Dinosaur Train debuts today

School's back in session, and with it comes a new educational series that's debuting today on PBS Kids. Dinosaur Train is a new animated series from the Jim Henson Company featuring the adventures of Buddy, an adorable preschool-age Tyrannosaurus Rex who is adopted by a Pteranodon family. They live in a cute prehistoric world and use the Dinosaur Train to travel from one place to the next.

My kids and I got to watch a couple of sneak-preview episodes, and we really enjoyed them. How could we not? It has the backing of two companies who I would trust with my kids' eyes and minds, the Jim Henson Company -- can you get any more entertaining than The Muppets? -- and PBS Kids -- can you get any more educational than Sesame Street? So that's already two stars in their favor.

After watching the episodes, I'm happy to say my trust in them is well placed. The characters are really cute, and my kids can relate to the age-appropriate issues in the storyline (being different from other kids, trying new things, helping one another, etc..). I also like that Buddy is adopted; you don't see that in too many kids' shows, and it really ties together with the subtle, underlying theme of accepting one another's differences and living together in harmony.

But what I really liked (and what other parents will like) is the strong educational component. Each Dinosaur Train episode teaches kids about prehistoric animals. In the first show we watched, "Triceratops for Lunch", my kids learned about herbivore dinosaurs and how their bodies are adapted for eating plants. In the second episode, "Tiny Loves Fish", my kids learned about pteranodons and how they hunted for food. At the end of each episode, kids get to watch a short live-action feature, where Dr. Scott the Paleontologist. Dr. Scott teams up with a group of children and uses animation from the show and live footage of real animals to go over what they learned in the episode. I like how he always relates what they learned about prehistoric animals to modern-day animals ("What kinds of herbivores can you think of that are alive today?" "What kinds of animals can you think of that get their food like the pteranodon does?"). And I love his final tagline: "Get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries". As great as Dr. Scott's advice is, I'd also encourage families looking for good programs for their young children to get inside and discover Dinosaur Train.

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