Let’s be real, fellow parents: for most of us, TV is gonna be a lifesaver during winter break. But it doesn’t have to numb our kids’ brains. We live in the best time ever for educational, edifying family and kid television. There is a plethora of wonderful programing that can help our kids spend their screen time on content that will build them up, not tear them down. Here is my list of great content to share with your kids, grouped by age group. I have also noted if a program might be appropriate across age groups. One caveat: what I find appropriate for my family might differ from you. Sites like Common Sense Media are very helpful in sorting out if a show’s content is appropriate for your family.
1. Mighty Machines
For the little boy (or girl) who can’t get enough heavy machinery, this Canadian show is a gift. Live footage of heavy machinery with often-corny voiceovers. What more could a little kid want?
2. Super Why!
“And that, super readers, is why we are in this book!” the superhero-like Whyatt proclaims in each episode. I swear this show taught my daughter her alphabet. While my now four-year-old son is convinced “that show is for babies” (apparently, this is the word around daycare), I can assure you it is not. Fun, if formulaic, stories and lots of exposure to letters and spelling.
3. Veggie Tales
Netflix only offers three of the original Veggie Tales videos but if you have other streaming service, you can probably find more there. Expect adorable storytelling and voices, moral lessons, hilarious and catchy songs, and a Bible verse that relates. Talking vegetables without arms should not work! But they do!
4. Little Einsteins
This show might not turn your toddlers into geniuses, but it might soothe them and help their brains get used to the flow of music. Through this program, kids get introduced to the greats of classical music, their exploring led by a fun team of animated characters on a spaceship.
5. Sid the Science Kid
This PBS show explores science but also family and classroom relationships and good communication and does it in a winsome, lovable way.
1. Good Eats
Alton Brown’s much-loved Food Network show is practically built for a kid. Instead of a boring recitation of recipes, Brown uses visual aids, costumes, characters, demonstrations, kitchen science, and lots of teaching to explain the “why” behind cooking. Great preparation for young chefs. Suitable for elementary and up.
2. Food shows
Netflix in recent years has added a plethora of great Food Network programming. While these shows tend to be very formulaic and you can’t always rule out a few mild bad words, overall they provide great, family-friendly entertainment that will help your kids challenge their imagination and learn about cooking. Some shows to start with: Kids Baking Championship; Chopped; Guy’s Grocery Games; and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. For extra fun, consider hosting a cooking competition night modeled after one of the shows. Suitable for elementary and up.
This precious documentary shows the love of parents for their babies all around the world. Visit families in Mongolia, Japan, the United States, and Namibia. This is a beautifully shot documentary and warms my heart every time I see it. Great opportunity to show your kids that family love is the same everywhere in the world. My kids have watched this from babyhood so I feel it is suitable for all ages. There is some culturally related nudity, so if that bothers you, be aware.
4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
This lovely adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s beloved fantasy classic is great for ages elementary and above. Consider integrating a viewing with a reading of the book. Be aware that there are some intense moments that might be too much for the littlest viewers.
5. Planet Earth
This British documentary series explores the animals and habitats of our beautiful planet. Gorgeously shot, but be aware that some scenes portraying animals hunting and killing, as happens in nature.
Middle School–High School
1. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
Anthony Bourdain is a chef and a national treasure. His beautifully filmed documentary series shows his trips around the world to learn about other cultures and enjoy their cuisine on camera. Bourdain does sometimes engage in salty language, and there are a few other more adult elements from time to time, so use your discretion. But what I love about this show is the way Bourdain models careful listening and respect for his hosts and their cultures. Unlike many chefs, he doesn’t have a snobby bone in his body. You will always learn watching him.
2. The Search for General Tso’s Chicken
This documentary, a love affair with Chinese-American cooking, is the ultimate scrappy immigrant story. There is enough beautiful food footage to get those taste buds going too. Fun for the whole family, but probably could be best understood by older kids.
3. A Ballerina’s Tale
The story of the first African-American prima ballerina, Misty Copeland, and all the hard work it took to get her there. This is suitable for elementary and up.
4. The West Wing
This NBC show about the fictional President Bartlett administration is a great introduction to the big ideas in government and to how the U. S. democratic system works. It’s a great conversation starter.
5. Parenthood and Friday Night Lights
I snuck these two Jason Katims NBC shows in together because they are both wonderful examples of great shows for parents and kids to watch together. The first features the adventures of the Braverman family: the parents of the autistic son, the single mother, the couple juggling careers, the irresponsible playboy who just found out he has a son, and the patriarch and matriarch who are going through serious marriage difficulties. The second is about a small town and its football team and the players’ and coach’s families. Note, both shows sometimes deal with themes related to sex, pregnancy, infidelity, abuse, murder, and other topics that parents might be concerned about. They are not usually very explicit, but different families have different tolerance levels. But generally speaking, these shows are good at pointing viewers back to family relationships, to the importance of marital commitment, and to love. Both shows tend to show the consequences of negative decisions too, rather than glamorizing those decisions They could open helpful conversations about some tough topics. Use your discernment, but considering enjoying these shows with your older kids.
By Rebecca Florence Miller