PBSKids.com

This is a site as well as two apps, one for videos and one for games. There are no ads and they are completely free. Just make sure to support your local PBS station, which helps fund them.

The videos and games are or/for characters/shows such as Daniel Tiger, Peg and Cat, Cyberchase, Curious George, and many, many more.

I wasn’t aware until I had kids, but most of these shows are produced in Canada and employ lots of comedians. Martin Short is the voice of Cat in the Hat, Gilbert Gottfried and Christopher Lloyd are voices in Cyberchase, etc.

There is a huge amount of content, all of it good.

PBSKids.com

Where the Wild Things Are

A true classic. The title, phrases such as “let the wild rumpus start”, and the images have become part of the American consciousness. This book is as essential a part of a child’s library as is ‘Goodnight Moon’ or ‘The Cat in the Hat’.

The theme of an angry child who wishes to run away but then returns, seeking the solace of home and a warm bed, is apt for children leaving toddler-hood.

The Monster at the End of This Book

My kids were scared of this book at first and it took a lot of convincing to read it. After they saw the twist ending however, they asked for it over and over, proud that they had conquered their fear. A classic.

An interesting dynamic occurs after the first few pages, when Grover begins begging the reader to not turn the page. Sometimes the kids think we shouldn’t turn the page and just put the book down, honoring Grover’s wishes. And other times they gleefully demand we turn the page even though we’re being asked not to. This gives the kids some agency and a sense of violating the rules, in a harmless way.

This is a fun one to read aloud because Grover gets so emotional and worked up over the course of the story.

Look out for Mater!

This is a little golden book about Lightning McQueen trying to be a good friend to Mater, who has a knack for getting in trouble. It has a good lesson about friendship and following rules, even if the kids aren’t into the movie Cars. My kids never got into the movie, but love the characters and the stories based on them.

My big train book

This is the only book that we have three copies of, one at home and one at each of the kids’ grandfathers’ houses. There’s not much to it, just a bunch of pictures of trains. There is no story, but it’s a book the kids seem to enjoy reading with their grandfathers.

Simply going through the pages, identifying the trains, seems to lead to story telling and good bonding.

Backyardigans

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.)

Dinosaur Train

This is a series run by Jim Henson’s daughter Lisa, who seems to be in charge of at least half of all children’s TV programming these days. You can watch the series for free at PBSKids.com or via the PBS Kids app (also free). Neither the site nor the app has ads either. Just make sure to support your local PBS station.

The show is light-hearted and full of factual information about dinosaurs and prehistoric times (assuming you can ignore the fact that the dinosaurs all speak English, ride in a time-traveling locomotive, and are not constantly trying to eat each other).

There are tons of episodes, available in DVD form. A good bet for any kid who’s really into dinosaurs.

Spiderman 1967 series

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.”