THE key to good television for children lies with parents and caregivers. Ideally, adults should watch with children some of the time. They should be aware of any program's general content and ask questions about specific stories and subject matter. The following is a list of excellent to terrible children's programs.
Reading Rainbow: Hosted by LeVar Burton, the show is one of the best for children. It appeals to a wide age range, because the stories are read aloud, and Burton shows how relevant they are to everyday life. Sweet, intelligent, and lively, it is paced to stimulate thinking.
Sesame Street: Still great after all these years, it teaches concepts like near and far, big and small, numbers, letters, and social skills.
Lamb Chop's Play-Along: Shari Lewis sings songs, tells jokes, and reads stories with the help of her hand puppets. A funny, educational, and inventive show.
Ghostwriter: Children solve mysteries with the help of Ghostwriter, who sometimes taps out clues on a computer. The message to children is that there is a creative solution to every problem. The show also inspires children to write.
Shining Time Station: Stories about trains, a hospitable train station, and a magical conductor (comedian George Carlin) are certain to delight little boys - and girls.
Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?: For older children, this is a charming, ongoing geography lesson/game show with a good cast.
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: He still appeals to young children with his message about individual worth.
Barney and Friends: Hard for adults to digest, the goofy purple dinosaur appeals to tykes with friendly socialization lessons.
Little Mermaid: A heroic adolescent female character is a positive role model for girls.
Beakman's World: This is one of the three or four best shows on TV for kids (and adults who watch with them). Funny, inventive, and a little gross, Beakman, Lester the Rat, and Josey make a marvelous comedy team and teach real science, answering kids' write-in questions about the way things work.
Storybreak: The program presents often delightful animated versions of books. Sometimes the books themselves seem flat, but the concept is excellent and the animation simple and different from ordinary cartoon fare.
Garfield and Friends: The familiar cartoon character is still amusing, a master of sarcasm - never too objectionable. His naughtiness and laziness are mocked.
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: Cartoon characters live in a bizarre futuristic world where dinosaurs are a constant threat. It's inane and dull.
New Dennis the Menace: The familiar cartoon characters seem dull and silly most of the time.
Cryptkeeper: These scary stories are never too scary - nor very intelligent. OK scary fun for kids over 7.
C.O.W.Boys: This terrible cartoon is set in the old West. The cowboys are themselves cattle. Story lines are tiresome; the concept is inane.
Saved by the Bell: This junior-high oriented live-action comedy may seem banal to adults, but it deals with the difficulties of junior high with some humor if not actual wit.
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Reportedly popular with kids, it is a lame live-action-adventure about five teens combating an evil alien force - who, unfortunately, is an Asian woman. The teen heroes zap into superhero costumes instantly and power lock into goof-ball robots resembling those ``transformers'' at the toy store. Silly good-versus-evil, lamely written, and pointless plots make this a waste of valuable time.
Animaniacs: An updated version of an old-fashioned cartoon, this can be wildly funny, if a bit bizarre. It's harmless entertainment.
Eureeka's Castle: As sweet as `Sesame Street,' the agenda is more geared toward socializing little children for day-care situations than toward learning numbers, letters, and colors.
Doug: A terrific guy, teen 'toon Doug confronts all the usual problems of adolescence with a refreshing innocence and good-heartedness.
Rugrats: Babies communicate with each other, while their parents move them around like toys. All seen from an infant's perspective, the show is inventive, bizarre, and amusing. Sometimes the messages are mixed and parents may want to watch with the smaller kids.
Clarissa Explains It All: Teenage live-action Clarissa is almost as endearing as teen 'toon Doug. She is smart, sweet, and liberated - a good role model most of the time.
Roundhouse: This live-action, cabaret-style comedy for teens is loud, raucous, sometimes crass, and usually satirical. Sometimes the messages are less than desirable, but mostly it's good, precocious fun.
Bill Nye the Science Guy: Without question, this is the best science on TV and one of the best kids' shows ever. Nye is an engaging, off-beat personality. All the messages are geared toward inspiring kids to think in terms of scientific solutions to the world's problems. The show could do better at recognizing non-scientific solutions, too.