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The best educational videos for kids on Netflix and Amazon

Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak
It’s ok, she’s learning.
By Sonali Kohli
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

There’s nothing wrong with kids watching television. At least that’s what Michael Petrilli, president of the education policy think-tank The Fordham Institute, believes. A little screen time can even be beneficial if done right, he says.

To that end, the Fordham Institute launched a website, the Netflix Academy (not affiliated with Netflix) that lists movies, shows, and episodes that are streaming online, usually on Netflix or Amazon. The lists (they come with links) are broken down both by broad subjects—science, literature, world history—as well as more specific interests like “the human body,” “earthquakes and volcanoes,” “Native American culture,” and “Ancient Egypt.”

Petrilli thinks the right kind of TV can increase kids’ knowledge base, expand their vocabulary, and help them transcend cultural and class divides down the line, he wrote last year in the Atlantic.

Here are some picks from the site.


Walking with Dinosaurs

Petrilli tells Quartz that this is favorite of the series he’s watched with his young sons online. He explained why in a 2013 blog post, when he first started posting these lists. (Last week is the first time they collected them all into a website.)

Via Walking with Dinosaurs, for instance, my five-year-old already has a rudimentary understanding of evolution (paving the way for many scientific and theological conversations in the years ahead) and has absorbed key vocabulary, to boot (carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, Cretaceous, Jurassic, etc.).

Subsection: Dinosaurs

How to watch: Netflix, Amazon

The Magic School Bus

The animated Ms. Frizzle was beloved by American kids in the 90’s, and if there’s any way to trick a kid into learning while having fun, she’s just the character to do it.

The Netflix Academy suggests a few episodes in particular, one on space and three on the human body. Netflix, meanwhile, is producing a spinoff, The Magic School Bus 360°, to air in 2016, so the kids should probably get started on the old episodes now.

AP Photo/PRNewsFoto/Netflix
Ms. Frizzle is coming back!

Subsections: Outer Space, The Human Body

How to watch: Netflix


The Secret Garden

The films in this section of the site bring to screen some classic children’s stories, making them good family night choices. This 1993 film, based on the 1910 novel, fosters curiosity, imagination and friendship. Also, it imparts a few not-so-subtle lessons on how bad manners get you nowhere.

Subsection: Classic children’s books

How to watch: Amazon

US history

Remembering Ellis Island

It’s never too early to expose children to the understanding that the US is made up of a lot of different people—this documentary provides one snapshot of that history, but it can be a good starting point.

Subsection: Immigration and Citizenship

How to watch: Amazon

World History

National Geographic: Dawn of the Maya

It’s easy for a kid growing up in one place to oversimplify or generalize other cultures and places. That’s why documentaries like this are good for kids to see early. The National Geographic film delves into archaeological findings to explain the intricacies of the Maya, as well as their cultural, artistic and educational achievements.

Subsection: Early American Civilization

How to watch: Netflix

The Netflix Academy website has plenty more options, but be wary of kids binge-watching videos on their favorite topic, since the videos are so conveniently categorized. As Petrilli tells Quartz, “We still have our job as parents to set limits and not let it get out of hand.”

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