the United States and Canada.
Peep and the Big, Wide World
Five Stars *****
Emphasis: Problem solving, “backyard science,” critical thinking, physical science
Narrated by Joan Cusack, this funny, folksy animated series is unlike anything else in its class.
The characters are what you’d get if Mark Twain had written for Looney Toons:
• a naïve, intrepid, inquisitive young chicken
• a level-headed, analytical red bird
• a lazy, irrational, narcissistic duck
Together, these characters tackle everyday problems that are both amusing and adventurous. How to move a boulder. How to test the effects of “wishing on a star.” How to show fish what it’s like to live on the land.
The understated philosophical humor appeals to adults without baffling the kids. And the preschool science? Top notch. Each program features
• two 10-minute stories about specific concepts (like the properties of mirrors, or the use of landmarks to navigate), and
• two live-action shorts that show real kids demonstrating “hands-on” science activities using everyday household objects.
Age-appropriate critical thinking is emphasized. It’s easy to see why Peep was funded by the National Science Foundation.
If it’s not broadcast in your area, catch the video streams online or buy a set of DVDs. There is also a
featuring extensive resources--selected episodes, games, activities, curriculum guides, etc.
To buy the complete series, get Peep and the Big Wide World (3 DVD set), Peep and His Pals - Peep Explores / Chirp Flies / Quack Knows it All(3 DVD set), and Peep and the Big Wide World: Peep Figures It Out (a single DVD that includes the final episodes). At full price, this series is a bargain. But as I write this you can get the first set of DVDs for 50% off—which is a real steal.
Four and one half stars ****1/2
Emphasis: Zoology, ecology
If you are looking for a high-energy, live-action series about animals, this is it. The show’s creators, real-life brothers Chris and Martin Kratt, have loads of enthusiasm and kid-friendly charisma. They co-host the show with lemur puppet, Zoboomafoo, a Coquerel's Sifaka.
Some episodes focus on specific groups—likes horses or snakes. But many episodes are concept-driven, exploring themes like growth, nonhuman play, or animals adapted for flight. There is only one episode in the series that makes me cringe, and that’s one where they characterize plants as “green creatures.” Weird word choice, right? Otherwise, the series scores high on scientific accuracy, and the episodes take advantage of the TV format to show kids things they can’t get from a book or at the zoo.
Four Stars ****
Emphasis: Paleontology, ecology, scientific thinking
Why did it take so long for someone to produce a high-quality preschool science show about dinosaurs? I don’t know, but this new animated series by the Jim Henson company fits the bill.
The main characters are a pteranodon family (which includes an adopted T. rex) who travel through time to visit all sorts of prehistoric creatures.
As an adult viewer, Dinosaur Train doesn't entertain me as much as Peep does. But Dinosaur Train appeals to kids and the paleontology is accurate. Kids also learn about ecology, animal behavior, adaptations, and hypothesis-testing. A typical episode features two stories, and each adventure is followed by a short talk with “Dr. Scott,” a real-life paleontologist.
Read more about
Dinosaur Train on the PBS KIDS website.
Blues' Clues (specific episodes)
Four stars ****
Probably the worst thing about Blue’s Clue’s is its overuse of the phrase “You’re really smart!” Research suggests that frequent praise can backfire. But that complaint aside, Blue’s Clues is an excellent program. It avoids “fast edits” which might contribute to childhood attention problems. And there are a number of episodes that qualify as preschool science shows. Here are some of them:
• Weight and Balance (Season 3)
• What’s that Sound? (Season 3)
• Animal Behavior! (Season 3)
• Anatomy (Season 3)
• Environments (Season 3)
• Stormy weather (Season 3)
• Let’s Plant! (Season 4)
• The Boat Float (Season 5)
Three and one half stars ***1/2
Emphasis: Everyday math and science; engineering, earth science, health
Not to be confused with the Hollywood feature film, Curious George the TV series is an educational show for kids.
Like Peep, Curious George mixes cartoons and live action demonstrations. Each ten-minute animated story features George making several attempts to solve an everyday problem--e.g., George conducts his own forensic investigation to find out if a cat is to blame for a scratched sofa. Then viewers watch a short video of real kids engaged in a classroom science activity.
Personally, I don’t like Curious George as I much as I like Peep. As entertainment, it seems less imaginative and plays more like a conventional sitcom--one that includes cultural references and that are sure to go over your preschooler’s head. In addition, some of the concepts seem a bit too advanced, and the science activity demonstrations are more likely to involve fancy equipment that you won’t have at home.
But if you have an older preschooler who is done with Peep, Curious George covers lots of topics that you won’t find on other shows.
Go, Diego, Go!
Three stars ***
Emphasis: Animal behavior and ecology
Yes, it’s loud and full of fast edits. Why must Diego yell so much? And compared to other options listed here, Diego is puts much less emphasis on critical thinking skills and the scientific method. But this preschool adventure series is wholesome and--if you are under 5 years of age--entrancing. The animal facts are well-researched and sometimes quite exotic. Where else will preschoolers learn that river dolphins are pink?
More preschool science resources
For a research-based guide to teaching science to preschoolers, check out the
Parenting Science Preschool Science pages.