Chances are, while you and your family are enjoying summer vacation, you’ve probably watched quite a bit of TV, too. Pre-pandemic I had a “No TV during the school week” rule at my house, saving Friday nights for family movie watching and additional television for the weekend. That same rule just doesn’t float for us while I’m balancing working from home and overseeing schoolwork. My kids don’t have unrestricted watching privileges, they have to finish their work for the day, and we usually limit TV to the afternoon/evenings. But they’ve definitely watched their share of mindless television.
To quell some of the guilt and encourage new ideas, I’m rounding up a list of educational TV shows with an element of learning to them. These are great for kids to watch solo, but even more so as a family––they’re a great way to create a shared new experience at home; kickstarting a sense of wonder and maybe even inspiring some of their own projects or interests.
1. The Magic School Bus
I don’t think you could possibly go wrong with the quirky Ms. Frizzle as she travels to outer space, under the ocean, and even inside the human body with her students on the magic school bus. This was a childhood favorite for many of us, and there’s a newer version called The Magic School Bus Rides Again.
A modern show geared towards elementary and middle school students, this show explores topics like social media, germs, and emotions in fun, engaging ways. They even have a set of curriculum for each episode you can download for free on their website.
3. The Who Was? Show
Inspired by the book series, The Who Was? Show is a humorous take on history. Each episode features historical figures like Isaac Newton and Amelia Earhart, and Sacagawea and Blackbeard. The Who Was website also features activity ideas for each episode.
4. Ask the Storybots
This kids show features 5 inquisitive creatures who seek out answers to questions like Why do people look different?, How do cell phones work?, and How do eyes see? And with cameo appearances from well known celebrities, parents are bound to get a kick out of this show.
5. Nadiya’s Time to Eat
This new Netflix series, hosted by Nadiya Hussain, a former winner of the Great British Bake Off, is all about cooking shortcuts for families. And she explores where many of our favorite ingredients come from. This could be a great show to watch as a family and get your kids excited about helping in the kitchen! And with all the eating we’re doing at home right now, I’m down for some shortcuts.
6. Bill Nye Saves the World
Bill Nye is probably best known for his original series, Bill Nye the Science Guy. He has a newer show called Bill Nye Saves the World in which he breaks down the science around topics like aging, sleep, and time travel. Some episodes focus on mature topics, and they can be a great conversation starter. Recommend watching with your older kids.
If you’re looking for the old school show, you can view individual episodes on Amazon, and Bill Nye’s website has a host of hands-on experiments you can do at home.
7. Magic for Humans
This show isn’t educational, per se, but it’s definitely a bit mind blowing. Street magician Justin Willman blends good-natured magic tricks with humor (which is usually more suited for older kids FYI). I grew up watching magicians like David Blaine, and this is a great new spin on modern magic. Challenge your kids to figure out how he created their favorite trick in an episode, or start exploring how to do your own magic tricks via YouTube. I have one kid who’s pretty good at card tricks as a result!
8. Absurd! Planet
A humorously narrated take on the nature documentary, this fun series explores the lives of some of the most interesting animals on Earth.
9. Night on Earth
Maybe you’ve watched all the animal documentaries out there––but have you seen them at night? This series reveals the hidden lives of creatures around the world when the sun goes down.
10. Edge of the Universe
Leading astronomers reveal the latest discoveries about death-trap planets, asteroids, comets and other wonders of the cosmos.