When we think back to our childhoods, many of us fondly remember the hours spent in front of the TV, engrossed in an “old PBS kids show.” These shows were more than just a way to pass time; they were a cornerstone of our early learning experiences. PBS, known for its educational content, offered a plethora of programs that were both entertaining and instructive, playing a crucial role in shaping young minds.

The importance of these old PBS kids shows in children’s learning cannot be overstated. They were ingeniously crafted to blend education with entertainment, ensuring that the concepts taught were not only understood but also retained by their young audience. From the adventures in “The Magic School Bus” that made science exhilarating, to the life lessons in “Arthur” about empathy and friendship, each show was a journey into new worlds of knowledge and understanding.

These shows were particularly special because they made learning accessible and appealing to a diverse range of learners. Whether it was through the playful antics of “Sesame Street” characters teaching literacy and numeracy, or the environmental education subtly woven into “The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon,” these programs reached children in a way that traditional education sometimes could not. They sparked curiosity, encouraged creativity, and nurtured a love for learning that many of us carry into adulthood.

Moreover, the old PBS kids shows were ahead of their time in promoting inclusivity and cultural diversity. Series like “Maya and Miguel” and “Sesame Street” were pioneers in representing a variety of cultures and lifestyles, helping young viewers appreciate and understand the diverse world around them.

As we delve into the nostalgic realm of these old PBS kids shows, it’s important to recognize their lasting impact. They were not just shows; they were a fun, engaging, and inclusive way of learning that left an indelible mark on the fabric of childhood for many generations.

Old PBS Kids Shows

Here are 20 of the best old PBS Kids shows:

1. Between the Lions

“Between the Lions” was a delightful educational series that aired on PBS Kids, designed to foster literacy and a love for reading among children. Set in a whimsical library, the show centered around a family of anthropomorphic lions – parents Theo and Cleo, and their cubs Lionel and Leona. Each episode was a blend of puppetry, animation, and live action, presenting stories and segments that emphasized phonics, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.

2. Arthur

“Arthur” stands out as a hallmark of children’s programming, renowned for its ability to tackle a wide range of relatable issues with sensitivity and humor. This animated series followed Arthur Read, an anthropomorphic aardvark, and his friends and family in the fictional town of Elwood City. Each episode delved into everyday challenges faced by children, such as dealing with school, friendships, family dynamics, and emotions. Notably, “Arthur” didn’t shy away from addressing more complex themes, making it a valuable resource for parents and educators to initiate discussions on various social and emotional topics with children.

3. Barney & Friends

“Barney & Friends” was a beloved musical series that captivated young audiences with its friendly, purple dinosaur host, Barney. The show combined live-action and puppetry, creating a vibrant and engaging world for children to learn about friendship, imagination, and emotional expression. Each episode featured Barney alongside a diverse group of children, exploring themes through songs, dances, and simple stories. The show’s emphasis on positive messages, such as sharing, caring, and kindness, along with its memorable songs like “I Love You,” left a lasting impact on preschool audiences.

4. The Berenstain Bears

The animated series “The Berenstain Bears,” based on the popular children’s book series, brought to life the charming bear family living in the sunny Bear Country. The show revolved around Papa, Mama, Brother, and Sister Bear, depicting their daily adventures and teaching valuable life lessons. Episodes often explored themes such as honesty, responsibility, and empathy, making it an excellent tool for parents and educators to discuss moral values with children. The warmth and humor of the show, combined with its relatable scenarios, made “The Berenstain Bears” a cherished part of many childhoods.

5. Bill Nye the Science Guy

“Bill Nye the Science Guy” was an iconic educational show that made science fascinating and accessible to kids and adults alike. Hosted by the charismatic Bill Nye, each episode focused on a specific scientific topic, breaking it down with experiments, demonstrations, and a dose of humor. The show’s engaging format and Nye’s enthusiastic approach to teaching science concepts not only entertained but also inspired a generation to explore and appreciate the wonders of science. With its catchy theme song and memorable segments, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” remains a significant influence in science education.

6. Dragon Tales

“Dragon Tales” was a captivating animated series that invited young viewers into a world of fantasy and adventure. The story followed siblings Emmy and Max, who discovered a magical dragon scale that transported them to the land of Dragon Land. There, they befriended dragons like Ord, Cassie, Zak, and Wheezie, and together they embarked on various quests and solved problems. The show focused on themes of friendship, cooperation, and facing fears, offering not just entertainment but also valuable lessons in social and emotional learning for preschool children.

7. Sesame Street

“Sesame Street” is an iconic and groundbreaking series that has played a pivotal role in children’s television since its inception. This show uniquely blends puppetry, animation, and live-action segments to create a vibrant and educational environment. The diverse cast of characters, including beloved Muppets like Big Bird, Elmo, and Cookie Monster, engage young viewers with stories that teach literacy, numeracy, emotional intelligence, and social values. What sets “Sesame Street” apart is its commitment to addressing contemporary issues in a way that’s accessible to children, making it a timeless resource for learning and development.

8. The Magic School Bus

“The Magic School Bus” is a thrilling animated series that takes children on extraordinary educational adventures. Led by the eccentric Ms. Frizzle and her magical school bus, each episode embarks on a field trip exploring different scientific concepts, from the solar system to the human body. The show excels in making complex science topics exciting and understandable for young audiences. Its unique blend of humor, engaging storytelling, and factual science content has not only entertained but also sparked curiosity and a love for science in its viewers.

9. Maya and Miguel

“Maya and Miguel” is a vibrant animated series that celebrates cultural diversity and bilingualism. Centered around the adventures of Maya and Miguel Santos, twin siblings of Hispanic descent, the show portrays their everyday experiences in a multicultural neighborhood. Through their stories, the series highlights themes of family, friendship, and the importance of understanding and respecting different cultures. “Maya and Miguel” effectively uses humor and relatable situations to engage children in learning about the richness of cultural diversity.

10. Reading Rainbow

“Reading Rainbow,” hosted by the charismatic LeVar Burton, is a timeless educational show that ignited a passion for reading in generations of children. Each episode introduced viewers to children’s literature, with Burton leading the way through various book reviews and related field trips. The show’s innovative approach, combining storytelling with real-world connections, made literature engaging and accessible. “Reading Rainbow” stands as a testament to the power of books in opening up worlds of imagination and learning for children.

11. The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon

“The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon” was an imaginative live-action/puppetry series that brought environmental education to the forefront. The show centered around Dudley, a friendly dragon who awoke from centuries of slumber and explored the modern world with his human and animal friends. Each episode tackled environmental and social issues, teaching young viewers about the importance of taking care of our planet and each other. With its blend of adventure, humor, and educational content, Dudley’s adventures left a lasting impression on how children understand and interact with the environment.

12. The Electric Company

“The Electric Company” was a pioneering educational television series that focused on teaching reading and grammar skills to young viewers. Known for its catchy music, comedy sketches, and animated segments, the show made learning literacy skills fun and engaging. Featuring a diverse cast and guest appearances by notable actors and musicians, “The Electric Company” stood out for its hip and modern approach to education. Its impact on literacy education is undeniable, as it helped countless children improve their reading skills and fostered a love for language and learning.

13. Wild Kratts

“Wild Kratts” is an adventurous and educational animated series that brings wildlife biology to an exciting realm for children. Hosted by the Kratt Brothers, Chris and Martin, the show combines animation with live-action sequences. Each episode sees the brothers embarking on wild adventures with the help of their creature power suits, which allow them to experience the world from an animal’s perspective. Through these adventures, “Wild Kratts” teaches children about animal behavior, habitats, and the importance of conservation, making it a thrilling and informative journey into the natural world.

14. Boohbah

“Boohbah” is a unique and visually captivating series designed for preschoolers. This show features five colorful, atom-like creatures who engage in various physical activities and dances, encouraging young viewers to move along with them. The show’s format, with its bright colors, repetitive movements, and lack of dialogue, is specifically tailored to stimulate young children’s development and imagination. While it might appear abstract at first glance, “Boohbah” effectively promotes physical activity and creativity among its young audience.

15. Clifford the Big Red Dog

“Clifford the Big Red Dog” is a heartwarming animated series based on the beloved children’s book series. The show follows the adventures of a giant red dog, Clifford, and his owner, Emily Elizabeth, on Birdwell Island. Each episode presents gentle lessons about friendship, community, and problem-solving. The show’s emphasis on kindness, empathy, and understanding makes it a valuable resource for teaching social and emotional skills to children. Clifford’s larger-than-life presence and his heartwarming adventures have made him a favorite character for generations.

16. Cyberchase

“Cyberchase” is a dynamic animated series that turns mathematics into an exciting adventure. The show follows three kids, Matt, Jackie, and Inez, who are transported into a digital universe. Guided by a cyberbird named Digit, they use math and problem-solving skills to thwart the villainous Hacker’s plans to take over Cyberspace. Each episode is designed to make math concepts like number sense, geometry, and logic engaging and relatable. “Cyberchase” succeeds in making math fun and applicable to everyday life, encouraging young viewers to develop their analytical skills.

17. George Shrinks

“George Shrinks” is an imaginative animated series about a ten-year-old boy, George, who is just three inches tall. Despite his miniature size, George embraces his unique perspective and embarks on grand adventures, often with the help of his ingenious, homemade gadgets. The show celebrates themes of creativity, resilience, and the power of thinking outside the box. “George Shrinks” inspires children to see that being different is not a hindrance but a source of strength and endless possibilities.

18. Martha Speaks

“Martha Speaks” is an engaging animated series that centers around Martha, a lovable dog who gains the ability to speak after eating alphabet soup. Each episode features Martha’s humorous misadventures and her interactions with her owner, Helen, and friends. The show cleverly incorporates vocabulary development into its storyline, introducing new words and their meanings in each episode. “Martha Speaks” not only entertains but also enriches children’s language skills, making it a valuable and enjoyable learning experience.

19. Ruff Ruffman

“Ruff Ruffman,” officially known as “FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman,” is an innovative blend of live-action and animation, introducing children to the exciting world of science through interactive challenges. The show features the animated canine host, Ruff Ruffman, who sends real-life kids on various quests that involve scientific experiments, engineering challenges, and general problem-solving. What sets this show apart is its focus on active participation and inquiry-based learning, encouraging viewers to think critically and creatively. “Ruff Ruffman” successfully makes science both fun and accessible to young audiences.

20. Shining Time Station

“Shining Time Station” is a delightful series that combines live-action with the magical world of the miniature train, Thomas the Tank Engine. Set in the quaint Shining Time Station, the show centers around the daily happenings and interactions among the station’s quirky characters. It’s interspersed with episodes of “Thomas & Friends,” which are narrated stories about the trains on the Island of Sodor. The show is known for its heartwarming stories, catchy music, and important life lessons, making it a nostalgic favorite for many.

Related: PBS Autism Show for Kids

Final thoughts

In revisiting these cherished old PBS kids shows, it’s clear that their impact extends far beyond the nostalgia they evoke. These programs were instrumental in our early development, skillfully intertwining education with entertainment in a way that was both engaging and memorable. They didn’t just occupy our screen time; they enriched our minds, taught us valuable life lessons, and helped shape our understanding of the world.

The legacy of these shows is evident in the way they continue to be referenced and celebrated for their innovative approach to children’s education. They set a high standard for educational programming, proving that learning can be as enjoyable as it is informative. The diversity, creativity, and educational value these shows offered have left a lasting impression, influencing not just individual lives but also the evolution of children’s television as a whole.

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