Your kids are locked inside and they need educating! While parents may have tried to steer children away from screens in the past, it's time to wake up to the fact that, without proper school, documentaries, educational shows, and podcasts may be our salvation. Here are a bunch of great suggestions to keep your kids, tweens, and teens mentally engaged (and entertained) at home.
NOTE TO PARENTS: Even if you can't afford them right now, many streaming services have free trial subscriptions available. Get 'em and use 'em. Also, if you're not using the FREE public library video app Kanopy (just plug in your library card number for THOUSANDS of docs, and new/old films for you and your family to enjoy), you're doing life wrong.
Disney + Offerings
Disney + has a boatload of gorgeously shot, interesting documentaries (including some from National Geographic) for kids. Our top picks include Giants of the Deep Blue, Into the Grand Canyon, Sharks of Lost Island, Expedition Mars, Born in China, and Chimpanzee. Available on Disney +, free trial here.
Charlie and the Curious Otters
This episode of Nature from PBS focuses on three orphaned river otters and their true adventures. OTTERS!! Available on Kanopy.
A 2007 documentary about the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for girls, where young'uns are given a week to form a band, choose an instrument, and write a song, with instruction from such luminaries as Carrie Brownstein. Inspiration at its finest. Available on Kanopy.
Ghost of the Mountains
A Disney Nature production in which filmmakers track and film the beautiful and elusive snow leopards. Available on Netflix.
Pick of the Litter
A super cute and interesting documentary about five rambunctious pups who are chosen and schooled to become guide dogs for the blind. Available on Hulu, free trial here.
A look at the amazing cities of coral reefs that lie beneath the ocean waves, their inhabitants, and what we can do to protect them. Available on Netflix.
From the makers of the Oscar-nominated Winged Migration comes this absolutely gorgeous documentary of the lush forests of Europe and all its inhabitants. Available on Kanopy.
Podcasts can be more than true-crime docs, breathless radio dramas, or strings of daisy-chained stand-ups guesting on each others shows! Sounds crazy, but it's true! For example: Minnesota Public Radio makes a show called "BRAINS ON" that is 100% aimed at your kid and their curious mind. Kind of like an audio-only combination of The Electric Company and 3-2-1 Contact. Find it here.
Though most episodes are buried behind a paywall, you can watch a few episodes of this great series for free on the PBS app. We recommend "The Story of Cats," and "Fox Tales." Available on the PBS app.
Another gorgeous Disney Nature feature, this one focusing on the relationship between humanity, the environment, and the denizens of the oceans. Available on Netflix.
The Mask You Live In
If you're the parent of a young boy, DO NOT MISS this incredible documentary that shows the recurring damage that is being caused from boys forced into a culture of toxic masculinity. It is imperative to show this to your son, and you'll learn a lot from it too. Available on Kanopy.
These short (5 to 7 minute long) docs are great for explaining basic scientific concepts to science-averse kids, answering such necessary questions as "Why do dogs eat poop?" (The "5 Gross Facts About Koalas" is simultaneously fascinating and disgusting.) Available on the PBS app.
One of the absolute best nature documentary series, and something every person in your house can agree on regardless of age. Our top picks include, "Jungles," "From Deserts to Grasslands," "The High Seas," "Fresh Water," "Forests"... oh hell, just watch all of 'em! Available on Netflix.
A doc focusing on the hundreds of thousands of cats that freely roam Istanbul, and the beautiful, touching connection they make with the humans there. Available on Kanopy.
Science with Sophie
Comedian, science educator, and YouTube star (one of the good ones, we promise) Sophie Shrand hosts this educational series focused on helping an entire generation of girls get into STEM careers. Find it here.
Bill Nye Saves the World
Bill Nye is evergreen, Bill Nye is eternal, Bill Nye is the BEST—but just in case your kid thinks they're too old for classic episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy (they're not, nobody is, but you can't tell teenagers anything) turn em towards this Netflix talk show instead. Available on Netflix.
The Mars Generation
It's a history of NASA (whose history is wild, honestly) that's also a chance for viewers to more-or-less attend space camp! Which is way better than actually watching the movie Space Camp, which was not very good (but is very '80s). Available on Netflix.
A true life look at an entire school year at Los Angeles High School for the Arts, with loads of drama (at home and in class), competition, heartbreak, and triumph. A must for the artsy kid in your family. Available on Kanopy.
This series provides lots of smart explanations about why the brain works the way it does, and in a wildly entertaining fashion. Parents, don't get high and watch this... your brain won't be able to process it. Available on Disney +, free trial here.
In 1961, a small group of women were tested to become the first American astronauts in space... but guess what happened? PATRIARCHY. This is a great, occasionally infuriating, but eventually uplifting story about women who can not and will not be stopped. Available on Netflix.
More short featurettes from PBS, it's a smart way of teaching basic physics concepts in an approachable manner, with a fun host. Includes "How do touchscreens work?" "Scary physics experiments" and an interview with the host's dad about why he's been struck by lightning... twice! Available on the PBS app.
Stuff You Missed in History Class
This long-running podcast isn't exactly aimed at kids, but it is family friendly (no swears!), and the illicit thrill of hearing positively engrossing lost histories (that your teachers are hiding from you) is a good way to turn the spark of learning into a big ol' fire. Find it here.
While not a documentary, this hilarious/sad tale of a girl's horrible year in middle school is a must watch for teens and family. Available on Kanopy.
Origin of Everything
Super interesting shorts about (as the title implies) the origin of everything, including "how Columbus invented cannibalism," "Is poisoned Halloween candy a myth," "why we have middle names," and more! Available on the PBS app.
All This Panic
A stark, revealing look at the internal lives of teenage girls in Brooklyn as they transition from childhood to becoming adults. It's painful, funny, and exhilarating... just like life. Available on Kanopy.
This series from OPB is a great way to learn about Oregon's always interesting, sometime batpoop crazy history. We suggest checking out "Oregon's Black Pioneers," "Portland Noir" (the truth about the Shanghai Tunnels), "Vanport," and the very troubling, but fascinating "Massacre at Hells Canyon" about the covered up murder of Chinese immigrants in 1887. Available on the PBS app.