The most captivating summer entertainment is often enjoyed from a patio chair. For three precious months, television takes a backseat to watching the world go by from your back patio or front porch. Enjoy this brief reprieve from Dancing Bachelors who Survive to become Idols.

The most captivating summer entertainment is often enjoyed from a patio chair. For three precious months, television takes a backseat to watching the world go by from your back patio or front porch. Enjoy this brief reprieve from Dancing Bachelors who Survive to become Idols.

Promos for the up-coming fall TV shows are already running, signaling the end of summer as much as a trip to Target to buy new school supplies. When your family's eyes do return to the TV in search of entertainment, know what to look for.


Preschool (4 and younger):
Preschoolers and PBS go together like PB and J, but parents can nourish their kids' growing brains with a little NOGGIN too. Nickelodeon's NOGGIN channel stands out as the only commercial-free educational channel reserved for kids ages 2 to 4, 24/7. Parents familiar with Dora the Explorer know NOGGIN well.

Look for shows that lead young children to learning opportunities once the TV is turned off, suggested Margie Whitis, an elementary school teacher in Groveport Madison Schools for the past 32 years. "My first graders always talk about Little Bill on NOGGIN," said Whitis. "My kids love the show, plus it does a nice job encouraging kids to read the Little Bill books." Oobi is another NOGGIN favorite receiving accolades from parents and educators alike.


Elementary (5-11):
According to a sampling of young kids, the four most popular shows for this age group can be found on Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel. On Nick's latest Kids' Choice Awards, iCarly (Nickelodeon) was picked as the favorite. Runners up included: Hannah Montana (Disney), The Suite Life of Zack & Cody (Disney), and Zoey 101 (Nickelodeon). In parents' opinions, both networks offer endless options for appropriate entertainment for young viewers.


Middle school (12-14):
The television landscape gets tricky for this group. Dr. David Lowenstein, a Columbus psychologist, said if you feel a show is inappropriate, don't rule it out until you watch it. "Watch the show with your child to better understand why they like it so much," he suggested. "Then, when the program is done, turn the TV off and talk about what you just watched." Lowenstein said almost any television show can provide an opportunity for discussion and conversation. "Use television as a tool for communication instead of using it as a substitute," he said. For fall, critics sing praises for FOX's new Glee (Wed. 9 p.m.) and ABC's ever-popular Ugly Betty (Fri. 9 p.m.).


High school (15-18):
The CW on cable does the best job in catering to this age group. Two of the most popular shows slated for this fall are Gossip Girl (Mon. 9 p.m.), and 90210 (Tues. 8 p.m.). Girls also seem to love America's Next Top Model (Wed. 8 p.m.), although parents may not appreciate the girls' less than model behavior. Some of the shows may have adult content, so try watching it with your teens first.


Something for everyone:
Reality TV is one of the best options for offering entertainment for the entire family. For real. This fall, two dancing shows will vie for your attention. ABC's two-hour Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8 p.m. with results the next night at 9 p.m. FOX's So You Think You Can Dance airs on Tuesdays and Wednes-days at 8 p.m. The Biggest Loser returns to NBC (Tues. 8 p.m.) and ABC finishes out the week with two family favorites: America's Funniest Home Videos (Sun. 7 p.m.), followed by Extreme Makeover Home Edition (Sun. 8 p.m.) CBS also offers some Sunday competition with The Amazing Race (8 p.m.).

Three new shows center on families; you'll just have to decide if you think they're "family friendly." ABC premieres The Middle, and Modern Family (Wed. 8:30/9 p.m.), while NBC introduces Parenthood midseason (Wed. 8 p.m.). FOX's Family Guy and American Dad are likely not dads you want in your family room when your young children are watching.

Whatever you watch, Lowenstein said, don't waste time channel surfing. "Know your options and spend as much thought picking a 30-minute TV show as you would a two-hour movie." Unlike many early childhood educators who are reluctant to recognize that television has a role in family entertainment, Whitis thinks it does, but puts the emphasis on together time. "The key is to watch as a family. What [your children] find on TV in the evening, especially, may scare or confuse them, or may just be programming you don't want them to see. Know what your children are watching, and ideally, watch with them," she said.

But for these final few summer days, here's an even better alternative to surfing through endless channels: running through one sprinkler. Now that's true reality entertainment.



Kristen Maetzold is a freelance writer and producer for Living & Learning TV with 18 years of experience as a television news producer. She lives in Worthington with her husband David and three stepchildren, Will (21), Anna (17), and Andrew (15), and is a "new" mom to Ellie (16 months).