Cartoons for Caregivers Working From Home With Little Helpers

You have one or more small children and suddenly you’re faced with figuring out working from home while school or daycare is closed. Don’t fear, WWAC is here! The cartoons on this list are pleasing to both your kids’ brains and your ears. Throw screen time guilt out the window and tell the American Academy of Pediatric’s guidelines to take a vacation. These shows will keep your kids engaged, and you less distracted, so you can look reasonably productive to your manager.

Your house may feel a lot like this supercut of Jonathan Frakes asking random questions. While some companies have easily switched to work from home policies, primary caregivers everywhere are now scrambling to figure out what to do with their kids. Luckily, before becoming a professor, I was a freelancer and worked from home with my first kid, then completed my graduate degree with two kids under three. I’m well-versed in keeping kids busy while needing to focus on other things. Even if those “other things” are just cooking dinner in peace, I’ve compiled this list to help us all through these difficult times. (But safety first: I recommend being in the same room as your kids while they have screen time, so they don’t somehow discover where you hid the permanent markers or your favorite smokey eyeshadow palette!)

Right now you’re tasked with finding the Goldilocks of cartoons: something that will a) keep kids engaged long enough for you to complete a thought, b) won’t amp them up too much so they start jumping around the house, and c) isn’t so aurally annoying that you can’t tune it out while trying to work. Bonus points if it’s semi-educational to lessen that excessive screen time guilt. (Don’t forget, I already told you to get rid of the guilt. If ever there was a time to loosen up the screen time rules, this is it.)

So whether you’re like me and trying to quickly transfer the last eight weeks of a face-to-face college course to distance learning; need to still show some kind of productivity to your manager; or just need some peace while you continue to scroll social media, this list of cartoons might help you get through the next week (or more).

Four cartoon anthropomorphic cattle dogs stand in front of a tree. Two adults on either side of two pups in a toy car.

Bluey (Disney+)

We recently discovered this adorable Australian cartoon about a little Blue Heeler pup named Bluey and her little sister Bingo. Disney+ has a seven day free trial (learn from my mistakes and set a reminder now to cancel it), or you can get a two week free trial if you buy Fruit Loops like us. Right now you might identify closely with Bluey’s dad, Bandit, who also works from home and frequently gets interrupted by the pups. Take a page from his book though and let the kids distract you sometimes to destress.

One of the things I really like about this show is how it shows their dad as the primary caregiver while their mom works, plays sports with their aunt, or goes to a baby shower. Another great feature is that the show uses she/her pronouns for the two main kid characters, and they’re portrayed as way more gender-neutral than most cartoons for kids. No ridiculous bows or pink clothes to make sure the audience knows where they are in the binary. Even their friends have a variety of gender expressions and explore lots of different role-play situations.

There’s only one season so far, but there are three stories per “episode,” so it feels much longer. It’s also easy enough to tune out that I haven’t minded the kids requesting rewatches yet. The last thing I love about this show is how much imaginative play it shows, which has encouraged my kids, when they’re not having screen time, to play rather than fight. (Pro tip: I just learned there is a way to turn on Autoplay for Disney+, since unlike Netflix it does not come default with that feature. We’ll need this now, more than ever.)

White baby puffin jumps around his sister, an adolescent puffin

Puffin Rock (Netflix)

Narrated by Chris O’Dowd of The IT Crowd, this softly animated show with soothing pastel colors takes place on an island off the coast of Ireland. O’Dowd’s soothing style of narration makes it super easy to tune out but mesmerizes kids. The main characters are two young puffins, Oona and her little brother Baba. They have lots of animal friends of different species and ages who explore the island together. It actually has quite a lot of educational material about nature and ecosystems,  while still working in the standard kid show lessons about friendship and growing up.

The wholesomeness of their adventures and their sweet sibling relationship will be a balm to your soul as well as the kiddos you’re watching. Puffin Rock is created by the same Kilkenny studio, Cartoon Saloon, that made The Book of Kells and Song of the Sea. (Both of which I highly recommend as well if you’re looking for new feature-length animation.) There are now two seasons of Puffin Rock and a movie in the works, so plenty to keep them busy for awhile.

Still image from animated kids show Tumble Leaf, a blue fox is with a hedgehog holding a yellow flower and a porcupine with wild hair sticking up everywhere
Tumble Leaf (Amazon Prime)

This series focuses on a young blue fox named Fig and his best friend, a caterpillar named Stick, having woodland adventures. It’s interesting to me that Fig seems to be an orphan and lives on a ship run by a family of chickens. The show revolves around an item popping up in the “Finding Place,” and Fig jumps down a hatch in the abandoned hatch to get it. He spends the show exploring how the item works with Stick and other various characters.

Tumble Leaf focuses a lot on science and exploration in nature, which is fun and might encourage the kiddos to do some outdoor exploring themselves. My favorite character is Auntie Pine, the kooky relative of Hedge (holding the yellow flower in image above), who is a fiber fanatic and has great hair. There are a ton of these episodes, so it will take a while for kids who want new episodes of stuff to run out of seasons.

Young girl plays the ukulele, purple cat is next to her, in the background a dark skinned boy plays the accordion, light skinned girl with purple pig tails plays a trumpet, small purple alien plays the keyboard, and a pig plays a red guitar.

Peg + Cat (PBS Kids)

I love the unique animation style of this show that emphasizes a two-dimensional look. Give me a unique, artsy cartoon and I’m hooked. The bonus is this show is about math! Double bonus, Peg has anxiety and the way the show deals with it is a great example for kids (and adults for that matter). One of the catchphrases of the show is when Peg yells “I am totally freaking out!” Peg and her buddy, the purple talking Cat, sing their way through situations that pull in everything from basic counting to shapes to even introducing angles and algebra. When Peg freaks out, they calm down and think their way through the problem to find a solution.

The background of Peg + Cat looks like graph paper, complete with penciled-in equations and half-erased attempts to “show your work” (as my high school math teachers were prone to yell at me). Sometimes when Peg needs to work things out, she writes directly on the background. I have a headcanon theory that Peg’s mom is an architect or artist, and that’s why there’s graph paper in the background. The PBS Kids app has a lot of shows for free, but this one, in particular, doesn’t make me want to jam a pencil in my ear due to annoying voices or mindless repetition (like, for instance, SuperWhy).

Sarah & Duck (CBeebies in UK and YouTube in US)

This show is so fraking adorable and always had my kids begging for it when I turned on the TV. The narrator Roger Allam has a very soothing voice similar to Puffin Rock‘s O’Dowd, so easy to tune out while working. Duck does not talk, but they are just an expressive and wonderful animal companion. The bizarre magical realism that pops up in this show is delightful, and the episodes with their friend Scarf Lady are my favorite.

I like that this show, unlike many others, makes Sarah’s main human friend of a different generation. The elderly Scarf Lady, voiced by Downton Abbey’s own Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), has many adventures around town with the pair. Like this episode where they open a mobile shop in the park for her knitted goods.

Sadly no longer on Netflix like it was during the writing of my thesis, I did the work of tracking down how you could watch this with your kids because it’s seriously that good. If you’re in the UK, no worries, you can watch it directly on the BBC website (CBebbies is the kids branch of BBC). But in the US, it’s a little trickier. If you don’t want to use an app like TunnelBear that makes your WiFi look like you’re in a different country (and has limited bandwidth in the free version), YouTube is apparently the way to go. There are marathon episodes on the official Sarah and Duck YouTube channel. Don’t get tricked into trying the trial of YouTube’s premium service, as these are free without signing up. Here’s the first one, which is a whole blessed hour long.

Schedule for Families During Covid-19 marked out with text covering it that says let's just keep our kids alive and pray they don't start fighting while on a conference call

Look, right now we’re all doing the best we can, which doesn’t have to be perfect. Keep your sanity, drink lots of water, remember to eat regular meals, and don’t forget to move around occasionally. Hopefully, this list of shows will help make some small part of your time as a work from home caregiver more bearable. What are your favorite kids shows with interesting animation or positive gender roles? I’m always in the market for new cartoons that aren’t PJ Masks for the millionth time. Solidarity caregivers, stay safe out there while social distancing.

Lola Watson

Lola Watson

I'm a community college professor, nerd, and mom who collects comics, knits, and procrastinates a whole host of other hobbies in my lack of spare time. My research focuses on using technology in the classroom, pop culture, children's literature, and comics.