Just because school is temporarily out and the family is forced to bunk down indoors doesn’t mean that your kids’ minds need to turn to porridge. The fathomless coffers of Netflix are rich in educational shows and documentaries about wildlife, the world, science, history, and lifestyle that your kids can really learn from (without realizing that they’re learning). Here are a few of our recommendations for keeping your children’s minds stimulated during COVID-19 lockdown.
P.S. why not create a little test for them to answer after watching a show? If you dangle a prize in front of their snouts for scoring high marks, they might actually learn something.
If I Were an Animal
What’s it about? ‘If I Were an Animal’ is a wildlife documentary series that tells the story of curious kids Emma and her big brother Tim who observe different animals as they make their way through various life milestones, from birth to adulthood. Using beautiful footage portraying life in the wild and filmed with state-of-the-art techniques, each episode takes us inside the life of one particular animal species, adopting the point of view of the “animal child” and his or her family, at that precious moment when he or she starts to grow up. This one’s for younger kids.
Themes: Nature, wildlife
What’s it about? This Emmy-award winning documentary series focuses on the breadth of the diversity of habitats around the world, from the remote Arctic wilderness and mysterious deep oceans to the vast landscapes of Africa and diverse jungles of South America. Narrated by the unsinkable Sir David Attenborough, ‘Our Planet’ allows viewers to discover the story of the one place we all call home. This one’s for kids (and adults) of all ages.
Themes: Nature, wildlife, geography
Forks over Knives
What’s it about? In ‘Forks Over Knives’, researchers explore the possibility that people changing their diets from animal-based to plant-based can help eliminate or control diseases like cancer and diabetes. It may sound like a bit of a technical subject for kids to watch but it’s important to equip them with greater awareness of the short and long-term importance of diet and the choices we all make on a daily basis. It’s easy to watch and carries fundamental messages for us all. This one’s for older kids and definitely for adults!
Themes: Health, wellness, lifestyle
What’s it about? Brainchild is an American educational web television series produced by Pharrell Williams (yeah, the musician). It’s a series for kids who are curious about the world around them, and want to know how everything works, from how the universe was created to whether or not the famous five-second rule is real. In arriving at the answers to these questions, the show conducts various scientific experiments on tropic that range from dreams, emotions, and superheroes to motivation, gravity, and more. This one is perfect for little science brainiacs and for parents who want to transform their kids into little science brainiacs.
The Who Was? Show
What’s it about? Fresh voices bring some of history’s most famous names to life in this live-action sketch comedy and history show based on the best-selling “Who Was?” book series. Andy Daly’s character, Ron, interacts with a group of teenagers who impersonate famous people in world history. This show is an incredibly crafty way of teaching your kids who a vast cast of famous and important people were without them even knowing they’re taking a history lesson! Brilliant! This one’s for kids of all ages.
Themes: History, culture
The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That
What’s it about? Martin Short provides the voice of the title character in this animated series from PBS Kids, which aims to promote children’s literacy in science. It follows the magical adventures of 6-year-olds Nick and Sally, who travel the world with the Cat in the Hat as their guide. As they travel in the Cat’s customized vehicle, the Thinga-ma-jigger, which can float, fly, drive, and even ski, they learn about natural science, visiting the rainforest, the ocean floor, and dozens of places in between. This one’s for younger kids.
Themes: Science, nature, geography
What’s it about? Justin and his make-believe friends, navigator Olive and Squidgy, a shape-shifting piece of yellow clay, go on historical adventures to explore the world. During the quests, the traveling trio encounters memorable characters ranging from Vikings on the high seas to a yodelling grandfather in the mountaintops and a lost monkey in space. Wherever their journeys lead them, Justin, Olive and Squidgy are sure to experience fun, friendship, and adventure along the way. Your kids will accidentally learn things while having fun (but don’t tell them that). It’s a win-win situation! This one’s for younger kids.
Themes: Geography, history, culture, travel
Dancing with the Birds
What’s it about? From the team behind the breathtaking, 8-part docuseries ‘Our Planet’, ‘Dancing with the Birds’ is a new documentary movie about the delightfully bizarre mating rituals of tropical birds. Narrated by British comedian Stephen Fry, this 51-minute film takes a quite playful approach to the mysteries of nature, sculpting a simple narrative from striking footage of the circle-of-life processes that take place every day, all over the world. It’s beautiful, endearing, and may even be a good segue for teaching older kids about “the birds and the bees.” This one’s for kids and adults of all ages.
Themes: Nature, wildlife, (and very PC lessons on biological reproduction)
72 Dangerous Places to Live
What’s it about? Earth is often dangerous but what is it like to live in one of the riskiest places in the world? Combining footage with first-hand accounts of those affected, this series explores what it is like to be faced with the brunt of nature’s fury. Some of the places include Centralia, Pennsylvania, which sits atop an underground fire that’s been burning since 1962; the Rocky Mountains, particularly Big White in British Columbia, where injuries and death occur every season; the Ganges River in India, the 6th most polluted river in the world; and Guinea in Africa, where outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus continue to this day. This one’s for older kids.
Themes: Geography, culture, travel
Night on Earth
What’s it about? All around the planet, the most iconic animals reveal themselves in a completely new light…at night. ‘Night on Earth’ is a British nature documentary series narrated by Samira Wiley, and which follows animals that are active during the night using state of the art, low-light camera technology. Let the wonders of the nocturnal world reveal themselves like never before, from lions on the hunt to bats on the wing. This one’s for kids and adults of all ages.
Themes: Nature, wildlife, Earth science
What’s it about? ‘Terra’ is a thought-provoking and visually stunning documentary about Earth. It is “an ode to humanity” and a spectacular portrayal of the beauty of life. It also brings to light the struggles that we face as we stray further and further from the natural. Watching ‘Terra’ evokes a visceral sense of awe and gives pause for reflection on the interconnectedness of us all. This one’s for kids, adults, and family pets of all ages.
Themes: Nature, wildlife, Earth science
Edge of the Universe
What’s it about? Innovations in technology and new scientific discoveries are allowing astronomers to peer deeper and deeper into the fabric of space, and what they’re finding is astonishing. In this documentary series, leading astronomers reveal the latest discoveries about death-trap planets, asteroids, comets, and other wonders of the cosmos. This one’s for kids and adults of all ages.
Themes: Science, astronomy