Posts Tagged ‘children’

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5 Best TV Shows on Netflix for Toddlers and Preschoolers

August 28, 2015

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My two oldest children are 4 and 3, and have sampled many of the children’s TV shows on Netflix.  Here are my five favorites of the shows currently available (as of August 2015).

1. Octonauts

This is hands-down my favorite kids show on Netflix right now.  It reminds me of an undersea children’s Star Trek – a team of cute animated animals live together in an underwater station/submarine, and travel around helping marine creatures.  There are two stories in each half-hour episode, and each story features a new sea creature or fish.

I love that the show is NOT centered around interpersonal conflict.  The characters care about each other, help each other, and rescue each other.  Each has a distinct role and personality, too, such as Peso – a Mexican penguin medic who is fearful of everything, but always summons up his courage once he realizes that someone needs help.  There are some moments of (very tame) peril, but even scary sea creatures like sharks are animated in a cute, harmless way and their voracious hunger is played for humor rather than fright.

And at the end of every episode is an adorable, fun theme song called the “Creature Report” which recaps everything they learned about the featured sea creature (along with a photo or video clip of the real-life animal).  My son, especially, has retained a lot of what he’s learned from this show.

Potential cons for some parents may be: occasional use of burps for humor’s sake, and some talk of “ghosts” and “monsters” (which of course always turn out to be perfectly normal sea creatures).

2. The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That

This is essentially The Magic School Bus for the toddler set!  In each story, two neighbor kids named Sally and Mick find a new conundrum to solve, and the Cat in the Hat shows up to whisk them away in his “Thing-A-Ma-Wigger,” a contraption that – like the Magic School Bus – can transform itself in all kinds of ways.  (They always get their mothers’ permission before leaving, too, which is a nice change from the Dr. Seuss books where things are done behind the mom’s back.)  They learn about animals, habitats, insects, and sometimes processes like how chocolate is made.  At the end of each episode is a random collection of animal facts and songs.

Potential cons: I can’t even think of any, except for the extreme catchiness of the theme song, which can be a bit annoying at times! 😛

3. Curious George

The Curious George show is very different from the books.  I have a major beef with the books – he always disobeys and makes all kinds of trouble, but never gets any consequences and is portrayed as a hero by the end!  But the TV show is NOT like this.  George still gets into mischief, but we see him try to right his mistakes and get reprimanded for them, and he always realizes that what he did comes with consequences to the other people around him.  By the end of each story things are made right again, and rather than learning he can get away scot-free, George has actually learned the importance of listening and staying out of trouble.  The result is that the show is a just a sweet, cute romp through an adventuresome monkey’s life as he learns new facts about the world around him.  It’s all about learning and exploration.

Potential cons: sometimes George imagines people crying in response to whatever trouble he made.  These “thought bubble” scenes (and other scenes where George or side characters are afraid) are disturbing to my son, who is rather sensitive to characters’ emotions.  I doubt most children would have a problem with it, but it’s a con for me.

4. Stella and Sam

This show wins the prize for “sweetest!”  It’s about a big sister who leads her brother in fun imaginary adventures, using ordinary, everyday things like leaf piles, sweaters, chairs, and rainbows.  It’s a very gentle, happy show that portrays and models kindness and affection toward your siblings, which I greatly appreciate.

Potential cons: unless you are opposed to discussion of imagination and pretend “magic,” I really can’t think of any!

5. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

There is a lot to like in this show.  It’s modeled after Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, except it’s about an animated tiger and his family and friends.  It’s like Mr. Rogers meets Blue’s Clues (which is not on Netflix – but it is free for streaming on Amazon Prime, if you’re looking for another great kids’ show and you are a Prime member!).

Every episode follows Daniel through a new experience, situation, or adventure…picking strawberries, going to the doctor, first day of school, trying new foods, first sleepover, etc.  One of my favorite things is that each episode teaches a short, simple song to help kids remember things like saying please, keeping your temper, or what to do when you’re afraid.  These are simple, helpful ditties that might actually help kids cope with new situations or unpleasant emotions.  There are also frequent interludes about using your imagination, in which Daniel imagines inanimate objects coming alive to sing with him.  At the end of every segment is a live-action portion with a child experiencing whatever Daniel did during the story.

Potential cons: again, unless you are opposed to the hefty use of imagination, there’s not much to critique here.  There are some episodes about fear, which might be something to consider if you have a sensitive child like my son.

A few short reviews of other shows you might check out:

Chuggington – This show follows a team of anthropomorphic trains who are “trainees” (get it?) learning to do their jobs.  There are lots of episode themes like responsibility, following directions, including others, and so forth.  Recommended!

 

Magic School Bus – This show is great, but it’s better for the older set, who will get more out of it.  There are also a few episodes I prefer to skip at this point because they focus on haunted houses or I’m concerned about other aspects of the content.  When my kids are a little older I’ll love it for them!  If you have a more advanced or older preschooler, this is still a great show to check out for them.

Mighty Machines – This is a cool show that just uses live footage of construction vehicles and adds voice-over vocals to make them talk about what they do.  A new type of machine is featured in each episode.  I’ve found my son adores this show but my daughters are disinterested.

Thomas the Tank Engine – I suppose most of us are familiar with Thomas.  It’s not a bad show!  Aside from some grumpy or ill-tempered characters, and the occasional supposed “ghost” (which isn’t real) I don’t know of many cons for it, but my kids don’t find it incredibly engaging.  They rarely ask for it.  Worth checking out especially for a younger toddler boy who loves trains.

Kipper – This animated show about a dog and his friends is very, very tame and quiet.  It’s visually minimalist, with quiet British voices.  I would like it more if it were not for the strange obsession with aliens…  For some reason every other episode is about Kipper encountering something that came from space, with spooky music.  Also, I’m pretty sure there are some episodes with a ghost.  I’m not a huge fan.  (Also, Netflix lumps the episodes into hour-long collections, rather than bite-size episodes by themselves.)

Clifford – My daughter asks to watch this occasionally. The characters can be so catty, and all the lessons it teaches are about doing the right thing – which, of course, means that they show the characters doing the wrong thing first, a concept that can be great for older viewers but for toddlers just seems like a great way to teach them bad behavior.  It’s not my favorite show.

Sofia the First – I saw a few episodes of this at a car dealership once.  They’re cute stories, but like Clifford, characters can be very catty and mean to each other (no need for my kids to learn that sort of behavior), and there was also an evil magician who was portrayed in a way I wasn’t comfortable with.

Trotro – The first time I saw an episode of this, the donkey was hiding his food under his napkin so he could go outside to play faster. Thanks for teaching my kids that cool new trick, Trotro!  Bye forever. *clicks back to main menu* 😛 There are so many cute shows for kids – I don’t want to spend time on TV that teaches my children new ways to misbehave.

Bob the Builder – Cute animated show about an architect/builder and his team of anthropomorphic construction vehicles.  Some shows have live-action segments with real builders, explaining how they construct homes, train tracks, or other structures.  Most of these on Netflix are “collections” of episodes, so they are over an hour long each, but definitely worth checking out, especially if your child is into construction vehicles.

LeapFrog educational videos – There are several of these short movies on Netflix, so it’s kind of like a short TV show season and worth including here.  They teach skills like counting, math, letters, and phonics.  The older ones are a bit annoying (terribly corny dialogue and music), but the newer ones with the digital animation style are much better.

Do you know of any other good shows for toddlers and preschoolers that can be streamed online?  Let us know in the comments!

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When God Gives You Darkness

August 27, 2015

Oh, oh, here we go
Welcome to the show
Lights shining, so blinding
From our head to our toes
When this room blacks out
You know we will stand out
So come on, oh
We’re gonna glow!

– “Glow” by Britt Nicole

Children love glow sticks.  Actually, adults love glow sticks too.  (At least I do…I still count as an adult, right?)

And what’s the first thing kids do with a glow stick?

They run into the darkest room in the house and shut the door so they can see how bright it is.

In broad daylight, the glow is faint – if visible at all.  But in the dark, you can fully see the glorious illumination.  It’s a beacon, a reading lamp, a thing of beauty.

Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this.

This little light of mine

I’m gonna let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Fellow Christian, you’re a glow stick.  You have the light of Christ inside of you.  You are His temple and His workmanship.  But how could the world see your glow, if you always shone in the noonday of perfect peace and ease?  How could your faith grow stronger, if it was never held against the night?

Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” – Job 1:7-11

Sometimes for reasons we can’t comprehend, God sends us into the deep, dark closet and shuts the door.  Sometimes he lets Satan take us there.

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

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How many stories of martyrs have you heard, where the darkness was great but their faith only grew and the gospel spread like wildfire?  Where they sang hymns while the flames licked their feet or prayed in power as the waves rolled over their heads?

God never lets the darkness or the devil steal His glory.  They can’t snuff His light out.  They can only provide contrast.

Sometimes God brings us darkness so that we might learn His light…but sometimes He sends us into the dark so we might shine His light in a way we could not do in the sunshine.

Put it under a bushel?  NO!

That song is supposed to be about children proclaiming their witness, but it might just as well be God singing about his own little lights that he has sent as ambassadors into the world – because we don’t light ourselves, He lights us.  And God never puts His light under a bushel.  Rather, He displays it high.

“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” – Luke 8:16

Maybe this is why sin is on the increase, persecution is rising, and stocks are falling.  Perhaps this is why the world looks so dark to many believers today.  Contrast.

This world is a dark place, and God is filling it with lampposts.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16

If He’s brought you into a dark place, perhaps He is holding you aloft against the night, a tool to shine His glory more brightly against the black.  Maybe He’s proving your faithfulness to the devil.  Maybe He’s proving His faithfulness to you.
Hold fast.  There will come a time for a new world with no darkness at all.  And for now, the light shines in the darkness even brighter than in the day – and the darkness will not overcome it.
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When God Says “As You Wish”

July 2, 2015

Last week I was chatting with a friend about parenting struggles.  She has a child who had gotten addicted to TV, and she had to do the hard work of cutting back screen time.  Not only was it upsetting to the child, but it was hard on Mom too!  Now she has to entertain the child during the time that was spent on TV before, or put up with the whining of a child who wishes they were being entertained instead of having to entertain themselves.

Parenting is hard! we agreed.  Challenging a child means challenging ourselves too.  It means putting aside our wants (peace and quiet, me-time) to help a child get over an idol or a disobedience issue.

And that got me thinking.

Most of us are familiar with that iconic line from The Princess Bride:

That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish”, what he meant was, “I love you.”

I definitely don’t deny the sweetness of that line (my husband and I sometimes say, “As you wish,” to each other!), and I don’t deny the beauty and practical love of deferring to others and serving them.

BUT.

That kind of deferential love can only go so far.

As parents, if we love our children, we can’t tell them “as you wish” for everything.  There are times we have to do the hard stuff: take away privileges, discipline them, limit screen time, let them make mistakes so they can learn.  We have to put them to bed even though they’d rather stay up all night, and feed them their vegetables even though they’d rather dine on sugar all day.

A parent who rolls over and says, “As you wish,” to every whim and demand of their child is not a loving parent, but a neglectful and lazy one.

He who spares his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.

– Proverbs 13:24

While there’s debate over whether the “rod” in this text is meant to be literal or metaphorical, the basic point is clear to people of all parenting styles – love disciplines.  Love sets aside my wants and needs, my mushy desire to never confront my child, my laziness, and the inclination to let things slide.  I have to get off my backside and intervene when my oldest is bullying the baby.  I have to take the time to talk to my daughter about her attitude instead of merely placating her wishes in hopes that she’ll stop whining.  Love doesn’t always give them what they wish, but rather sets aside what I wish in order to give them what they need.

Similarly…

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. – C.S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce”

God does not always say, “As you wish,” to His beloved children.  That is what He says to those He does not love.  And that is a frightening thought!  Those who happily go their own way, besotted with their sin, are those who are condemned to destruction, those who are hearing God’s, “As you wish.”

Those who go through trials, their desperate faith tested and stretched again and again, may wonder why God hates them so – but in reality, He is giving them His very best, not what they wish, but what He he knows they need.

You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. – Deuteronomy 8:5

And maybe it would have been easier for God to let us slide, wash His hands of us, and say, “As you wish.  Throw my law to the wind.  I’m done bothering with you.”

But He made us.  He knows what’s best for us, and what we were made for – and it’s Himself, and beauty, wholeness, and truth.  He cannot sit idly by while we twist His law and destroy one another and leave Him forever.  So he did something harder than any human parent will ever have to do – God left the peace and joy of heaven, entered this sin-soaked world as a Man, and suffered and died so that He could buy us back for Himself.

He gave Himself for me, so that I can have the strength in Him to confront my children’s sin – and my own.

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Why I Didn’t Always Love Jesus

May 8, 2014

Church_clip_art_hightWhen I was three years old, I hid inside a closet and prayed to “ask Jesus into my heart”, as they say.  It’s probably my earliest memory.  By the time I was ten, I recognized that my conversion had not included a confession of my sin or a desire for forgiveness, so I sought salvation a second time out of a desire to be more “correct”.  However, looking back on my childhood, I firmly believe that God heard the prayer of that tiny girl in the closet.  Salvation doesn’t come from an impeccable grasp on soteriology.  It comes from God, opening a sinner’s eyes to their need for Him and hearing their humble prayer. Maybe I didn’t know exactly why I needed Jesus, at that tender age, but I knew that I needed Him in my heart.

From then on, I have called on the Lord, looked to the cross for my salvation, and known the Spirit to be working in my heart.

But for many years, I did not love Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loved God.  I wanted to serve Him and learn more about Him.  But Jesus?  For the second Person of the Triune God I felt very little interest, except being grateful for Him for dying for my sins.  I even avoided His given name as much as possible, preferring to call Him by less personal titles like “Christ” or “the Savior”.  To this day, the name “Jesus” does not roll very naturally off my lips…that wonderful Name above all names!

It makes my heart ache, because by now I have grown to truly know, and deeply love, and passionately adore Him above all others.

Why did it take me so long?

This week I came across a quote that stopped me in my tracks:

‘The Hobbit’ was written in what I should now regard as bad style, as if one were talking to children. There’s nothing my children loathed more. They taught me a lesson. Anything that in any way marked out ‘The Hobbit’ as for children instead of just for people, they disliked – instinctively. I did too, now that I think about it. All this ‘I won’t tell you any more, you think about it’ stuff. Oh no, they loathe it; it’s awful. Children aren’t a class. They are merely human beings at different stages of maturity. All of them have a human intelligence which even at its lowest is a pretty wonderful thing, and the entire world in front of them. – J.R.R. Tolkien

When I read that I was stunned.  Finally, I could put into words why I had snubbed Jesus for so many years.

Because it wasn’t actually JESUS I was trying to avoid!

It was Kid-Friendly Jesus.

The “Jesus Loves the Little Children” Jesus.  The cartoon Jesus with the silly grin.  The “do unto others” Jesus who only seemed to care about people being sugary-nice to each other.  He was boring, sappy, insipid.  Who would follow a Savior like that?

Apparently, people think that children will.

I disliked Jesus because He was the guy children were supposed to like.  We were supposed to sing exuberant praises to Him, while being taught lots about His niceness and little about His power.  While adults worshipped in “real” church, we went to kid-appropriate classes to have everything dumbed down for us.  We didn’t even pray to God the Father (like the true Jesus instructed us to pray).  We were taught to pray to “Dear Jesus”, as if God the Father was too busy to care for the prayers of babies, but Kid-Friendly Jesus would listen.  He was a Big Deal, but aside from, “He died for you!  And He LOVES you!  Isn’t that GREAT, kids?”, we were given few compelling reasons why we should be so excited about Him.  How did He love us? Sure, He did miracles long ago, but what did that have to do with us?

I’m not blaming any particular Sunday school teacher.  And certainly not my parents!  Much of my own personal attitude toward Christ came from my sinful nature, not developed entirely out of over-exposure to sappy caricatures of Him.  I don’t have clear memories of when Kid-Friendly Jesus was taught to me, or by whom.  It’s really an attitude and a feeling, a way of interacting with children that is church-wide and pervasive.

In mainstream Christianity, kids are often treated like a separate class of slightly-dumber people.  There are “Children’s Bibles” with bubbly illustrations and little mention of sin, full of moralistic lessons that kids need to learn.  There are “Children’s Worship Songs” that no Christian adult could stand to sing or listen to because they are silly, devoid of meaning, or poorly written.  Most big churches have “Children’s Church”.  I have even heard of some churches that won’t allow little ones into their “adult” services.  There is no place for them there.  No place for children!  I think the true Jesus would object.

Can you imagine if a church had a separate Old People’s Church?  Asian Church?  Women’s Church?  Church for Those with Disabilities?  What if these services were complete with badly-drawn illustrations to make sure everything was as obvious as possible, and songs designed specifically for that sub-category of humans?  It would be insulting and demeaning, and simply wrong.  I am thankful that in our own church family, all are welcome, young and old, to the public worship of God. This has been true of every church my family has been a part of, but is especially true in the Reformed churches we have joined since shifting away from Evangelicalism. In the first church where I grew up, children stayed for worship but left for the sermon until 5th-6th grade, and honestly I do understand that approach. Sermons are long and kids fidget and don’t always understand the whole thing. But I wonder what my life, thoughts, and spiritual walk would be like now, had I heard deep, serious, biblical sermons even from my young childhood. It might have radically shaped me! Personally I don’t remember becoming serious in my faith until I was of an age to sit in for the sermon – not what a young child likes to do, but so important. I’m glad my children have that blessing now.

Perhaps I am being overly harsh here.  There is definitely value in simplifying things for little ones, and there’s nothing wrong with unique music or stories specially crafted to capture the attention of young ears.  (Ideally these things will appeal to adults as well!  I think a good rule of thumb is that if an adult can’t stand it, it’s not fit for children either.  Bad art benefits no one.)  But once you get past a certain age, it becomes very easy to see the adult world talking down at you, instead of talking with you like they would with each other.

By the grace of God, I have seen the beauty and power of Jesus.  It took years of listening to faithful preaching from the Word of God, and the more eager study of His four gospels I have done as an adult.

Perhaps I am an odd case.  But if the church continues to dumb down Jesus to children, preaching a smiling Savior of Niceness in a special Children’s Church for the Simple, it grieves me to think that there may be many others like me, who do not see His true beauty for years…or maybe never, because Kid-Friendly Jesus inspires little love.

Children aren’t a separate class.  Let’s trust their intelligence, their natural curiosity.  Let’s beg God to work in their hearts, not beg them to “work” for their salvation with a sinner’s prayer.  Let’s not drag enthusiasm out of them, but rather show them our own awe and wonder for the beautiful Prophet, Priest, and King who loves, saves, and rises again from the grave.

But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great. – Mark 10:14 (ESV)

Can you relate?  Even if you grew up in the church did it take you a long time to truly love your Savior?  Why do you think that is?  I love to hear my readers’ thoughts.