Great British Bake Off

We’ve been having such a good time watching Great British Bake Off with the kids. Our 3 year old is scared even by most kids shows these days, so it’s been really nice to find something that is genuinely enjoyable for all four of us, and doesn’t give anyone nightmares. I think it’s great for the kids (and us) to see adults, from all kinds of different backgrounds, caring about and working hard on creative projects, celebrating successes and working through failures, supporting each other, and having a good time! I think we’ve all been inspired to do more cooking and baking too! (So far we’ve watched the 2018 and 2017 seasons, so I can’t vouch for any of the seasons before that. One episode was flagged by Channel 4 as not suitable for kids, so we haven’t watched that!)

Age: 0+
Child rating: 10/10
Parent rating: 10/10
Running time: 1 hour
Where to find it: In the UK you can watch it on Channel 4, and in Canada on CBC.

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Frozen

This is problematic in all the ways Disney is generally problematic — skinny white princess heroines, love stories that aren’t appropriate for young kids, excessive excitement and drama, etc. — but if you’re looking for a big, entertaining feature film to watch over the winter holidays, it’s enjoyable nonetheless. I know some people think Frozen is a feminist film, but I really don’t see it that way (for reasons similar to this writer here.) I include it as a recommendation mainly because it has encouraged my kids’ love of singing. I really dislike the music — but anything that gets the kids singing, and practising the songs until they get better, is a win in my book. It’s hard to predict what kids will be scared of, but my 3 year old, who is scared of most TV and movies these days, was not scared of Frozen — perhaps because she had heard so much about it before she watched? (I, on the other hand, had nightmares about it!)

Age: 3+, though it really depends on what your kids find scary
Child rating: 9/10
Parent rating: 7/10 for enjoyability, but 4/10 for perpetuating problematic social values and encouraging kids to want merchandise
Running time: 109 minutes
Where to find it: You can buy it on youtube or google play

Frogs and Toads: Max’s Magical Journey (Kikkerdril)

This is a slightly odd, but enjoyable film that follows 6 year old Max and his friend Jesse on their adventures in the countryside as they try to find frog spawn for Max’s older brother, who claims he needs it to regain his voice after surgery. I love the kids’ adventures and the beautiful natural scenery, but there’s a little bit of mild rudeness (between brothers, and between Max and Jesse before they become friends) which I find unnecessary. The film is originally in Dutch, and dubbed in English. I’m glad not to have to read out subtitles to my kids, but the mismatch between the kids speaking and the dubbed-over voices is a bit disconcerting. I do recommend this film – but it’s not perfect.

Age: 5+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 33 minutes
Available: I had to order the DVD for this one

Apple Tree House

Apple Tree House is one of our favourite newer CBeebies shows (along with Katie Morag). It’s geared towards kids in the 4 to 8-ish age range, though fine for younger kids too, and centres around the gently humorous daily adventures of three primary school kids on an urban council estate. The cast is wonderfully diverse in terms of ethnicity and age, and the kids are (usually) refreshingly free of gender stereotypes. Both of our kids (ages 2 and 5) love it, and I love the way the characters non-didactically model kindness, cooperation, and caring for friends, family, and community.

Age: The stories are geared towards 4+, but it’s fine for younger kids too
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 15 minutes
Available: on the CBeebies website

Arrietty

This is a lovely feature-length animation from Studio Ghibli, based on the story The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It tells the story of the growing friendship between Arrietty, a mouse-sized “borrower” girl, and a human boy, Sho. When the Arrietty’s borrower family is discovered by the unfriendly housekeeper Haru, Sho helps them escape to safety. As in most Studio Ghibli films, there is lots of beautiful natural imagery, including some cute potato bugs (giant in comparison to Arrietty), lush greenery, and evocative rainstorms. The music is, by contemporary movie standards, pleasingly sparse, and I appreciated that there were long passages with no music at all. The story is intended for kids 4 or 5 and up, but there is nothing too scary for younger kids, and my 22 month old enjoys it as much as my almost-5 year old.

Age: 2+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 94 minutes
Available: only on DVD, so far as I know

Shaun the Sheep (TV series)

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-11-45-41-amShaun the Sheep is a stop-motion animated TV series from Aardman Animation, starring the eponymous Shaun, who first appeared as a character in the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave. These 7-minute episodes are wordless and quite delightful, and mostly involve the sheep getting themselves into and out of a variety of humorous scrapes. The show is a bit more boisterous than we usually want our kids to see: it’s better as a Saturday morning show than for watching before bed. (The spin-off show Timmy Time, intended for toddlers, is even more chaotic, so we are avoiding that one entirely). On the negative side, I find the theme music a bit repetitive, and it tends to get stuck in the head.

Age: 4+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 7 minute episodes
Available: CBBC, Google Play, and Youtube

My Mum is an Airplane

BR My Mum is an AirplaneThis is a fantastic, beautifully illustrated story by the Russian animator Yulya Aronova. There’s a little bit of narration (in Russian with English subtitles) at the beginning, but it’s not too much to read out loud, or can be understood perfectly without the words. It starts out describing an enjoyable diversity of kinds of mums (musicians, carpenters, circus performers, etc.), before getting to the airplane mum (and her little child), and the rest of the film is the airplane mum’s adventures delivering mail. There’s one potentially scary airplane in here, and a storm, but any tension is short-lived, and everything turns out ok. We all love this!

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 7 minutes
Available for free on Vimeo

All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride

BR All Aboard! The Sleigh RideIf you are looking for an extremely slow-paced, meditative film for a wintery or Christmasy night, this is it. All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride consists of nothing but two hours of footage of Sami reindeer herders following an ancient postal route through the taiga forest of Northern Norway, beautifully filmed by BBC Four. The soundtrack is simply a recording of the journey, with no music or voiceover. Occasional written texts provide some contextual information. M. was entranced for the first hour, which is really quite a long time for a toddler to watch nothing but a couple people and a couple reindeer moving through the snow. Then he was ready to move on to something else (though he continued to ask questions about reindeer for several days afterwards).

Age: 0+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 2 hours
Available for free on the BBC Four website

Katie Morag

BR Katie MoragMost of our favourite TV shows are from the 70s but here, finally, is a current show that I can wholeheartedly recommend! If you are Scottish, you probably already know Katie Morag from the series of books of the same name by Scottish author Mairi Hedderwick. For those of you who are not yet familiar with Katie Morag, I’d say she falls into the same general category of kind-hearted, adventure-loving, small-town-dwelling, red-headed heroine as Anne of Green Gables, though the stories are geared towards a slightly younger audience. Katie lives on the fictional island of Struay (based in part on the real life island of Coll, and filmed on the Isle of Lewis) with her baby sister Flora Ann, toddler brother Liam, and parents. Her two grannies, Grannie Island and Grannie Mainland, with their differing values and areas of knowledge, also figure prominently in the stories.

The stories are sweet, gentle and humorous, and the acting is good. The enjoyable soundtrack is by Scottish traditional musician Donald Shaw (a founding member of the band Capercaillie). And there are a number of small details that pleased me – making presents by hand, scenes which include the baby breastfeeding, music-making etc. This series is probably intended for children more in the 5 to 8 year old range, but so far everything we have seen has been fine for a 3 year old too, and M. has really enjoyed it.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 14 minutes per episode
Some episodes available free on the CBeebies website