Educational programs and movies
September 13, 2011 9:33 AM   Subscribe

What are some cool kids movies or television programs that are not documentaries, are educational, engaging, and do not simply teach values & behavior?

Preferred topics include science, math, history*, music, technology, philosophy, language, world culture, and so forth. An example would be the two Flatland movies from 2007.

* - I do know that there are a lot of kids films set in the past, but those don't really count as history since the historical setting is often just a vehicle for the story, and accuracy/detail are often afterthoughts. The ones that stand out are fine, though.
posted by crapmatic to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Cyberchase teaches math and is lots of fun for the kidlingtons I know.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:35 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wishbone! It's probably dated now, but I'm still convinced that I've read several works of literature that I've never actually read because of that little dog.
posted by verbyournouns at 9:37 AM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Peep and The Big Wide World --originally a CBC show features simply animated *urban* wildlife (the chicken lives in a junkyard, there are raccoons, a robin, a duck, etc.) figuring out basic scientific laws. Narrated by JOAN CUSAK. My kid is nutty about it and there is A LOT going on there without any of the things that make me itchy about other kids' shows (similar to what you mention bothers you).
posted by rumposinc at 9:52 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by leahwrenn at 9:53 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Bill Nye the Science Guy!
The Magic School Bus
seconding Wishbone

All of them a little dated, but fantastic.
posted by la_rousse at 9:54 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

My 6-year-old loves The Magic School Bus.
posted by Ostara at 9:59 AM on September 13, 2011

The Cat in the Hat Knows a lot About That! And if you have access to PBS Kids there are a whole bunch of goodies to be found there, including Martha Speaks and the aforementioned Cyberchase..
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:00 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Beakman's World!
posted by Neekee at 10:15 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is Beakman's World available on DVD/Netflix/anything? I thought that was the coolest show ever as a kid, and I'm a scientist now so it must have had an impact.

Liberty's Kids is a cute PBS show set during the American Revolution where the history's not just windowdressing. A friend's daughter is really into learning about that era right now because of that show.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:15 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing Beakman's World.

It may be tough to find, but the gold standard for this kind of thing, IMO, is "Watch Mr. Wizard"/"Mr. Wizard's World."

And for both science and history, I would think a great many kids would fall in love with Good Eats.
posted by jbickers at 10:19 AM on September 13, 2011

Design Squad is a great PBS show that challenges kids to design and build their own solutions to technical problems.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:38 AM on September 13, 2011

The PBS Kids Lineup is pretty focused on education and I've found it pretty solid. A number of them have been noted here. A target age range might help with suggestions here. If you go to any of the program sites there you will find a Parents and/or Teachers section where you can read about the philosophy behind and pedagogical content of the shows.

Non-documentary movies is a tougher call. I'll be curious to see what people come up with.
posted by nanojath at 10:39 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Curious George TV Series (PBS Link iTunes Link) has a lot of educational content couched very cleverly in funny darling Curious George stories.

For example, there is one where the Man with the Yellow Hat explains to George what a zero is and how it can turn a one into a ten. He then sends George to get 1 dozen donuts and of course George decides it would be better to get 100 dozen.

Other episodes talk about leverage, about what makes a boat sink or swim, about train scheduling, etc etc. The thing that is great is that the knowledge is all embedded in the narrative. It never looks like the show is explaining things. Instead you have experiential learning, with concepts being explained to children the way a parent might explain things incidentally in the course of daily activity.

Now, you don't say what age children you need to entertain and educate. Curious George, obviously, is for the younger set: preschoolers through kindergarten would be sweet spot. Older kids not so much.
posted by alms at 10:41 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Going way back, Square One and 3-2-1 Contact... if you can find them.

If you do, let me know where. Very formative to young Supercres.
posted by supercres at 10:47 AM on September 13, 2011

Liberty's Kids teaches all about the American Revolution from the viewpoint of kids who lived it. It's a cartoon and it introduces most of the major players in a really great way.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:48 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

PBS' "Fetch with Ruff Ruffman" is worth a look. Ruff is an animated dog who has a posse of kids (Tweeners?) who are assigned various tasks which can involve anything from making a kite to learning to dance hiphop. There is science, teamwork, competition and the kids don't always do it alone. Ruff will send them out to meet experts in the field who work with the kids. Has the standard set of multi-racial kids, and multi-cultural tasks/solutions most PBS shows have.
posted by Gungho at 10:59 AM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is anyone still rerunning "You can't do that on Television" any more? (Hey, Moose!)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:09 AM on September 13, 2011

Schoolhouse Rock!
posted by estlin at 11:22 AM on September 13, 2011

My kid is rocking out the TMBG Here Comes Science. It's a CD/DVD set and the songs are pretty catchy.
posted by stinker at 11:37 AM on September 13, 2011

Do I need another excuse to mention that somebody put all the episodes of The Voyage of the Mimi online? Sure, why not.
posted by nanojath at 11:44 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not really a kids movie, but the musical 1776 is child-friendly and jam-packed with American history in a fun way.
posted by Mchelly at 11:45 AM on September 13, 2011

la_rousse: "Bill Nye the Science Guy!
The Magic School Bus
seconding Wishbone

All of them a little dated, but fantastic.

If Bill Nye is dated, then I guess I'm way outta line by suggesting:
Mr. Wizard's World
posted by Grither at 11:52 AM on September 13, 2011

My kids love Dinosaur Train (have you ever heard a former speech therapy child say stygimoloch? It rules.) and Wordgirl. They have both learned SO much from just these two shows. They also used to watch Sid the Science Kid, but that got old fast.
posted by altopower at 12:15 PM on September 13, 2011

My kids love Dinosaur Train, Fetch with Ruff Ruffman and Word Girl too. (I love Word Girl myself...hilarious). Also, PBS has another show called Zula Patrol which teaches about the planets, space, etc. I'm constantly amazed at what the kids know from these shows.
posted by hellochula at 12:28 PM on September 13, 2011

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood teaches emotional literacy and strategies for navigating interpersonal relationships, not just by example but by talking openly about what's happening and describing the steps kids can use to figure out how to handle a problem. It's impossible to overestimate the value of these skills being taught to kids directly, rather than just hoping they pick them up along the way.

The show does also discuss more tangible subjects--the episodes that touch on how music is made stand out for me, because Mr. Rogers is very passionate about music. My son, who's two, learned a lot about identifying different instruments, understanding how they're played, and their function in a band or orchestra from the show.

The PBS website I linked offers 26 episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood free to watch online. "Yo Yo Ma Visits" and "Unusual Musical Instruments" are especially popular at my house.
posted by milk white peacock at 12:42 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Once upon a time... Life came to my mind as soon as iread your question. No idea how easy it would be to find though.
posted by domi_p at 1:48 PM on September 13, 2011

Old, but still good:
Bill Nye the Science Guy
Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?
Voyage of the Mimi

As a kid, I LOVED watching Nation Geographic specials. They are about an hour long, and there are probably more than 100. If you want, I could recommend specific episodes. NOVA also produces great science videos.

I also watched the series "Ring of Fire" by Lawrence and Lorne Blair as a kid. The series was definitely not intended for children, but I was 8 years old and utterly, utterly amazed. The series is very hard to find but I finally tracked down a DVD copy of it. It remains one the best things I've ever seen to this day.

I watched Carl Sagan's Cosmos series as a kid, too. I was in love with astronomy and I really enjoyed the series. However, Carl was pretty sure we were going to die of nuclear war, and he scared me.

The Planet Earth series - and pretty much anything else narrated by David Attenborough, and he's done a LOT of excellent work - was not created for children either, but I see no reason why children couldn't enjoy it too. Just skip the part with the dying polar bear.
posted by Cygnet at 1:55 PM on September 13, 2011

My son (6) likes Nature and Dinosaur Train. Then again, he also likes Billy the Exterminator.
posted by ducktape at 2:49 PM on September 13, 2011

Good Eats is fun and teaches science. There are specific episodes that talks about cooking with kids, but almost all would be appropriate for a school ager to learn from. The visualizations of cooking concepts are fun and goofy enough to be entertaining for kids.

Nth-ing Magic School Bus and Beakman's world.

My kids learn lots of history from Pawn Stars. It's a whole-family show around our house.
posted by cross_impact at 4:44 PM on September 13, 2011

Biscuit Brothers is an astoundingly good PBS show that teaches music appreciation.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:56 PM on September 13, 2011

the musical 1776 is child-friendly
Except for the part where they talk about the whoring and the drinking. I loved that movie but couldn't show it to my girl scout troop just for that reason. I let my own kids watch it, though.
posted by CathyG at 8:08 PM on September 13, 2011

Seconding They Might Be Giants' Here Comes Science. There's a CD and a DVD. They also have Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 123s. Those may be more basic than you like, but it's still interesting stuff. For instance, there is a song on the ABCs called "C is for Conifers" and it talks about how there are more than 500 different types of evergreen trees. Who knew?!
posted by wwartorff at 1:48 PM on September 14, 2011

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