This is a guest post by Brian Cross, with CableCompare.com. CableCompare.com is the #1 exploration and audit site for internet and TV services in the United States.
You might think that kids today spend too much time in front of screens, and by most accounts this is true. But it is also unavoidable for many, and so we think a healthy balance is the right course of action. And yet while the amount of screen time matters, what your children watch matters as well. How do you feel about the values and concepts being taught to your kids currently? What would you like them to learn? Fortunately, no matter what your answers, there are great shows with fantastic lessons to work with. There are shows on TV and available via streaming that are fun, educational, and nurturing of your children’s best qualities.
And which shows are they? While we are not sure that any certain program will be good for a child of any age (there is so much difference between a three-year-old and a ten-year-old, for starters), we think that with a solid selection there will be something for everything.
Here are 15 shows that are both educational and entertaining, with a few your children are sure to love:
- Sesame Street
We must start with one of the best and one of the oldest programs for kids on television or streaming. Sesame Street might have changed formats a little bit and might be on HBO now, but the heart of the show has remained. It is constantly trying to teach kids how to be healthier, nicer, and smarter, and it does so with care and sensitivity that takes into account the needs of all children. To put it into perspective, the show has been around since 1969 and has released more than 4500 episodes.
For those who didn’t have TVs growing up or somehow managed to miss Sesame Street, the show features both Muppets and human characters interacting, teaching children about new topics and the world around them. It often intercuts between the street itself and various educational and fun segments featuring the characters, though the format recently has been to focus on one general topic for the length of the half-hour episode (it used to be hour-long, but the format has changed recently)
Sesame Street is good for young kids to learn basic reading and speaking skills, empathy and social skills, and basic math skills. It is a little of everything for every child. It’s good for nearly every child in the appropriate age group.
Recommended Ages: 3-5
Watch on: HBO Max, HBO, PBS Kids
- Super Why!
Super Why! is a computer-aminated show about a bunch of kids who enter storybooks and solve their problems by looking in those books. In the process, they practice literacy skills and encourage thinking about the problem at hand. At the end of the episode, the answer is figured out and the problem resolved, often teaching empathy in the process. Each episode is contained in a way that is easy to understand and for kids to follow. We also think it’s great that the show gives kids time to figure out a lot of the problems for themselves, helping learning. It uses a lot of fairy tales kids probably know and makes it that much easier to get into.
Super Why! can help teach kids basic critical thinking skills, reading skills, and general kindness and behavior. It’s a great show for your younger children and there are three whole seasons to go through (totaling 103 episodes).
Recommended Ages: 3-6
Watch on: PBS Kids, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube
- Curious George
Curious George, whether in books or on TV in another series, has been around for a long time, and the lovable monkey and the man in the yellow hat return to help teach kids about math, science, and how to work with curiosity and learning. A lot of this occurs in teachable moments for George, who through his curiosity often causes (harmless and innocent) trouble. In the meanwhile, each episode has some helpful lessons on math, science, and problem-solving.
Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat also move back and forth between the city and the country so that kids don’t always feel out of place watching. There’s a lot to watch, with the show running since 2006 with a few breaks, and there are enough different stories to appeal to most children.
Curious George is a good show to start kids learning about math and science, mostly focusing on curiosity and asking the right questions. It’s lighthearted, sweet, and showcases loving relationships.
Recommended Ages: 3-6
Watch on: Peacock, Hulu, PBS Kids
- The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!
Dr. Suess and all his books have been a mainstay in many childhoods, and there are few books of his more famous or popular than “The Cat in the Hat”. With several movies and shows already made, it comes as no surprise then that The Cat has returned in The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! In this show, The Cat in the Hat brings Nick and Sally, The Fish, and Things One and Two on adventures all over the world to help answer questions that one of the kids has about the world. It is a bit of a mixture between the surreal and the real, but the show does a good job of showcasing what’s important for kids to keep track of.
The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! also has been on the air for some time, with 160 total segments to watch within 80 episodes, and a few specials on top of that. Each segment asks a question about nature, whether about animals or the natural world in general, and some friendly characters explain and demonstrate how it all works. It’s simple, but the presentation keeps kids engaged, especially with The Cat’s gadgets and doodads.
The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! Focuses on teaching kids science literacy and basic social skills.
Recommended Ages: 3-6
Watch on: PBS Kids, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video
A show that features eight critters going on underwater adventures whenever there is trouble under the sea, Octonauts is a British series that’s great for preschoolers. Octonauts uses a fictional premise and vehicles to study and showcase a variety of undersea creates in a range of undersea habitats. It has a fun (yet appropriate) mood of adventure and will be fun for kids looking for something a tiny bit more exciting, though not too exciting.
Each episode is 11 minutes long, making it a great pick if you don’t have too long or don’t want your little one in front of the television for too long, but there are plenty of them to go through.
Octonauts also includes “creature reports” which are short musical sequences about the sea animal that the Octonauts encountered in the episode. They’re memorable, not too long, and teach kids a few things they can hang on to.
Octonauts is great if you want your kids to learn about the ocean, what’s in there, and want your children to have some fun while doing so.
Recommended Ages: 3-7
Watch on: Netflix
- Ask the Storybots
The StoryBots are little bots or creatures that live inside of our screens, and they want to help kids answer questions they have such as where planets come from or how music works. Bigger questions are sometimes not answered so easily in a way young kids can understand. Thankfully, Ask the StoryBots does a great job of this, and after some inquiry, they answer the question with a fun music video many kids are sure to love.
In the show, the five StoryBots all ask questions about the world and seek out answers. The show takes a little time to explore the questions and address the audience, and there is usually a guest character with a voice you as the parent might recognize. The show has been running for three seasons with a fourth in development and has won multiple awards for its direction and writing for children. There are not a ton of episodes to go through, but the show focuses on quality over quantity.
Ask the StoryBots is great for curious children, those interested in science, and for teaching children how to ask the right questions. If your child has a specific question, you can turn them to the episode to watch with them.
Recommended Ages: 3-8
Watch on: Netflix
In Annedroids, a tween girl teaches kids about robotics and science. While that might not seem too specific, there is a lot to be found and a lot to love about the characters. It focuses on all sorts of STEM topics and makes them approachable from multiple angles. The androids Anne Sagan created make the show stand out visually. And the wide variety of topics is also appreciated, going everywhere from helium to dreams. It has been nominated for multiple awards and won a fair number of them, with parents loving the fact that Anne is a great character for young girls to connect with.
Annedroids is perfect for those interested in science, robotics, or just general problem-solving. The combination of CGI and live-action might not be for every child, but others will love it and find a lot to learn. The show lasted for four seasons from 2014-2017, and all 52 episodes are still available to watch.
Recommended Ages: 4-7
Watch on: Amazon Prime Video
- Wild Kratts
The Kratt Brothers have been teaching kids about animals and the natural world for some time now, in fact for what feels like decades. But what we think your kids will love is their show Wild Kratts, an animated series that has the brothers get in there with the animals and shows how they live, survive, and what is unique about them.
The show has a lot of fun and brings a lot of energy and wonder to nature that might not always be found elsewhere. It certainly does not misrepresent nature or the animals, but it does make them understandable for children. The brothers have special suits that allow them to use the “creature powers” of the animals being showcased in the episode and a team of supporters back at the base which helps them better understand the situations they are in. With the creature’s powers and their understanding of the situation, the brother’s right wrongs or save themselves in each episode.
We recommend Wild Kratts if you want to teach your kids about science, nature, or the wondrous animals around the world. It is for a show not for the youngest of children, as the villains can be scary to younger kids and do sometimes mean animals or the brothers harm.
Recommended Ages: 5-8
Watch on: PBS Kids, Amazon Prime Video
- The Magic School Bus / The Magic School Bus Rides Again
The Magic School Bus was a show that got many of us excited and interested in science as children, with Ms. Frizzle and her class showing us new perspectives on everything from space to electronics. Every episode has something new to share and something new to teach us, and nearly every one of those episodes would be great for your child as well. Everything feels useful and magical at the same time, and the show can instill a little bit of a sense of wonder in children.
Yet there is also something new in The Magic School Bus Rides Again, which features Ms. Frizzle’s younger sister teaching the class at Walkerville Elementary School. The show is modern with new ideas and characters, but follows the same general format, with adventures featuring the bus, Ms. Frizzle, and the children.
Either show is great for children who are interested in science or how the world works, and they can also teach children emotional or social lessons with the story in each episode.
Recommended Ages: 5-10
Watch on: Netflix
- Carmen Sandiego (2019)
Carmen Sandiego has existed in various forms and on multiple series and media formats, but for the moment we think that your kids will get the most from the recent 2019 Netflix series, which features a fun animation style, lots of adventure, and information about places around the world.
The show features the titular character in a new light, with her trying to figure out elements of her past, get her life together, and it features plenty of action that’s age-appropriate. She learns the truth about the organization that raised her and decides to steal back the objects they stole, returning them to the right place. Each season is a little different and will keep things fresh for viewers.
Carmen Sandiego is great for kids to learn about world events, famous works of art, and geography. It’s not as explicitly educational as most of the other works on this list, but it does incorporate those elements more naturally into the entertainment as a result. The show went on for four seasons and just wrapped up earlier this year.
Recommended Ages: 7-12
Watch on: Netflix
- Horrible Histories
A fun, sarcastic, and funny show from the UK, Horrible Histories is somewhere between a sketch comedy show and an educational show. It puts a bit of a funny take on historical events, some famous historical figures, and other oddities from overtime. It might cover common things, or it might tackle events that even you have never heard of before. Based on a series of books by the same name, it has a unique style to it and is likely to capture the imaginations of more than a few children. It is entry-level for sure and ignores some boring but necessary topics, but sometimes that’s just what you need to get kids interested in the first place.
Horrible Histories might be a good choice if you want them to watch something from across the pond, learn more about history from around the world, or want to show them something just a little more grown-up without getting too bad. The level of violence or more adult humor might concern some parents, but it might also be necessary given the topics involved. It does not shy away from the topics, for better or for worse.
Recommended: Ages: 9+
Watch on: Hulu, Amazon Prime Video
- Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
The original Cosmos created by Carl Sagan is one of the best educational programs or media ever created, and some parts of it are still essential viewing. Yet we didn’t know as much then as we know now, and there is a lot to be said about modern science and discoveries in space from the last few decades. Furthermore, we understand how to better communicate this information to a wider audience, and have more specifics to share. Therefore, an updated version of the show only seemed logical. As such, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey was born, with Neil DeGrasse Tyson as its presenter.
The production values on the show are outstanding, and adults, as well as children, will be drawn into every image. Neil Degrasse Tyson is excellent at communicating these ideas complex ideas about space, nature, and time, and there is hardly anyone else you would want in the job.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is a great show for your kids if they are interested in the big questions, science, and space. Depending on their age some of it might be a little confusing for them, so be sure to be there to help them with any concepts. We promise you’ll enjoy it too!
Recommended Ages: 9+
Watch on: Disney+, Fox
You are likely already familiar with the MythBusters yourself, and likely watched it a bunch of years back, but the MythBusters are also great for kids after a certain age, putting a lot of fun into science and teaching them some critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the process. It is engaging, it exposes them to more real-world topics and stories, and above all else, it showcases the importance of testing out theories and ideas.
If you don’t know what the show is about, the hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage (special effects experts) use the scientific method to test out various rumors, myths, and ideas from movies to see if they would be possible or work in real life. The show proved to be immensely successful and went on for nearly 300 episodes.
If you think the original series might be a bit too much for your younger kids, you should know that there are other shows in the MythBusters brand that might work. MythBusters is coming back soon with a new series that will be perfect for younger ones, and there is also MythBusters Jr., which is more kid-friendly but still features a lot of the same fun as the original show. It even features kids and teenagers that are not too much older than your kids.
MythBusters in any format is great to generate an interest in science, show that trial and error is sometimes needed if not encouraged, and show off the fun that can be had with these topics.
Recommended Ages: 9+
Watch on: Hulu, Discovery Plus, Amazon Prime Video
- David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
While a movie, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet is a great way to introduce your children to his work as a whole and get them more into nature. While there are tv series that might do the same job, there is simply not much like this. In it, the narrator recounts his life and the life of the planet, both admiring the beauty it holds while being concerned about where life might be headed given the loss of some environments.
Note that this might not be for children of younger ages who are in a sensitive spot right now, as the show does get into some bleaker themes and truths about our planet, including the effects of climate change and the extinction of species. It’s a very informative piece, but it will be up to you as to whether it’s the right time for them to hear it.
As with many documentaries David Attenborough is involved with, it is absolutely beautiful and deserves the best screen you can give it. There is a lot to take in and you or your child might want to rewind or pause parts just to see the sights again. The entire thing has several layers to it and will inspire quite a bit of thought to those paying attention.
In general, we recommend this show to any child (or adult, really) who is interested in nature, the planet, or general science topics.
Recommended Ages: 9+
Watch on: Netflix
- Bill Nye Saves the World
It’s quite possible that you watched Bill Nye when you were your kid’s age now, and there is absolutely nothing wrong about going back to the old show and putting that in front of your kids to teach them a bit about science (though some of the references might be a little dated).
In Bill Nye Saves the World, the science educator and communicator takes on a variety of topics and sticks to a more standard format. He usually brings on guests to talk about the topics, what is being done about them, and what can be done about them. The show can get opinionated and political at times according to its critics, but the science is there, and the show provides a way for your kids to engage with the world at large.
Things such as alternative medicine and climate change are discussed with guests from a variety of backgrounds, and it is a way to introduce them to other shows and start a conversation about misinformation in the media and online.
This is something you are going to want to watch with your kids, as the topics can be a little complicated for kids to understand on their own. The show is meant for teenagers and older, but kids slightly younger can get a lot from it, especially if they have shown an interest in science.
Recommended Ages: 13+
Watch on: Netflix
There is so much on TV that it is hard to keep track of, but at the same time, you want your kids to be watching things that will teach them and ideally make them better people. And while there is no substitute for time and attention with them and providing a good example yourself, there is also a lot to say about giving them other perspectives through television and teaching them things you cannot so easily. We hope you found a few great shows for your children you can bond with them over, and that they learn a ton over the next few years and beyond.
To see the original article or other resources from CableCompare.com, click here.