Gentle Films and Television Programs for Young Children

In an ideal world, young children (under 7 years old) would have zero screen time. Unfortunately, in the real world, there are sometimes circumstances that are out of our zone of parental control. For example:

  • Joint custody situations where the other parent does not share your views on limited media use.
  • Grandparents and other family members that do not see the harm in letting the children watch cartoons.

In the two situations above, it is better to send the child with a DVD of their favorite show (approved by you) and focus your efforts on trying to explain the need for a limit on the amount of screen time. If they are aged 4-6, you might also try sending them with audiobooks on cd and a small cd player.

There are several screen-free story players on the market now but I haven’t seen them in person and don’t know what kind of stories they include. It might be something worth looking into, especially if you can find one that allows you to record your own stories.

What about a situation where the caregiver is sick in bed, there is no one else to help care for the child, and they need to keep the child safe, occupied, and close by? Three and four-year-olds often do not want to play on their own or will not do so for very long. Letting your child watch an hour or even two hours of a gentle program, preferably while sitting next to you, is not going to damage them for life.

I’m not going to list every possible situation here. This post is not meant to make you feel guilty about letting young children watch a limited amount of television. I have done it myself. But let’s think carefully about what kinds of images we allow our children to absorb through the screen. The idea for this list is for you to have some programs picked ahead of time instead of trying to find something on YouTube which is a minefield of trash and advertisements that you would not want your child to be watching.

Important: If your children attend a Waldorf school or regularly play with other Waldorf kids (or other screen-free families), nobody is going to be happy if you let your young child watch the latest Hollywood superhero or toy-based film. Your child will bring that film into their play and talk about it with the other children who will of course be interested. You might not think that it is any of their business but this is just the way it is. I’m still mad at the family that let their 7-year-old child watch a very inappropriate horror film and then their child told my then 6-year-old all about it. We don’t play with that family anymore.

My top picks for young children:

  • Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – This series was aimed at children aged 3 to 5. Slow-paced and quiet. Mr. Rogers talks about everyday things in a child’s life. A segment of the show is the Neighborhood of Make-Believe where puppets interact with human characters and work out a problem or situation related to the episode’s theme. Available on DVD and Prime Video.

  • Little Bear – Ages 3 plus. Animated series based on the books by Else Holmelund Minarik about a young grizzly bear living in a house in the woods with his parents. Little Bear goes on small adventures with his other animal friends and a human friend named Emily. The colours of the animation are soft and soothing to the eyes. Most episodes revolve around gentle themes. The only possible upsetting episode that I remember from this series is season 2, episode 9: “Lucy’s Okay”, where Emily’s doll gets sat on by Duck and they hold a pretend funeral for her before deciding that she is okay after all.

  • The World Of Peter Rabbit & Friends – This is the animated series that was shown on BBC between 1992 and 1998. This is not the Peter Rabbit series that was shown on Nick Jr. in 2012.

Suggestions from other Waldorf parents:
I have not viewed all of these suggestions.

  • Tumble Leaf
  • Kipper the Dog
  • Bear in the Big Blue House – produced by Jim Henson. Took a quick look at this and it seems to have about the same level of excitement/stimulation as Sesame Street.
  • Stella and Sam
  • Puffin Rock
  • Krtek – This is a Czech cartoon about a little mole but there is very little dialogue. I have not seen all the episodes but the ones I have seen were pretty innocent.

Film Suggestions:

  • Frog and Toad Are Friends (1985)
  • Frog and Toad Together (1987)
  • The Snowy Day – 39 minutes. Available on Amazon Prime.
  • Mary Poppins – 1964 version only. I would not purchase this for a 3 or 4-year-old to watch but I also would not be bothered if they were watching it with an older sibling. My own children watched this around age 6. I did not show them the 2018 film, Mary Poppins Returns, as there is a rather vulgar, vaudville type song that put me off of the movie entirely.

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