Real Talk for SAHMs: Children’s Cartoon recommendations

I’d like to start posting some more cheerful practical things and this serves as well as anything.  While it would be lovely to live in a magical fairyland where kids weren’t watching tv or DVDs or smartphones or tablets or laptops, most people, particularly the SAHMs so close to my heart, aren’t likely to be able to have tv-free households for many of their child-raising years.

These are the majority of the cartoons we are ok with our children seeing.  None of them is explicitly Christian, but mostly they do a good job of modelling healthy social orders, gender roles and legitimate authority.

Rolie Polie Olie: a basic family where the father isn’t useless or lacking in respect from wife and children, and where extended family is important.  The episodes we’ve seen show the father playfully engaging with his children without lapsing into treating them like little adults.  It’s a nice light little show for any age.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic— This show is really great.  It’s about healthy friendships and family connections, and about how much better it is to respect lawful authority rather than attempt to subvert it.  Unlike a lot of kid’s cartoons that show the younger heroes undermining or simply not respecting the adults, the teenaged (approximately) mares of MLP:FIM always are respectful to their elders, even the ones who have less magical ability than they do.  Twilight Sparkle, the leader of the group, is perhaps the most powerful individual in the imaginary world of Equestria.  But she treats the comparatively weak (in magic terms) Mayor of her little adopted hometown of Ponyville with the deference accorded to that position.  The show is full of such little details of proper behavior and well-ordered social norms.  It is truly, truly subversive conservative entertainment, particularly the first two seasons.  I know it’s subversive by the number of adults, liberal and conservative, who dismiss it as no different than the latest Disney dreck.  It’s quite different.  The songs are charming as well.  It’s pretty all ages as well.

There was a full-length animated film made that is connected to this series, Equestria Girls.  In that film the ponies are schoolgirls.  It is in plot and tone much in the spirit of the tv series, but unfortunately the outfits for the four main female characters are regrettable (the characters themselves seem almost embarrassed to be in them, frankly).  I only mention this because it is extremely likely to come up when looking for episodes of the show and there were many entirely justified complaints about the wardrobe when the film was originally released.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (cartoon series, not the live-action movie):  This is also a very good children’s cartoon portraying hierarchy and lawful authority.  There are one or two extremely subtle mature moments, but my husband viewed the whole series and could only find them by checking on the TV Tropes website.  They are moments, about 1-2 seconds across the entire series.  Mostly it is a program for younger kids that are about to become pre-teens.  It has good portrayals of friendship and navigating mixed-gender social situations.  Bonus: the good girl doesn’t pursue the bad boy, but through a natural, organic relational progression comes to end up with the good guy.  This show is very good at showing how 10-15 year olds would actually conduct themselves if they also had powers to manipulate the elements of earth magically.  The show really manages to dig into the complexity of possessing great and deadly power without going way over the heads of young children.  It’s not really for kids under 5-6 consistently, it really is more for the 7-10 age range, up to teenagers.  There is a sequel series for teenagers, but it isn’t as good and I don’t really recommend it.

Thomas and Friends:  This is colloquially known as Thomas the Train or Thomas the Tank Engine.  It has had several different incarnations through the years, but it is also wholesomely oriented and is based on a series of children’s books written by a devout Anglican clergyman and his son.  So, not explicitly Christian, but the source material was written by devout Christians and hasn’t in broadcast form shown itself to really be full of anti-authority and anti-hierarchy themes.  It is very much for small (mostly male) children, but charmingly animated.

There’s nothing wrong with explicitly Christian cartoons, but we haven’t pursued that and it was a nice surprise to find anything in the normal run of children’s cartoons that we were comfortable with.  These are ok.  They are moral and represent consistent, coherent social and moral systems.


11 thoughts on “Real Talk for SAHMs: Children’s Cartoon recommendations

  1. I just added Sesame Street to our preschool curriculum, Phineas and Ferb isn’t too bad for 7-12 yr olds, although the older sister can be annoying. I like the innovative quality of the show.

    Daniel Tiger is excellent for under 5, it’s a modern re-make of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.


  2. I forgot about Rolie Polie Olie. My older two used to watch it when they were little. We don’t get that on any of the channels here but I bet if we go to steaming tv from the internet we can find it.

    MLP is a favorite around here for the 4 yr old and I even find my 12 and 14 yr olds being drawn into the story sometimes.

    Good suggestions!


  3. Thanks for the recommendations. I have always been a fan of Thomas the Tank Engine. I used to feel terribly guilty about my kids watching tv. I have come to accept it as the way it is though. I am thankful for the television as silly as that might sound. It is just another way of a SAHM utilizing her resources. And for what it’s worth, I never feel like you sound non cheerful. 🙂


  4. Good recommendations. Our little ones adore the My Little Pony series.

    My older children like the Avatar series. I keep waiting for them to grow out of it, but alas, they are their mother’s children. I still watch cartoons too.


  5. When Angharad was little she loved The Wild Thornberrys – and I have to admit I loved it too. Heck, I still like cartoons too (my favorite was Gargoyles)


  6. The Avatar series, the original one, not the new “Strong Female Character” one out now, was really excellent, definitely one of the best cartoons to come out in a long, long time.

    The first three seasons of Spongebob are classics. I pretend the rest of it doesn’t exist.


  7. Thank you for the suggestions! We are familiar with all of these, for better or worse lol. I try, like Rebekah mentioned, to be thankful for the TV as a resource as well.



  8. Never seen the MLP:FIM but truly enjoyed Avatar: The Last Airbender. Bonus: It’s entertaining for adults too! You will not want to gouge your eyes out with a rusty spoon while watching. I didn’t find Kora nearly as entertaining, and it is far more adult.

    I am bummed that my kids are now too old to look eagerly forward to new Veggie Tales. I still sing, “Oh where is my hairbrush” when I lose mine… :p


  9. PS Rolie Polie Olie is cute! But not on very much, at least when my kids were up and moving (before Netflix). Love Phineas and Ferb too – I think it’s got a great message, even with annoying older sister.


  10. Here in Britain the BBC has a channel called CBeebies, aimed at pre-school children. It has no commercials and all the programs have an educational element, either maths or reading, nature or science, and lots of shows about life skills, lots of positive reinforcement. I think it’s fine to let my three year old watch that.


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