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The best TV shows for children from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s

Watching TV will turn your child’s brain to mush—unless, of course, she happens to be engrossed in one of these whip-smart, trendsetting series.

Ages 5 and under | Ages 6 to 9 | Ages 10 and up | Cartoons | More expert picks

Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends
Based on stories written by British clergyman Wilbert Awdry, about a group of talking engines who aspire to be “Really Useful” to the railway manager, Thomas & Friends (as it’s also known) shows kids what we mean when we talk about emotions like doubt, worry, excitement and caring.

Shining Time Station
The American-made sequel to Thomas & Friends shifted focus from trains to humans, including actress Didi Conn as Stacy Jones, the stationmaster, and Thomas narrators Ringo Starr and, later, George Carlin as the conductor. The goings-on about the train station were always gentle ( la Mister Rogers) and often silly, thanks to such colorful characters as crafty arcade manager Horace Schemer, whose catchphrase “Genius time!” accurately describes the entire series.

Blue's Clues
This powerhouse of preschool erudition and seismic shifter of kiddie culture was praised by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point as one of the most irresistible TV shows ever. For adults, the animation technology was something to behold. For children, it was all about original host Steve Burns, who achieved bigger-than-Beatles fame among tykes.

A quartet of creatures inhabits a trippy domed world, gurgles baby-talk phrases like “blibbery cheese,” and subsists on diets of Tubby Tustard and Tubby Toast. The result? Crack for babies. Why? Because the series was designed to reflect toddlers’ cognitive development, which made it far more complex than it first seemed.

Yo Gabba Gabba!
Now in its second season, this show has already cornered the market on cool guest stars (Elijah Wood, the Shins), offbeat lessons (it has taught viewers how to play the theremin) and danceable music (Of Montreal has provided tunes). It’s a new-new classic for the post-post-punk generation.

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Incredulous because we overlooked your faves? Don’t get mad; set us straight! Email kids@timeoutny.com with your new classic picks.

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