8 Best Educational Shows for Kids of All Ages
From Arthur to Sesame Street, the ABCs of educational television programming for children is nothing new. The Carnegie Commission on Educational Television was founded more than 50 years ago; Congress enacted The Children's Television Act, which requires each U.S. broadcast television station to air at least three hours of core "programming specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children" each week, in 1990.
Which may be why today countless shows airing on broadcast TV and streaming services bill themselves as educational. For parents, separating the wheat from the entertainment chaff may not always be so easy. But, it's not impossible, explains Polly Conway, senior TV editor for Common Sense Media. Conway is in charge of finding out what's on TV that kids might be interested in, from Daniel Tiger to Game of Thrones, and producing reviews of each and every one of them.
The majority of shows streaming or on broadcast television tend to skew toward the pre-school set and focus on fundamental early learning—teaching one topic, say 2+2=4, at a time during an episode. Yet Conway points out that many shows, especially those targeted toward older kids, teach cognitive and life skills, depict culture and diversity, and include social and emotional education.
"I'm thinking of Andi Mack on Disney Channel, which is one of my favorite shows for pre-teens," says Conway. "It doesn't have STEM or math problems; it doesn't teach history; but it does teach how to be a good friend; how to deal with bullying, things like that. To me, that counts as educational." The final season of Andi Mack aired in June 2019, but select episodes can still be watched on Disney Now.
To find shows with an educational bent, Conway urges parents to look for network TV programs that offer supplementary content online. Some show's sites offer additional stories, printable coloring sheets, or episode-related math problems. She also suggests the "walled garden" approach to limiting your kid's access to only age-appropriate content on streaming services. "If you can create an account so that your kids can only see kid content, that would be amazing," says Conway.
Here are eight shows—a cross-section of what's available to watch in 2019 for quality educational TV in terms of STEM, history/culture, the arts, and more—for toddlers to early teens.
1. Ask the Storybots
The show follows the story of how some friendly, funny bots discover the answer to a "big question." The magazine format of this show allows for music videos, letter rhyming, songs, and field trips to different places within the episodes. Netflix, ages 3+
2. Julie's Greenroom
Julie Andrews plays a performing studio owner and stars alongside original puppets from the Jim Henson Company (as well as some high-power actors) as she teaches kids all about putting on a stage show. Netflix, ages 4+
3. Odd Squad
Solve mysteries with math skills! In season 3, viewers can hypothesize along with the characters as they travel around the world. Kids will solve problems using addition, subtraction, fact families, and other grade-school math skills. PBS Kids, ages 5+
A tween girl is a science genius who loves to solve problems using her expertise in engineering and computer programming. Amazon Prime, ages 5+
5. Wild Kratts
Saturday morning never had it so good. In this animated series, kids are introduced to a variety of wild animal species and learn about science concepts such as animal behavior, habitats, and adaptation in this show which is brimming with real-life zoologist brothers Chris and Martin Kratt's trademark humor and sense of adventure. PBS Kids, ages 6+
This science-inspired educational series uses experiments and creative presentations to teach about concepts like the senses, neurology, marine biology, and gravity, all at a level relatable for kids—especially tweens. Netflix, ages 7+
Come November, new hosts Jon Lung and Brian Louden will take over testing crazy science experiments, but your kids can still stream the original episodes and watch Mentos turn a liter of coke into a soda fountain. Science Channel, ages 9+
8. Horrible Histories
Using a sketch-comedy structure, Horrible Histories puts a humorous spin on well-known historical events, famous people, and outdated customs—as only the Brits can. Streaming, ages 9+
One of my favorite shows to watch with my son (age 4) is If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (based off the book series) on Amazon Prime. I am not sure they are making any new episodes, but the ones on there teach things like cooperation, empathy, the importance of being a good friend, as well as encouraging creativity and problem solving. I highly recommend it. :)Read More