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11 children’s TV shows to get you and your kids through self-quarantine

“Ask the Storybots” is a blessing to parents everywhere.
In “Ask the Storybots,” colorful robots investigate questions submitted by real kids, such as, “Why can’t I eat dessert all the time?”
(Adobe After Effects / Netflix)
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With schools closed across the country and millions of parents working from home for the foreseeable future because of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s inevitable that children will consume more television in the coming weeks.

And if your kids spend a lot of quality time with Elmo and friends during the middle of a global pandemic, that’s just fine, says Polly Conway, TV editor at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews and evaluates children’s media.

“We’re all figuring it out in real time,” she says. “Our angle is that we just need to go easy on ourselves right now and kids are going to be OK if they get a little more screen time than normal — or a lot more than normal.”

The goal is to stick to age-appropriate media and, ideally, “to interact with them while they are watching and ask questions,” Conway says, “but we know full well that that might not be possible.”

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Thankfully, there are more high-quality options in TV — and children’s TV in particular — than ever. As Conway puts it: “We’re not going to run out of TV to watch.”

In addition to the classics — do we really need to tell you about “Sesame Street” or, for that matter, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”? — there are dozens of shows available to stream that will occupy your kids’ minds without making you want to gouge out your eyeballs after repeat viewings.

From ‘Storybots’ to ‘Octonauts,’ we round up a dozen TV shows that will keep your kids occupied — without making you pull your hair out in the process.
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Here’s a partial list. Tell us what TV shows your kids are watching while schools are closed in the comments below.

“Ask the Storybots”

Blending live action with an array of animation styles, “Ask the Storybots” follows five colorful robots — one of whom is voiced by Judy Greer — on a mission to investigate questions submitted by real kids: What happens when you flush the toilet? How do people catch a cold? Why can’t I eat dessert all the time? Featuring dangerously catchy songs, accessible yet illuminating explanations of complex ideas, and appearances by celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Christina Applegate, “Ask the Storybots” is a show you can actively push your kids to watch without any guilt.

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Where to stream: Netflix

Xavier 92518 5.png
Brad, Albert Einstein, Yadina and Xavier Riddle in Albert Einstein’s room in “Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum.”
(PBS)

“Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum” / “The Who Was? Show”

These shows take dramatically different but equally appealing approaches to teaching kids about history. In the animated “Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum,” based on the Ordinary People Change the World book series, three friends travel back in time to meet historical figures when they were kids. Care has been taken to choose a range subjects in terms of gender, race and area of expertise (Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou, Amelia Earhart). By focusing on what these heroes were like as kids, the show makes them more accessible while also encouraging children to dream big.

“The Who Was? Show,” a live-action sketch-comedy show based on the Who Was? books, is sillier, more irreverent and a bit older-skewing but just as satisfying. And it will appeal especially to comedy-nerd parents: Andy Daly of “Review” plays the show’s clueless CEO, while H. Jon Benjamin narrates the historical re-creations starring an ensemble of young performers in intentionally ridiculous historical costumes.

Where to stream: “Xavier Riddle”: PBS Kids app, PBS Kids channel on Amazon Prime Video; “The Who Was Show”: Netflix

PBS Kids’ “Molly of Denali” — “Grandpa’s Drum”
“Molly of Denali,” which features a Native American lead character, will particularly appeal to youngsters interested in wildlife and exploration.
(2018 WGBH Educational Foundation)

“Molly of Denali”

This landmark animated series premiered last year and is the first nationally broadcast children’s program in the U.S. with a Native American lead character: Molly, a plucky 10-year-old who lives in an Alaskan village with her parents, who run the local trading post. Made with input from a team of cultural advisors and historians (you can read more about its development here), “Molly of Denali” is a charming show that will appeal to kids with an interest in wildlife and exploring.

Where to stream: PBS Kids app, PBS Kids channel on Amazon Prime Video

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“Octonauts”

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Gee, I wish there were more kids’ shows featuring octopus oceanographers and penguin medics,” then “Octonauts” is for you. This animated series follows a a crew of deep-sea explorers, led by the intrepid Capt. Barnacle. Stationed at a base known as the Octopod and equipped with a fleet of high-tech vehicles, the Octonauts go on rescue and exploratory missions where they encounter all manner of underwater creatures, from colossal squid to sea sponges. After a few episodes, your kids will know for more about marine biology than you. But be warned: You’ll be chanting “Creature report! Creature report!” all day long.

Where to stream: Netflix

‘Odd Squad’
From left, Sean Michael Kyer, Millie Davis, Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo star in “Odd Squad.”
(PBS)

“Odd Squad”

Another great show from PBS, “Odd Squad” is a bit like “The X-Files,” only Scully and Mulder are kids who are good at math. The live-action series follows a group of secret government agents as they investigate unexplained small-town occurrences, like mysterious cold spots and people suddenly turning invisible. Blending suspense, action and comedy, “Odd Squad” is both engaging and educational.

Where to stream: PBS Kids app, PBS Kids channel on Amazon Prime Video

‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’
Cowboy Curtis and Pee-wee from “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”
(Shout Factory / Herman World Inc.)

“Pee-wee’s Playhouse”
If you were an ‘80s kid who spent many hours parked in front of the TV on Saturday mornings — ahem — then chances are you have fond memories of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” the visually inventive, retro-inspired kids’ show starring Paul Reubens. Queue up some episodes and let your kids scream at the secret word and get to know Chairry the talking armchair while you scratch your nostalgia itch. Bonus: See future stars like Laurence Fishburne in early roles (he played Cowboy Curtis).

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Where to stream: Netflix

“Beat Bugs”
“Beat Bugs”
(Netflix )

“Beat Bugs” / “Motown Magic”

Both shows, created by Josh Wakely, are great for music-loving families to enjoy together. In “Beat Bugs,” a group of backyard-dwelling insects go on adventures. Each episode is inspired by a Beatles song, which is performed by the bugs and often interpreted in surprising or clever ways: “I’m a Loser” is used to cheer up a stick insect depressed because everyone mistakes him for a stick. With re-imagined versions of classic songs by The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder, “Motown Magic” is an animated series following an imaginative, kind-hearted eight-year-old boy named Ben who creates vibrant murals on the city streets.

Where to stream: Netflix

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“Too Cute”

If your kid is into animals and cute things, check out this live-action series that originally aired on Animal Planet. Each episode documents a group of newborn creatures — mostly kittens and puppies but also baby skunks and sloths — through the first few weeks of life. Kids will learn about different breeds and species while their tense parents will be soothed by the gentle narration and footage of squirming puppies. It’s a win-win.

Where to stream: Hulu, Animal Planet GO; Animal Planet will also broadcast a marathon from Wednesday to Saturday

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“Creative Galaxy”

For preschool kids and young grade-schoolers interested in art, this animated series is an ideal choice. In each brightly colored episode, a good-natured space alien named Arty channels his creative energies into problem-solving. Kids learn about different techniques and disciplines such as abstract expressionism and pointillism and may even get inspired to do cool projects on their own. Bonus for parents: “Creative Galaxy” features characters voiced by Samantha Bee and Jason Jones.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime Video


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Meredith Blake is an entertainment reporter for the Los Angeles Times based out of New York City, where she primarily covers television. A native of Bethlehem, Pa., she graduated from Georgetown University and holds a master’s degree from New York University.