8 TV Shows That Teach Kids Literacy Skills

Use TV Time to Improve Spelling, Reading, and Vocabulary Skills

Brother and sister watching cartoons in living room
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Make TV time productive for preschoolers and early readers by choosing programs that reinforce early literacy skills. Kids may not learn to read just by watching a TV show, but certain shows tend to be both entertaining and educational.  

Reading Shows the Kids Will Love

The following shows are not only entertaining for kids, but also incorporate a curriculum designed to help kids understand, practice, and develop reading and other early literacy skills. These are some of the best shows that focus on a reading or early literacy curriculum.

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Sesame Street

Sesame Street
Photo © 2008 Sesame Workshop. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Theo Wargo

Most everybody already knows about PBS's "Sesame Street" and what a great children’s show it is. After all, "Sesame Street" has been on the air since 1969, and has won more Emmys than any other show. That’s not to mention the other awards the show has earned, including multiple Peabodys, Parents’ Choice Awards, and more.

Each season, the show rededicates itself to new themes and areas of emphasis. The show has features like the "word of the day" to help kids expand their vocabularies. 

02
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Tumble Leaf

Amazon developed an amazingly popular, Emmy-winning show to help children expand their vocabulary with "Tumble Leaf." 

Using stop-motion animation, this vibrantly colored show is alluring for young audiences and goes at a gentle pace for preschoolers. Not only do children learn new words, Fig the fox, and his friends learn about the world around them as they play in Tumble Leaf land.​

Positive examples of problem-solving and other pre-reading skills such as rhyming and basic shape recognition are woven into the stories as well. 

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Super Why
Photo © PBS KIDS

Super Why, another show by PBS, follows the adventures of four friends, the "Super Readers," who use fairy tales to solve problems in their everyday life.

When a problem occurs, the superhero characters—Alpha Pig with Alphabet Power, Wonder Red with Word Power, Princess Presto with Spelling Power, and Super Why with the Power to Read—invite you to come into the pages of a magical storybook world and help them.

Kids follow along as the readers read and watch a story, talk with the characters, play word games to ensure the story is correct, and relate the story's lesson to the problem they are trying to solve. 

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Wallykazam

Wally is a 6-year-old troll with a magic wand and pet dragon, Norville. In Nickelodeon's "Wallykazam," a magic stick can turn words into physical objects. Wally and Norville occasionally run into trouble mostly caused by Bobgoblin.

Wally and his friends solve problems together while teaching literacy basics including phonics, letter knowledge, and letter-sound association.

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WordWorld

WordWorld
Photo © PBS KIDS

The 3D animated series "WordWorld" developed by PBS incorporates letters into the characters and animation to help kids understand that letters make sounds and, when put together, spell words.

The comedic plots center around the WordFriends—Sheep, Frog, Duck, Pig, Ant, and Dog. The animals are drawn as letters that form the shape of their bodies, so kids can see the word "dog," for example, as they watch Dog.

In each episode of "WordWorld," the friends tackle daily difficulties, which they solve by helping each other and using their word skills to "build a word." Viewers watch as letters of a word come together and then morph into the object the word represents, helping kids understand the connection between letters, sounds, and words. 

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The Electric Company

The Electric Company
Photo © Sesame Workshop

Based on the shockingly educational show from the 1970s, "The Electric Company" is a new and updated PBS series by Sesame Workshop. The Electric Company is targeted toward kids ages 6 to 9 years old and focuses on helping kids learn literacy skills.

On the show, the Electric Company is a group of kids who have literacy super-powers. They can create words by summoning letters in their hands and throwing them at a surface or in the air, and the four core members have individual skills as well.

Each episode of "The Electric Company" develops a narrative story-line, but also includes music videos, sketch comedy, animation, and short films—all of which focus on reading skills such as decoding, blending, and more. 

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Arthur

"Arthur" is an animated television series on PBS that is aimed at viewers between the ages of 4 and 8. "Arthur's" main focus is helping children understand how to deal with different social situations. The main character, Arthur Read, is an aardvark in third grade. Although his name is "Read" the show is less about teaching reading than you'd think. But, the life lessons make up for the light concentration on literacy.

The stronger literacy tie-in is that children will enjoy the show and want to read the popular "Arthur" book series written by Marc Brown.

08
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Between the Lions

Between the Lions
Copyright © Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). All Rights Reserved

"Between the Lions" features a family of lions—Mom, Dad, and their children, Lionel and Leona—who run a library that is filled with the magic of books. Characters from books come alive, letters sing and dance, and words play in the world between the lions.

This show no longer airs regularly in most cities, but kids can a "Between the Lions" game based on the show on PBS Kids online.