Quality Television Shows that Focus on Early Literacy

By NCLD Editorial Staff

With the winter months upon us there is a good chance you will be spending a lot more of your time indoors. For those with preschool and kindergarten-aged children, additional indoors time means finding new ways for making the most of the time you have together. Today's educational television programming is a great option for caregivers like you who are looking for ways to spend quality time with children, or for the times when you need to give choices for what your children can watch when you step away. So, grab a cup of hot chocolate, curl up on the couch, and settle in for some special time with loveable characters, catchy songs and new learning activities to keep you and your child giggling and learning whenever the television is turned on.

While the long-term effects of television viewing in the early years are often up for debate, pediatricians and researchers can agree that young children who watch television need supervision and guidelines for the amount of television to which they are exposed and the types of shows they can access. Young children are constantly in the process of developing their ability to understand information and make sense of what is real and what is pretend. Exposing children to developmentally inappropriate information and images on television can leave them feeling confused, frightened or upset. This is why choosing appropriate television shows for your children is a critical element of their development. The good news is, watching developmentally appropriate programming with your children can have many positive benefits (bonding between caregiver and child, the introduction of new vocabulary words, exploring new places together, etc.). Thankfully, there are lots of exceptional television shows for young children that are fun and engaging and that can help children build their early literacy skills along the way.

To make finding shows easier for you (and to help visiting grandparents, babysitters and friends) you might consider printing out local show times of your favorite shows and leaving them near the family television for easy access. In addition, all of the shows we recommend have companion Web sites that you can visit with your child. These Web sites are stocked with free games, learning activities, songs and additional information on your favorite characters and programs. Posting the Web site addresses near the family computer will help ensure that fun and learning continues after the television is turned off. Below you'll find a few of our favorite shows.

64 Zoo Lane

64 Zoo Lane is an animated series developed to introduce children to new vocabulary and foster a love of language through interesting characters and storytelling. Developed for children ages 4-6, this program provides children and adults with many opportunities to explore how language is used and uses problem-solving techniques to explore new vocabulary. Each 30-minute episode takes the viewers along as the main character, Lucy, visits her neighborhood zoo after hours, when all the animals are eager to share their stories. 64 Zoo Lane's web site offers free video, printable coloring pages, and a schedule of when to view the show on the PBS Kids Sprout network.

Between the Lions

Since its launch, Between the Lions has been embraced by young children, educators and parents as a playful spot to build literacy skills. Developed by several members of the original creative team of Sesame Street, Between the Lions is designed to foster literacy skills in young children between 4-7 years-old. Based on a family of lions who live in a library, this show gives children many of the experiences they need to be successful readers when they enter school.

Each 30-minute show revolves around the cast of characters in the library as they discover the power and pleasure connected to reading and storytelling. The show introduces early literacy elements like the sounds letters make and rhyming as well as fluency, sight words and early phonics. Between the Lions is broadcast through your local PBS stations. In addition, the Between the Lions website is a great place to visit with your child to practice early literacy skills. On the Between the Lions web site you'll find early literacy games, past episodes, curriculum information for educators and caregivers as well as learning activities.

Jack's Big Music Show

Jack's Big Music Show was developed to help children develop an appreciation for the music and sounds that surround them. How does music appreciation connect to early literacy skill development? When children learn about music, they are also picking up vital skills that will assist them in their early literacy skill development. Understanding of music principles helps children learn to develop their listening skills, learn new vocabulary, identify rhyming sounds and repetition and differentiate environmental sounds - all skills that are crucial to early literacy development. Each 30-minute program walks 3-6 year-olds through Jack's world of music-loving friends and neighbors in his backyard clubhouse. Tune in to get your preschooler up and moving as well as learning about music and sounds.

This show is broadcast on Nick Jr. Visit Jack's Big Music Show Web site to learn more about this show and connect with show-specific activities and games. This channel is available on digital cable and satellite networks across the country; check your provider for local times.


Maisy is the friendly, preschool-aged mouse who is the star of her own animated series. This 30-minute program teaches viewers about story structure, builds an appreciation for language, and finds ways to explore the alphabet as a vehicle to promote early literacy. Developed for children between 4-6 years-old, this program contains a lively cast of animal friends that Maisy interacts with as she explores her world. Visit Maisy's Fun Club online to learn more about the show and get free games, online books, and activities.

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood debuted in 1967 as a new type of television show for children between the ages of 2-5 years-old. This show teaches young children about themselves and the world around them by introducing them to real people and make-believe characters as a way to teach life lessons. What sets this show apart from others in this category is the way the host, Fred Rogers, patiently and calmly helps very young children begin to understand the world around them through stories and new experiences. Through these stories and experiences children are learning fundamental skills they will need for their early literacy. Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood promotes skills like listening, understanding the beginning, middle and end of a story, as well as predicting what will happen next.

Each episode is 30-minutes in length and is connected to a weekly theme. The themes for each week connect to structured, developmentally appropriate topics for young children like: understanding feelings, sharing, cooperation, diversity, self-esteem and imagination. The show begins with the host welcoming viewers into his home to learn about experiences in the real world. Then, viewers take a trip to the Land of Make-Believe where the theme of the show is reinforced through new characters and stories. Finally, viewers return to the real world and have a chance to say good-bye. Predictable and engaging, this program is a wonderful way to introduce young children to television viewing. Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood is broadcast through PBS stations across the country. Check your local listings for show times. The Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood Web site includes additional information about the show as well as extension activities.

Reading Rainbow

Reading Rainbow was developed to promote the love of books and reading as to well as establish positive reading habits, skills and attitudes. Developed for children between 4-8 years-old, Reading Rainbow remains a favorite with children and caregivers because of its fresh, fast-paced approach to storytelling and books with a mix of social and cultural topics.

Each 30-minute show is set up in a "magazine format," hosted by LeVar Burton, with segments that include a story read by guest readers, recommendations for books to read by young children, and interviews with children on a wide range of social issues. Reading Rainbow is broadcast through PBS stations across the country. Check your local listings for show times. Visit the Reading Rainbow web site for free tools and games, including an iPad/iPhone app that helps children and their parents discover quality books.

Sesame Street

Since 1969, Sesame Street has remained the gold standard for children's television programming. Sesame Street was designed to help children transition from home to school by introducing the alphabet and numbers through interesting characters, songs and stories. One of the many elements of Sesame Street's success is their commitment to keeping the shows developmentally appropriate based on the most recent research, and also sensitive to cultural and social differences. This winning formula has garnered the show unparalleled respect and admiration in the field.

Each 60-minute show is backed by a curriculum, which is grounded in years of research and continuous work with educational experts. Through this work with teachers, researchers, and parents, Sesame Street continues to evolve, growing with the needs of today's children and their caregivers. Each episode is stocked with reasoning games, sounding out letters and words, counting, pattern recognition and other important early literacy and math skills appropriate for children ages 4-7 years old. Sesame Street is broadcast through PBS stations across the country. Check your local listings for show times. You can also access local show times, learning games and additional activities connected to the show on the Sesame Street Web site.

In order to become an educated consumer of children's programming, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with tips and guidelines for choosing appropriate programming for children of different ages. For more information on recommended television programming and tips for watching television with your children, please visit the following Web sites:


Suggested Tip!

Read Books New Ways

Does it feel like you’ve read the same story 100 times? Read it a new way: Ask the child questions about what they think will happen next and encourage them to tell you what they see in the illustrations.
Learn more >
Instant Boost AI