Nature documentaries for young children
October 29, 2012 5:09 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the best nature and science documentaries for young children?

I'd like to get some nature and science documentaries for my four year-old daughter: oceans, forests, jungles, mountains, volcanoes, plants, insects, sea life, land animals, weather, geography, geology, astrology, evolution, etc.

She doesn't necessarily need to be able to understand all of it as long as there are interesting visuals. So documentaries that are aimed at older children, or even adults, still might be acceptable.

Thank you for your recommendations!
posted by Dansaman to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Microcosmos. My kids loved it.
posted by Cuspidx at 5:21 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, the Planet Earth series is visually stunning, has eleven one-hour episodes, has masterful narration (in the BBC version especially) and covers most of the world's major biomes (or at least it tries to). It's six years old at this point and I still think of it as the gold standard in nature documentaries.

It definitely doesn't shy away from portraying death however, sometimes in fairly heartwrenching ways, so it's up to you whether or not you think it's suitable for your four-year-old. If you think that you are ready to introduce her to the idea of death and predation and the Circle of Life, then I can't recommend it highly enough. I'd show it to a four-year-old, but I'm weird.
posted by Scientist at 5:35 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not particularly good science (but she's four!) however I'd recommend Animals are Beautiful People.
And every Life..(birds, mammals, undergrowth, cold blood, freezer) Attenborough you can get your hands on.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:41 PM on October 29, 2012

"Walking with Dinosaurs". It's got the visuals, because it features digitally-animated dinosaurs. (Looks like Amazon has it, in various options.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:43 PM on October 29, 2012

This skews younger rather than older, but -- Come Outside is a wonderful documentaries-for-preschoolers series, and several episodes are nature-oriented. (I suppose you could view "Bread," "Sewage," etc as science.) Most if not all of the shows are on YouTube, last I looked.
posted by kmennie at 5:44 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, this isn't the best production value and it's definitely not available HD, but Animals are Beautiful People is one of the most entertaining animal documentaries I've ever seen. Children and adults alike have been entertained by the hilarious antics portrayed in this documentary about the Namib desert inhabitants. I always recommend this on family nights or for kid-friendly events. It's brilliant!
posted by loquat at 5:47 PM on October 29, 2012

See? Even Cold Lurkey thought it was good!
posted by loquat at 5:48 PM on October 29, 2012

"March of the Penguins," of course.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:43 PM on October 29, 2012

My three year old is a huge David Attenborough fan: she'll ask to watch Undergrowth ("Bugs! Bugs!") or Planet Earth, and watches along with us when we watch. All of Planet Earth is really wonderful.

I may be seriously anti penguin, but March of and any penguin based docos fill me with an unspeakable rage - hours of penguins standing in the cold, more hours of penguins walking through the cold, hours of penguin babies falling off feet and freezing and the sad parents standing sadly in the cold, ten seconds of cute penguins swimming happily. Brrrr. Penguins.
posted by thylacinthine at 7:11 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chimpanzee. Also, for the past few years Disney Nature has put out some great nature documentaries. My young children loved them all - African Cats, Oceans, Earth, and Chimpanzee.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:20 PM on October 29, 2012

A lot of the Walking with X episodes are full of intense, personalized animal-on-animal violence. Depending on how sensitive your kid is, it may require a quick trigger-finger on your FF button.

We like Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom because it's full of the awesome romping power of wolverines (which resembles the awesome romping power of small children quite a bit), and it's generally kind of funny.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:00 PM on October 29, 2012

If you have access to BBC programmes, there's a really great animal series for animals call Andy's Wild Adventures (15 minute programmes, each focusing on a different animal) Our four-year old loves them, but he's also very very happy to watch pretty much any BBC nature series - David Attenborough's 'Mammals' series is very popular, as is his 'Frozen Planet' series, also Stephen Fry's 'Ocean giants'. All of them have scenes of nature being pretty brutal though - he seems to understand and not be frightened but ymmv (and he was terrified of the 'Walking with Dinosaurs' violence, which I also found pretty disturbing). The only thing he won't have anything to do with is any animal programme where 'real' animals 'talk' with human voices (for which I'm very grateful, because I can't stand that either).
posted by melisande at 2:22 AM on October 30, 2012

I used to schedule film screenings for local schools, and environmentalism was a big thing.

For 5-8 year olds Microcosmos was REALLY popular, though I was pleasantly surprised by the uptake for a screening of the French semi-fiction film The Fox and the Child.

For 8-12 year olds, I'd screen Earth (2007 feature-length companion piece to the BBC's Planet Earth) or March of the Penguins.

As a child, I was obsessed with Wildlife on One with David Attenborough. My mum would mute it and play music, and I used to love watching meerkats frolicking around to Twist & Shout. Not particularly educational, but it did demonstrate the majesty of nature!
posted by dumdidumdum at 4:17 AM on October 30, 2012

Ants: Nature's Secret Power is the most captivating nature documentary I've ever seen. It's even held the attention of a number of sworn documentary-haters that I know.
posted by phunniemee at 4:56 AM on October 30, 2012

Carl Sagan's Cosmos hasn't been mentioned yet, I see.

And speaking of Attenborough, my daughter really enjoyed the Life of Mammals series and the Life of Birds series. I see that Cold Lurkey mentioned these.
posted by fancyoats at 6:07 AM on October 30, 2012

Any of the Planet Earth or follow-ups are great (my 3-year-old loves them!) but I cannot for the life of me figure out why, with the option for multiple audio tracks a DEFINED, IMPLEMENTED FEATURE of Blu-Ray and DVD, why for the love of all that is holy is it IMPOSSIBLE to purchase these films with both the British and American narration?

We have the Attenborough Planet Earth. We have a similar series that he also narrated, but my wife bought it at Costco and it's the American version with Oprah Winfrey. It's just... wrong. Nothing against her, personally, but I don't want to hear her telling me about science...
posted by caution live frogs at 12:51 PM on October 30, 2012

David Attenborough's "The Secret Life of Plants" is another fascinating BBC series. They used a lot of time-lapse photography to film it.
posted by TwoWordReview at 1:03 PM on October 30, 2012

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