This is a Nick Jr. cartoon that was very popular with our kids. The music is particularly good.
5 animal friends play together with a different theme (Egypt, under-the-sea, space, cowboy, etc.) each episode. The friends take turns being the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ and the overall tone is very kind and gentle.
It ran from 2004 to 2010 with a total of 80 episodes.
You can watch for free at NickJr.com if you have a cable tv account, and it’s available on amazon’s streaming video service as well. (And they’re all on YouTube too, although you may have to hunt for them.)
We watched a bunch of these on YouTube. They’re corny and dated but the kids loved them. And the old cartoons from the 60s seem so much less violent than those from other decades.
The animation style is pretty simple, so older kids probably won’t be into it. But it has that classic theme song:
“Spiderman, spiderman, does whatever a spider can.
Spins a web, any size, catches thieves, just like flies.
Look out. Here comes the spiderman.”
This is a clever game that got a lot of media attention when it came out, touting its ability to teach STEM concepts, specifically logical thinking.
The box says for ages 4 and up but I don’t think 4-year-olds are able to grasp all the rules of the game, which are a bit complicated even for me. However, once we laid out all the pieces, we came up with all sorts of new games to play and had quite a lot of fun building ‘snow forts’ and taking turns trying to move the ‘lasers’ around in order to melt them.
My son got quite obsessed with the game in fact, even though we had yet to actually play it according to the official rules, and every day for about a week he wanted to play again, until he eventually got tired of it. It sits prominently on a shelf in the living room and we’ll get it down again soon. The reason we haven’t yet is because the rules are complex enough that an adult has to sit with the kids and walk them through each step.
This is based on a book by Mo Willems. None of us were familiar with his stuff until after we got the game, but that didn’t matter.
The box says it’s for ages 3 and up, but the rules are too complicated for our 3-year-old. However, the board and pieces lend themselves to making up new rules and we’ve been able to have fun playing the game even when skipping some of the rules.
The box also says for 2 to 4 players, but it’s not much fun with only 2 players. It’s much better with 4. So I wouldn’t advise this game if it’s just going to be, for example, one parent and one child playing.
The spinner is cheaply made and was sometimes frustrating to spin, but generally the look and feel of the board and pieces are very appealing to children and they wanted to play it as soon as they saw it, even without any understanding of what the rules were.
LEGO has a free magazine that comes out 5 times per year.
In some ways the thing is one huge ad, but the puzzles and activities (mazes, code-breaking, etc.) are pretty fun and our 6-year-old looks forward to it coming in the mail.
The cost is free, but you do have to sign up for a Lego ID, which means giving your email address.
I had never heard of Ask until we got it as a gift. It’s somewhat in the same vein as Ranger Rick, but with a much snarkier tone. There is Marvin, a raccoon character in Ask, but unlike Rick, Marvin is a bit of a jerk.
There are no ads and each issue is a mix of long-form articles and comics.
What is most striking about Ask is the articles are quite deep and detailed. Articles on candy, or explosions, or glass get into the chemistry and physics of the subject with much more detail than is found in most media aimed at adults.
In this digital age, tangible media like postcards and magazines are special for children. I like magazine subscriptions as gifts because they continue being a part of the child’s life for months later.
Ranger Rick Jr. is the version of Ranger Rick for younger kids and comes out 10 times per year. It is published by the National Wildlife Federation and it focuses on animals and nature.
Unlike some media aimed at kids, the tone of Ranger Rick is very gentle and mild and there are no ads for sugary breakfast cereals or whatever.
I remember seeing “A Grand Day Out” at an animation festival around 1990, and then seeing “The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave” a few years later. I was so thrilled by them (not least by the incredible chase scenes toward the end of ‘Trousers’ and ‘Shave’) that I seriously considered animation as a career.
Our kids love these, in particular the first one, “A Grand day Out” in which Wallace and Gromit build a rocket to visit the Moon. We’ve tried to show them more recent Wallace and Gromit adventures such as “A Matter of Loaf and Death” and “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” but they found them to be a bit too scary.
The themes are very much G-rated and are hilarious for both kids and adults.
This was a Christmas gift and a surprise huge hit with the kids. We had it in the car for a long road trip to their grandpa and nana’s house and we ended up playing it over and over and for weeks later. It is one of very few CDs where the kids want to sing along and some of the songs are so catchy that all of us (adults too) often randomly start singing one chorus or another around the house.
More information on the Smithsonian site:
“Twenty-six songs, play-party games, and poems selected from over 200 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and Folkways Records present a panorama of music performed for and by young children. Includes notes, song texts, and a complete list of recordings for children. Well-loved songs and unexpected treasures from Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Langston Hughes, Ella Jenkins, Suni Paz, Pete Seeger, and others.”