entertainment

15 Binge-Worthy Educational (And Fun) Shows For Toddlers To Tweens

by Amber Leventry
Amber Leventry is a queer, nonbinary writer and advocate. They live in Vermont and have three kids, including twins and a transgender daughter. Amber’s writing appears in many publications including Romper, Grown and Flown, Longreads, The Temper, The Washington Post, and Parents Magazine. They are a staff writer for Scary Mommy and LittleThings. They also run Family Rhetoric by Amber Leventry, a Facebook page devoted to advocating for LGBTQIA+ families one story at a time. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

Before the current health crisis, my kids usually wouldn’t get any screen time during the week. Morning shows and movies were watched on the weekends because our school week was just too busy.

As long as it’s age-appropriate, I usually don’t care what my kids watch during their screen time. But we now have a very wide-open schedule, and my kids’ screen time is not exactly limited. They are chatting with friends, doing schoolwork, and seeking comfort and escape in their shows. I am reminding myself that it’s fine. This is the new normal for a bit, and I have to get work done. But I still have some guilt about the extra time they are staring at the TV screen.

To make myself feel better and to make TV time count toward science, reading, and social-emotional learning, I direct my kids to certain shows. No judgment: You do you. But if you are like me and want your kids engaged in something a bit more educational, here are 15 educational shows for a wide range of ages.

'Sesame Street' (Amazon Prime, Hulu, PBS Kids, HBO) — Preschool Age (2-4)

Numbers, letters, singing, and lessons about friendship help build our kids’ intellect and emotional intelligence. The iconic characters haven’t shied away from homelessness, food insecurity, autism, or gender expression.

Sesame Street helps parents have meaningful conversations about tough subjects. The show helps parents through difficult times, too. Elmo’s dad recently reminded parents that it’s OK to take a break. He spoke directly to all of us wrangling kids and validated our feelings that it can be both wonderful and overwhelming to be spending so much time with our children. “Remember though, it’s important to take some time for yourself, you know, take care of you.” Sesame Street is the show we all need right now.

'Peep and the Big Wide World' (Discovery Kids, PBS Kids) — Preschool Age (2-4)

This fun and funny show is packed with science that doesn’t seem like science. Peep, Chirp, and Quack spend each episode exploring everyday problems, then solving them. After each show, the same experiment is done by real kids using ideas from home. Your preschooler will be motivated to test their scientific theories, too. Oh, and Peep and the Big Wide World is narrated by Joan Cusack, in case you can’t place the voice.

'Ask the StoryBots' (Netflix) — Preschool Age (2-4)

The StoryBots are robots that live inside a computer, and their job is to answer kids’ most burning questions. The show uses songs and simple language to explain topics like carbohydrates, germs, how our immune system works, and why the sky is blue. Spelling, science, singing, and silly characters are packed into each episode. The bots remind me of talking trash cans, but my kids (ages 9 and 6) were mesmerized by the cool graphics when they burned through the two seasons.

'Super Why!' (PBS Kids) — Preschool Age (2-4)

Super Why! uses famous storybook characters to solve literacy problems. The heroes travel through stories and use teamwork and friendship to solve word obstacles. The show is a great reading booster and plays on kids’ love of saving the day. Reading is a superpower in Super Why!

'Helpsters' (Apple TV+) — Preschool Age (2-4)

The Helpsters are monsters who help solve people’s problems. In turn, they are helping preschoolers learn the value of relationships and critical-thinking skills to solve their own problems. The emphasis is on communication, teamwork, and learning how to adapt to new situations. The show is a production of Sesame Workshop, so expect lots of great songs and irresistible characters.

'The Magic School Bus Rides Again' (Netflix) — Big(ish) Kids (5-9)

This reboot of the original Magic School Bus is another fun and informative ride; Ms. Frizzle is voiced by Kate McKinnon and is the younger sister of Miss Frizzle. A new group of students gets very hands-on experience when it comes to learning scientific concepts. Each episode is a magical field trip to explore topics like magnets, oceans, the nervous system, satellites, and weather patterns.

'Wild Kratts' (PBS Kids) — Big(ish) Kids (5-9)

Real-life zoologists Chris and Martin are the Kratt brothers who take us — er, kids — on super-cool adventures through time and to a variety of locations to learn about animals, their habitats, and their creature powers. Each episode explores threats to an animal’s survival, and it’s up to the bros to learn what cool talents and adaptations animals make to evade predators or other stresses to their environment. The real-life Kratt brothers show up at the beginning and end of each episode to show animals in their natural habitats. There are plenty of silly parts to make this show endearing and full of facts that will stick.

'Brainchild' (Netflix) — Big(ish) Kids (5-9)

Brainchild uses real, young actors in the show instead of cartoons or an adult cast to explain scientific concepts. Facts, cool examples, and fun visuals keep kids entertained and educated. I like the show because it also explores the science behind intangible topics like emotions, memories, and creativity.

'Odd Squad' (PBS Kids) — Big(ish) Kids (5-9)

My kids are obsessed with this show and have watched every episode and movie made. They pretend to be the Odd Squad and ask Alexa to play songs from the show. I know all of the words to “Zoological,” FYI. The show incorporates math and science to solve mysteries. My daughters love to see cool and smart female characters represented in this show, too. My son loves it too, and it’s pretty fun to hear them giggle while solving math equations.

'Carmen Sandiego' (Netflix) — Big(ish) Kids (5-9)

In this updated version of the ’90s classic, Carmen is still a thief, but a Robin Hood-type thief we are cheering for. She’s smart and clever and challenges the meaning of right and wrong while trying to protect treasures all over the world. Kids will learn history, culture, and geography while Carmen and her teammates try to stop V.I.L.E. (Villains’ International League of Evil) from stealing important artifacts. There is some fighting and mild violence in the show, so if your child scares easily, it may be best to sit with them for an episode to see how they do.

'MythBusters' (Discovery Channel, Amazon Prime, Hulu) — Big(ish) Kids (5-9)

Hosts and wise guys Jamie and Adam and the MythBusters team take a sometimes extreme (but always cool) approach to proving or disproving theories and urban legends. The cast uses math and science to plan and carry out each experiment, which we get to see from start to finish. The effects are great, and kids will love seeing their what-ifs played out in spectacular — but not suitable to do at home — fashion. Some questions answered have included: Can a can of biscuit dough explode in a hot car? Can a person be electrocuted by urinating on the third rail? Does a goldfish’s memory only last for 3 seconds?

'The Who Was? Show' (Netflix) — Big(ish) Kids (5-9)

The Who Was? Show is a sketch comedy series that provides kids with introductions to historical figures. The teen actors make learning fun by using silly jokes, songs, and skits as they make characters like Benjamin Franklin, Amelia Earhart, Blackbeard, and Joan of Arc come to life. Some humor is laced with potty talk — which keeps my kids engaged, honestly — and bigger and sensitive topics like racism.

'The Age of A.I.' (YouTube) — Tweens (10-12)

The Age of A.I. is a docuseries hosted by Robert Downey Jr. The show investigates artificial intelligence and showcases the developers and makers of robots and the technology that is pushing us into the future. STEM- and STEAM-loving tweens and teens will love this.

'White Rabbit Project' (Netflix) — Tweens (10-12)

The MythBusters crew takes science and applies it to history in White Rabbit Project. The show reenacts historical events like jailbreaks and famous heists and explores technology behind World War II weaponry, mind control, and human flight. The show provides six examples of each topic, and one is declared the winner.

'Hamilton’s America' (PBS) — Tweens (10-12)

History, music, and theater buffs will love this documentary that follows the making of the Broadway musical Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and writer of Hamilton, won a Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Genius Grant for his work. The documentary explains how Miranda came up with his ideas and the songs and will inspire creativity in all of us.

It’s OK to let go of the guilt. We are doing the best we can right now, and many of us have embraced that our kids are on screens more than usual. Thankfully, there are plenty of quality shows that can supplement our attempts at homeschooling.