As a homeschooling mom, I know how educational documentaries for kids can help fill the days, balance entertainment with education, and even give us longer breaks when we need it. I even included it in my tips for parents who are now homeschooling, while schools are closed, and we’re all practicing safe social distancing. (Right? Right?)
So I’ve put together 15 great kid-friendly educational documentaries you can stream right now through Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and even the streaming cable channels from individual networks.
These movies give our kids screen time that teaches. They’re not all made for kids, specifically, but I think kids can watch them and learn.
Note that some of them are more appropriate for older kids, which I’ve mentioned, but plenty are for kids of all ages. And I think if you sit down to watch them with your kids, you’ll enjoy them and learn something too — which is always great for your kids to see.
Then again, if you’re like me and if you’re trying to juggle work, household duties, and now homeschooling your kids too, delegating some of that “educational time” to Netflix is just fine.
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This year’s Oscar winner for short documentary, Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), shows school life for girls in Afghanistan, including writing, math, and skateboarding. It’s positive and empowering, while still showing the reality of living in an area where you are at risk for violence daily. It’s hard to say that this movie is most appropriate for older kids considering the girls featured in it are as young as seven or eight…and they’re actually living this. So don’t be afraid to share it with your elementary-aged kids too. Just know it’s definitely one to talk through afterward. (AETV)
Honeyland is another 2020 Oscar nominee, and my 9-year-old was really rooting for it to win after having watched it with his dad. It follows the day-to-day life of a beekeeper in rural Macedonia. She lives an extremely physically demanding life that’s absolutely dedicated to the survival of these bees, even as other people come in and flippantly ignore her wisdom. The story is difficult and even infuriating, but imparts an important lesson that make this tops on my list. (Hulu)
Dancing with the Birds is a bright, colorful nature documentary about the mating lives of birds, which I think is great for kids of all ages. It doesn’t go into graphic detail about the nitty gritty, but it does show a few mating scenes that will make kids laugh, most likely. I think kids will mostly enjoy the fascinating information about habitats, the funny and interesting dances, and the vivid colors of birds they may never have even heard of. (Netflix)
In the episodic docu-series Tales by Light, photographers travel the world to capture people, places and animals with new perspective. Some of it focuses on themes like beauty, while other episodes take on hard topics like child labor, should you be up for teaching kids more about abject poverty around the globe. But each episode shows the power photography has to change the world. If you have a social-justice minded kid, this could be a great kid-friendly documentary series to watch right now. (Netflix)
For straight-up science class on TV, young kids will like the TV-G rated Brainchild. It explains topics from germs to social media in a way kids can understand, enjoy, and maybe even get excited to explore more on their own. And you’ll have fun watching it with them too, which is always a plus! (Netflix)
Salt Fat Acid Heat is a terrific docu-series about cooking and food, and it really gets down to the basics of our flavor profiles. Host Samin Nosrat is energetic and enthusiastic, and her love for food comes through the screen so beautifully. If you have a budding cook, this is a kid-friendly documentary series that they’ll love. For further learning, pick up the very visual Salt Fat Acid Heat cookbook and let them practice at home. (Netflix)
Chasing Coral is a race-against-time by scientists, divers, and photographers to document the coral reefs that are disappearing around the world. With kids so engaged with the impact of climate change right now, this kid-friendly documentary offers a glimpse into an underwater world that most kids would otherwise never see. Plus, I imagine it will ignite your child’s’ passion — or further their existing passion — to save these important living systems. (Netflix)
Told in her own words, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise engages viewers with the story of her remarkable life as a writer, poet, and civil rights activist. This TV-PG movie is a terrific way to introduce your kids to her impact on our culture, or if they’re already fans, to get to know her even better. (Netflix)
Afterwards, consider introducing them to her written work from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to her incredible books of poetry. Younger kids will especially enjoy Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
If your kids love animals and adrenaline and beg to binge Shark Week each year, then they’ll be so excited when you turn on 72 Dangerous Animals. It profiles an array of dangerous (read: terrifying) creatures from all over the world, broken up by continent. The ultimate goal is to determine which is the fiercest of them all, with March Madness-style brackets battling them down (not IRL!) to the world’s most dangerous animal. (Netflix)
It’s Women’s History Month, and we love how many incredible films there are about women who have done important work in the world. Just one of many to consider for your nature lovers is the National Geographic documentary Jane, about the life of everyone’s favorite primatologist, Jane Goodall. Her research on chimpanzees is legendary, and your kids should know more about her life. (Hulu)
For kids who may not appreciate the importance of their education (or, even for those who already do) this captivating documentary series, The Most Dangerous Ways to School, depicts kids who must swim through rivers or fight -50 degree weather simply to get to school. Others experience incredible views in unique natural landscapes along their way. It’s a fascinating take on one fairly universal life experience for children: school.
Mr. Rogers continues to help us feel better in times of crisis, so the glimpse into his life in the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a great choice for an educational, kid-friendly bio-pic to stream. To me as a child, he was just a kind man who helped his neighbors and had a slightly strange puppet world nearby. But watching this documentary, it’s fascinating to learn just how much he worked to push our culture toward equality and respect for all. (HBO)
If you and your politically-minded kids loved the RBG documentary (now streaming on Hulu), then try Knock Down the House next. It follows the campaigns of four women running for office across the country in 2018, including freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. It an empowering, moving, and hope- filled look at how the political process functions for candidates. And, no doubt, it will motivate your kids to want to get out (or, ahem, stay in right now) and do something to help support your own local candidates too. (Netflix)
For older kids with interest in LGBTQ-related information and the fight for equality, here’s a doc you might not have considered. In the tough but important documentary Believer, Imagine Dragons’s front man, Dan Reynolds, explores how the Mormon church treats LGBTQ people and how it has contributed to rising suicide rates in Utah. You’ll learn how Reynolds participated in organizing the LoveLoud festival benefitting GLAAD and the Trevor Project, and how the event forced him onto an unexpected path of change.
If you want an empowering, inspiring, you-can-do-it type kid-friendly documentary for your teens to watch, turn on If You Build It. This movie is like shop class on steroids, following an actual shop class in North Carolina building a farmer’s market for their local neighborhood. It’s incredible to see what these kids are capable of when they’re allowed the freedom, and given the tools (both literally and figuratively) that a they need. (Amazon)
If you want even more documentary ideas, I also suggest browsing the list of best documentaries from our friends at Common Sense Media.