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Films for children ages 2~5

I would like to suggest here a list of videos that we allow our children to watch. In dialogue with other parents and teachers, I have come to realise that my list is more stringent than most (among both secular and religious).


Young children have a slower processing speed than adults, and require adequate context (background information) to understand plot and dialogue. I personally believe it is possible to, superficially, give children context through film. Superficially, because this medium engages only two of our senses. It is important, however, that even in giving children context, we pay attention to the scaffolding of knowledge. Film can be very effectively used to illustrate concepts or questions that we have. I would, however, strongly suggest we carefully control this medium as a means to answer questions, so that the written word can still hold attraction for a child. Our challenge as adults is to allow children to feel enough mental hunger, with just-right resources, so that their natural inclination to learn can be optimised.

Pacing is also extremely important. It is possible for a young child to appear entranced, and say they enjoy a film, without being aware of the plot and thereby derive meaningful benefit to them.

I believe that this list is mostly adequate for children throughout their preschool years (2 ~6 years old), particularly as young children enjoy the comforts of watching the same videos over and over again. In our family, we only let children watch videos on the weekends, for 30 minutes each time, 2 times a day. We are also flexible in reducing the time each day if the kids are having fun, and sometimes mixing it up with doing boardgames, making something, or puzzles together instead.

Please note that I still do not recommend any videos for children under two years old, despite recent APA change.

The following is roughly listed by order of introduction. Also, as a Montessorian, I try to minimize fantasy for this age group because it is difficult for children this age to distinguish between fantasy and reality. A good grounding in real things is also vital to children’s imaginations later on. However, it is very difficult. I would always suggest watching something yourself before allowing your child to see it. I do not necessarily follow what is politically correct, even though most of the films here happen to be, because children do not necessarily focus on what the adults see. My focus is pacing, understanding, relate-ability, comfort, low-stimulation, and (mostly) accurate information for this age group.

  1. Le Ballon Rouge : a mostly wordless story of a young boy and his magical balloon in post WWII Paris.
  2. Petit D’Ours Brun: French, a brown bear and his family. Very relate-able to a young child’s daily life close to home. Each episode lasting only 3 minutes
  3. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood: Repetition and pacing, on topics that matter to young children. There are whole essays written on the lovableness of Mr. Roger’s philosophy.
  4. Go Outside by Cbeebies: slightly similar to the above. All reality based.
  5. Thomas the Tank Engine: I recommend the first series. Also The End of the Line which talks about how trains work. I allowed the children to watch End of the Line before we started with Thomas.
  6. : some real gems here of oral story telling. Particularly the older the actor the better they perform. I am also fond of audiobooks for road trips.
  7. Mr. Wizard: Science experiments. I do not recommend Bill Nye the Science Guy for this age group.
  8. : Canadian National Film Board. A lot of treasures to look for.
  9. National Geographic: I recommend getting the DVDs instead of channel. Their recent programs are often too hyper and convey less information.
  10. Scholastic Storybook Treasures: DVDs, a lot are very well produced from classic story books.
  11. Studio Ghibli’s – My neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. All of the rest should be reserved for elementary or adolescence.
  12. Miniscule – animated insects doing things. Cute, but not vital.
  13. Old fashioned musicals: So far we have watched Merry Andrews, and Oliver! (1968) – though I may skip part of the ending until elementary. The music made a big impression on the children. The Sound of Music is also adequate.
  14. Frozen – I have not found anything objectionable in this one. It is a lovely surprise.
In talking to various friends and acquaintances who share my educational philosophy, it appears that my view of acceptable imagery for children may be more stringent than most. A great deal of this is attributed to my own memories of TV watching when my father was getting his Masters in the US (between ages 4~7 years old) – how it made me feel, how much I actually comprehended, which parts I enjoyed…etc. It is possible to examine them closely because some of the videos I watched I have only viewed again much later, like now as an adult, and so I am quite sure that the memories of the experience have not been changed through repeated viewings as I matured. As long as I remember, my parents had never had cable TV, and around the time I was in middle school, my parents cut off access to television completely. This has been extremely conducive towards my being forced to create my own amusements and content – through reading, writing and crafting. But this is another story.
If you talk to Montessori teachers, many of them will recommend very little to no TV watching at home. Montessori teachers who have young children of their own, however,will often have them watch things. The fact of life is that we are often so busy, and there are so many media options for us as adults to consume, that we rarely screen children’s media or watch it ourselves before giving it to our children.

Susan Sontag has theorized that photography desensitizes its audience to horrific human experiences, and children are exposed to experiences before they are ready for them. I would argue that movies have an even more surreptitious effect – for they present images so quickly, and often in such an authoritative manner, that disturbances rarely allow for adequate processing to articulate. The fact that some children do not present with maladjustment immediately prior to an imagery experience does not, as many sensitive parents and caregivers well know, imply that it has not bothered them .

Meghan Owenz states in a post here:

Some shows for young children attempt to teach children valuable social lessons, such as the importance of honesty. But your child will likely learn social lessons better from you.  One study found that children sometimes come away with the opposite “lesson,” thinking a solution is to lie as opposed to tell the truth. In the study, children were more like to remember the conflict or struggle over lying, but not the solution.11 Because children cannot consistently understand the difference between fantasy and reality until after age 6, the conflict may be more salient to them. It is like a threat and their brain directs more resources towards it, making it likely that they will remember that conflict.

Much older research from 1978 had previously found that when prosocial content is mixed with violence or conflict, children focused on the antisocial components like violence more than outcomes or messages associated with the violence.12 A meta-analysis of previous studies found that when children were shown prosocial content with violence or conflict, there was an association with negative behavioral outcomes.13 The take-home: When there is scary, threatening or violent conflict, that is what children pay attention to and remember, often at the expense of remembering the consequences or solutions.

Would be interested to hear of other ones you recommend!

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