The 10 Best Educational Shows for Kids That You Can Feel Good About Turning On

No screen time guilt here

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best-educational-shows-for-kids: Happy siblings having popcorn while watching TV in living room at home. Both are children of color. One has short brown hair and wears a grayish blue top and the other has longer curly brown hair and wears a white and black striped shirt. They both appear to be boys.
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Let’s be honest, all us parents rely on screen time to some extent (I certainly do!), but there’s a lot of crap out there on TV (looking at you, Cocomelon). While most children’s programming leaves something to be desired, it’s not all terrible. In fact, I quizzed other parents and tapped clinical psychologist (and mother) Dr. Bethany Cook for her advice, and managed to find a slew of great television for kids that teaches them all kinds of valuable lessons and life skills, whether it’s a deep dive into the animal kingdom or advice for how to navigate tricky feelings. Here, the best educational shows for kids that children of all ages can tune into so you can cook dinner, catch up on emails, or even just plop down on the couch and chill—all without a modicum of guilt.

All age range recommendations courtesy of Common Sense Media.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Bethany Cook PsyD, MT-BC is a licensed clinical psychologist and author of For What It’s Worth: A Perspective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting. She's a highly-sought after therapist and quoted media expert around the globe who brings accessible, real-world guidance to families of all socioeconomic and mental health backgrounds, based on over 20 years of clinical experience in the field.

The 20 Best Education Movies for Kids

1. You vs. Wild

  • Suitable For: Ages 7+
  • Run Time: 14 to 26 minutes

This interactive show led by survival expert Bear Grylls allows kids the opportunity to make a series of choices that determine the fate of the host while he’s out in the wilderness. It’s an exciting ride that hones problem solving skills and imparts survival tips that may or may not ever come in handy, but the common sense required surely will.

2. Octonauts

  • Suitable For: Ages 4+
  • Run Time: 23 minutes

Octonauts is a sweet and lively show featuring a squad of anthropomorphic animals who live in an undersea base and share many riveting adventures in the deep. Dr. Cook praises the show for educating kids about marine life and related environmental issues, whilst featuring characters that display empathy. Per the expert, there’s also plenty of excitement, but it still maintains a slower pace that’s tame enough for the pre-K crowd. And since each episode revolves around a different species of marine life, there’s a good chance your kid won’t be the only one who learns something new. “My son loved this show so much, we had a themed Octonauts party for his fourth birthday!” says Executive Editor Alexia Dellner. “And I loved putting on a show that wasn’t overly stimulating and actually taught him something—even now, one year later, he’ll spew out facts about sharks and various sea creatures that he learned from the show.”

3. Sesame Street

  • Suitable For: Ages 2+
  • Run Time: 26 minutes

An oldie-but-goodie that we probably don’t need to explain, given that the colorful puppet cast of Sesame Street has been entertaining and educating kids since 1969. If it’s been a while since you’ve watched, you can count on this show to teach your child their ABCs and 123s, along with many social emotional lessons and positive messages about diversity and inclusion. “I watch Sesame Street with my nephew and he adores every second of it,” says Commerce Editor Olivia Dubyak. “Not only is he absolutely obsessed with Elmo (or oh-mo as he calls him) and has started to mimic how the cookie monster says ‘cookie,’ he loves the segments with the kids because I think he can relate to their learning more easily and wants to be like them. The show does a great job at illustrating self expression, creativity, cognitive skills and more at a very accessible level. You can really tell he looks up to the kids and characters on the shows and he loves the musical numbers, too.”

4. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood

  • Suitable For: Ages 4+
  • Run Time: 28 minutes

“My husband and I were so excited to watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood with our daughter since we both watched the show as kids and have sweet memories of it. Yes, certain things on the rewatch seem straight out of 1976 (the hair, the clothing, the film), but all the themes remain extremely relevant today. It's also refreshing to have a lo-fi show that captures a toddler's attention without being a sensory explosion on all fronts. The show is calm. There's no blast of crazy graphics or noises,” says PureWow executive editor, Dara Katz. Indeed, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood—a beloved classic that aired for decades—continues to delight viewers with educational content that focuses exclusively on social emotional lessons. And let’s just say Fred Rogers was exceedingly attuned to the needs and feelings of little kids.

5. Super Why!

  • Suitable For: Ages 3+
  • Run Time: 25 minutes

There’s a lot of magic in this preschool-friendly show about fairytale adventurers who jump into the pages of books to solve problems using letters, words and rhymes. The premise is simple, yet guaranteed to stir the imagination of little kids while helping develop early literacy skills.

6. Ask the StoryBots

  • Suitable For: Ages 4+
  • Run Time: 28 minutes

This very lively animated show involves a team of very goofy robots who go on whimsical adventures in order to answer the random questions submitted by real-life kids. As such, the topics covered are diverse and include everything from why the sky is blue to why we have to brush our teeth. Parents should know, however, that the humorous antics of the bots are noisy and sometimes mildly violent, and the show might be too overstimulating for more sensitive viewers.

7. Ada Twist, Scientist

  • Suitable For: Ages 3+
  • Run Time: 15 minutes

Based on the namesake book series, this charming show is lauded by Common Sense Media for “[getting] preschoolers interested in science [while offering] great representation with a Black girl scientist as the lead.” Said lead, Ada, has a keen interest in science, but also benefits from the help of her friends—one an architect and the other an engineer—as they solve problems together using, well, science. If you’re looking for an approachable way to impart STEM knowledge and positive messages about friendship to little kids, this one fits the bill.

8. The Magic School Bus

  • Suitable For: Ages 5+
  • Run Time: 25 minutes

This one has been around for a while and has even been revived with a flashier iteration, The Magic School Bus Rides Again (see above trailer), but we’re partial to the original because it doesn’t pose as high a risk of overstimulating younger viewers. Either way, you can expect plenty of peril and adventure from this fast-paced show about a zany teacher with a magic school bus she uses to give her students all manner of science lessons in an up-close (think: taking a ride inside the human body) and highly engaging way.

9. Nature Boom Time

  • Suitable For: Ages 5+
  • Run Time: <10 minutes

One of our favorites on the list for slightly older viewers, Nature Boom Time is a travel docuseries led by a sibling trio with a passion for nature, science and adventure. The young adult hosts are intelligent and enigmatic as they explore seriously cool natural attractions, which range from Petrified Forest National Park to Washington D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Festival. Let’s just say their enthusiasm and curiosity is contagious. (Author’s note: I personally love watching this show with my kids because the hosts are so engaging and enthusiastic, and their curiosity about the world is contagious.)

10. Brainchild

  • Suitable For: Ages 7+
  • Run Time: 25 minutes

Another winner for slightly older elementary and tween audiences, Brainchild is a very clever show with a snazzy host, a good dose of humor and highly educational content that explores cool concepts covering the concepts relating to neuropsychology, in particular, and a few other scientific areas as well. Best of all, parents are just as likely as their tweens to be engaged and entertained by this educational show.

What TV Shows Are Too Stimulating for Toddlers?

Dr. Cook tells us that flashy, fast-paced shows tend to be overstimulating to younger brains and too much of that action-driven screen time can even lead to issues like ADHD.  For this reason, the expert suggests that toddlers watch shows that “move at a similar pace to nature.” Per the Urban Child Institute, gentler educational shows like Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street can actually be beneficial. Bottom line: when it comes to picking a TV show for a younger child try to keep it calm and slow.

Is Educational TV Good for Kids?

As previously mentioned, some educational TV shows can actually promote development, particularly in older children. “Educational shows offer children the opportunity to be exposed to and learn about so many more topics and concepts than would otherwise be possible,” says Dr. Cook. Still, it’s important that screen time not be the only source of education for your child outside of school and that certain limits be imposed to prevent overstimulation. (You can find the American Academy of Pediatrics’ screen time guidelines here.)

What Can Kids Learn From Watching TV Shows?

Quality programming can help kids learn a whole host of things, ranging from the alphabet, numbers and basic social emotional skills to more complicated STEM concepts and environmental lessons. Dr. Cook also recommends looking for shows that teach important lessons about diversity. Just keep in mind that this learning is merely supplemental and even educational screen time should be provided in moderation.

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