Best Educational TV Shows on Netflix
So here we are, in lockdown again. We usually have a rule that says no TV during the week on school days, but with the kids at home all day again now all bets are off if I want to get any work done. And while my kids would love nothing more than to watch the same cartoons over and over (some of which seem really dumb, but of course those are the ones they always like best…) it makes me feel a bit better if I can give them something to watch that’s a little educational too. So we’ve set up a separate user profile on Netflix, where we bookmark fun educational programmes that we think the kids would like, so now when they are begging for some extra screen time we can say okay, but you need to pick something from there.
There are some particularly good science and nature programmes on Netflix, which my kids are particularly interested in, and also a couple good history ones. My kids are age 6 and 10 now, but we first set this up almost a year ago when the first lockdown hit, so most of these are suitable for ages 5+ and some of them will be suitable for younger children too.
Messy Goes to Okido
A while ago we reviewed the brilliant Okido magazine, and have since discovered the accompanying animated TV series which sees Messy – a curious, furry creature who features in the magazine – explore the world of science with his friends to find answers to all his questions such as why things don’t taste the same when you have a cold, or why some things float and others swim. This programme is particularly suited for younger children.
Ask the Storybots
I have to confess I’m not a huge fan of this one myself, as I find the characters slightly annoying, but my boys love it and they learn a lot from it so it still gets my blessing. It features five inquisitive creatures who track down the answers to kids’ big questions, such as How Do Eyes See?, What Happens When You Flush The Toilet?, or How Do Volcanoes Work? This is another programme that is particularly suited for younger children.
The Magic School Bus Rides Again
My boys have been fans of this animated show for a while. In this sequel to the original series, teacher Valerie Frizzle has retired from teaching and passed the keys to her Magic School Bus on to her younger sister. The new Ms Frizzle takes to the wheel, and leads her class at Walkerville Elementary on exciting adventures across the world and through time, learning all about the wonders of science along the way. I wish our field-trips t school had been this fun! There are also a couple of feature length episodes which are listed separately.
Once Upon a Time…Life
I was so excited to find this animated series which explores the human body on Netflix, as I used to watch it myself as a kid. It was originally produced in the late 1980s but is just as relevant now as it was then. The series combines fun storylines with lots of factual information. Each episode focuses on a different organ or system of the human body – such as the brain, heart, cells, eye, circulatory system and more. Blood cells, bacteria, viruses and so on are represented by characters that travel through the human body to explain how everything works. Even though the series itself is rated for all ages, Netflix has it under “Guidance” which means it won’t show up if you’ve got your children watching Netflix on the Kids setting. I’m not sure why, possibly because there is an episode on childbirth which maybe not all parents will want their young kids watching. I personally think it’s fine, and my 6 yr old who is very interested in how the human body works binge watched half the series in one rainy weekend and has learned so much from it.
This was a recent discovery for us, and became an instant favourite with my boys. It features a cast of kids who explore various science topics and conduct scientific experiments, explaining the world in a refreshingly relatable way. Topics covered range from Germs, Space and Emotions, to Oceans, Gravity, Motivation and more.
In this live-action series, two doctors take a fun and entertaining approach to educating children about biology and medicine, through a series of experiments and hospital visits. My 6 yr old is fascinated by anything science related, especially if it involves the human body, and loves this programme. The BBC has also included it in their latest Lockdown Learning schedule.
In this comedy science show, Dr Yuck and his merry band of eccentric lab mates investigate the science behind some of our planet’s most ickiest things, through a mix of cartoons and live-action.
Not specifically a programme for kids, but my 6 yr old is super interested in anything space related and enjoys watching this, though the episodes are quite long (around 45 mins each). The series explores the secrets of the universe, pairing animation with insights on distant planets, black holes and other celestial marvels. Episodes include Secret of the Sun, Mars: The Red Planet, Jupiter: The Giant Planet, The Moon, The Inner Planets: Mercury & Venus, and Life and Death of a Star.
The Octonauts are an all time favourite in our house. The team of brave underwater explorers travel the world’s oceans to help marine creatures in distress. The fact that a jumble of disparate animals are living and working together in a submarine like structure may be a bit of fantasy, but the marine animals they rescue are all real and the facts fairly accurate – a biologist friend of ours even gave it a thumbs up. A couple of years ago on a trip to Gothenburg we visited the aquarium there, and I was astonished at all the things my boys were able to point out. I asked them how they knew all this already, and they said “From the Octonauts!” If that isn’t the sign of a good kids programme, I don’t know what is. This is also another programme particularly suited for younger children.
This fun natural history programme for kids features a cast of quirky critters, with Mother Nature herself as the narrator. The series takes a look at Earth’s most incredible animals, from funny-nosed monkeys, goo-spewing beetles and flying snakes, to butterflies that drinks turtle tears, tiny lizards that fits on your finger tip, and more. My boys have been loving watching this and finding out lots of weird and wonderful facts, though we did have a slightly hiccup at the start when my 6 yr old said the dung eating beetle made him feel sick. But once we got past that he loved the rest. Maybe check it out yourself first if you are not sure.
You Vs Wild
I wasn’t really sure whether to squeeze this in to science or nature, but my 6 year old is obsessed with this series. It’s an interactive live-action programme which features adventurer Bear Grylls, who travels to some of the harshest environments on earth – such as the jungle, the desert, or the deep snow of the Alps – and you have to help him complete his missions by deciding what he does next. At various points in each episode, you use your remote control to choose between two options, such as which supplies Bear Grylls should take with him, which direction he should go in, or which of two risky decisions he should take. For example in the jungle episode, you had to decide whether to follow the river or hack your way through the trees, and later whether to walk across a precarious looking log spanning a ravine or whether to risk swinging across on a vine.
The following suggestions aren’t programmes specifically aimed at children, but my boys love a good natural history documentary and these ones seemed suitable. But check them out yourselves first if you are not sure.
This nature documentary series travels to different states across the USA, such as Arizona, Minnesota, Louisiana, Texas or Washington, and explores the hidden worlds and dramatic survival stories of some of nature’s smallest creatures.
This documentary series explores our planet’s natural beauty and examines how climate change impacts all living creatures. Habitats explored included jungles, coastal seas, deserts, grasslands and forests. One of the episodes focuses on frozen worlds, and as my 6 yr old is currently studying the Arctic and Antarctic at school we will be rewatching this together as part of home schooling. And it’s narrated by none other than David Attenborough, so what’s not to love.
Walking with Dinosaurs
This programme explores the Mesozoic Era, portraying dinosaurs and their contemporaries in the style of a traditional nature documentary through a combination of computer-generated imagery and animatronics incorporated with-live action footage – as one of my boys said, “it looks so real!” My boys love this as they are dinosaur obsessed, but some of the more graphic content may scare younger children, so do check it out yourselves first.
Night on Earth
This natural documentary series uses state of the art, low-light camera technology to reveal the hidden night time lives of various creatures, from deserts to jungles to oceans.
72 Cutest Animals
This series delivers a fact filled countdown of the world’s cutest animals, each assessed and ranked for its level of cuteness on a sliding scale. For older or more hardy kids, there’s also 72 Dangerous Animals Asia, and 72 Dangerous Animals South Asia.
A live-action musical sketch comedy series which introduces children to some of the less pleasant moments in history. Episodes focus on different periods of history – such as the Terrible Tudors, the Savage Stone Age, the Vile Victorians, or the Groovy Greeks – with a mix of periods covered in each episode. There is a lot of toilet humour involved, but my boys love this show and the BBC has even included it in their latest Lockdown Learning schedule. Based on the bestselling books of the same name.
The Who Was? Show
Another live-action sketch comedy programme, this time based on individual historical characters. Each episode introduces a different pair of characters, such as Gandhi & Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein & Joan of Arc, Isaac Newton & Amelia Earhart, and Marie Curie & Harry Houdini. My boys prefer Horrible Histories, but quite enjoy this too. Based on the Who Was…? book series.
This programme isn’t specifically aimed at kids, but the documentary style episodes deliver bite-sized history lessons that are a perfect length for children, even if they don’t understand everything. Through a mix of archival footage an infographics, each episode covers various topics ranging scientific breakthroughs to world-changing discoveries, such as the space race, robots, feminism, genetics and nuclear power. Again, maybe check it out yourself first if you are not sure.
Just to add, this is based on Netflix in the UK. Depending on where you are in the world, these programmes may not all be available, and of course Netflix also changes things up so some of these programmes may disappear from Netflix but I will try and keep the list as up to date as possible. I’d also love to know what your favourite Netflix recommendations are for kids – let me know in the comments!