I love pinning those “Screen Free Summer Fun” lists as much as the next person. I know all about audio books, library baskets, sensory play, 48 things to do with masking tape, letting your kids be bored, playdates, water play, kid chores, and busy bags, and all the things. But
some most days it seems like we can do all of the above, and it’s only 2:30 and the hottest part of the day is still looming before us. I’m raising the white flag of surrender: summer screens are just going to happen in our house. But that doesn’t make me like the idea of my kids sitting in front of the TV watching Ninjago until their brains are literally oozing out of their ears. (Because, of course, there is no middle ground.)
But wait! I’ve found a new system, though, that has helped to redeem TV time in my eyes. If you’re a conflicted, guilty TV mom like me, maybe this will be helpful to you, too:
Here’s the simple rule: weekday TV is Mom’s choice. There are so many things available online that are educational, or that can broaden my kids’ horizons in some way. (It can be expensive to travel or buy tickets to cultural events, but kids can taste these other worlds through videos and television!)
On their own, my kids wouldn’t usually make these wholesome choices, but when it’s Mom’s pick or nothing, they will usually cooperate. Sometimes they are not interested in what I’ve picked and they’ll drift into the other room (which is fine), but 98% of the time, they stay to watch… AND they like it!
(On the weekends, they get to pick what they watch. It keeps us all happy!)
Obviously, your quality picks will vary based on the ages of your kids (mine are 0-7) and the interests of your family. But to get you started, here are some of the titles that are in my regular rotation. I’ve labeled where we find them: (Y) YouTube, (N) Netflix, (P) Amazon Prime. I have only included things that my kids really enjoyed, unless otherwise noted.
Special Mentions: These began as my wholesome picks, but my kids loved them so much they became year-long obsessions with our whole family.
The Okee Dokee Brothers: Two fun-loving buddies go on adventures and write songs along the way. Joe and Justin travel down the Mississippi River (Can You Canoe?), hike the Appalachian Trail (Through the Woods), and ride horses along the Continental Divide (Saddle Up). For each adventure, you can watch the movie AND listen to the CD, which features all the songs from the video in full tracks, plus a few more. (DVD specials are available on Netflix, individual music videos can be found on YouTube, and CDs are free to listen through Amazon Prime music.)
The Piano Guys YouTube Channel: We actually discovered this duo in the fall, but they deserve a mention here. Like the Okee Dokee Brothers, the Piano Guys produce both video and audio content– each a delight in its own way. The music videos are beautiful and artfully produced, and many of them (kid favorites, all) are really funny as well. Top requests in our house: Cello Wars (a Star Wars parody), It’s Gonna Be Okay, Me and My Cello: So Happy Together, and Mission Impossible (Piano/Cello/Violin) ft. Lindsey Stirling. (Videos available on YouTube, CDs free to listen through Amazon Prime. Check out Jon Schmidt and Steven Sharp Nelson solo albums as well!)
(30 minutes later, I’m coming back from my YouTube tab because I couldn’t stop clicking through all. the. videos. Seriously, these guys are so good!)
- Live performances: Stomp, Riverdance, ballet, folk dances etc. (Y)
- Backstage with Bleekie (Sesame Street character): The Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Britten’s the Young Person’s Guide + Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Y)
- Draw me a Story (P)- watch an artist illustrate a traditional children’s story as the narrator reads out loud. (We are partial to Season 1; some of the stories in later seasons are kind of…weird.)
- Art with Mati and Dada (Y)- animated educational videos about famous artists
- Art for Kids Hub (Y)- step by step drawing tutorials
- Hodgepodge art tutorials (Y)- drawing tutorials using pastels
- Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting (N) (P)- very slow and gentle, but Abby loves those happy trees!
- America’s Test Kitchen (P)- straightforward recipe preparation, equipment reviews, and explanations of the science behind cooking. Only one season is free to stream on Amazon, but the DVDs of all seasons are great if you can get your hands on them at the library!
- Weelicious cooking channel (Y)
- The Great British Baking Show (N)- a family-friendly competition show with no yelling and low emotional intensity.
- The Great British Baking Show Masterclass (N)- After you’ve enjoyed watching the contestants on the regular show, watch Paul and Mary show you how it’s really done.
- Zooboomafoo (P)- this earlier show by the Kratt Brothers is the one my kids prefer.
- Bindi’s Boot Camp (N)- I’ve only watched a few minutes of the first episode, but this competition show hosted by Steve Irwin’s daughter looks like it might be cute!
- Magic School Bus (N)
- Moody Science Videos (Y)- These entertained my friends and I through many rainy-day recesses at our little Christian school. They’re a little slow-moving, but full of interesting visuals and information and told from a Christian perspective.
- Rock the Park (N)- two friends explore various National Parks
- There are TONS of animal/nature-themed documentaries available on Netflix and Prime, depending on your kids’ particular interests and sensitivity level. (Many have ratings, which is helpful.) A few we have enjoyed recently on Netflix are Growing Up Wild, Baby Animals in the Wild, and 72 Cutest Animals. These can be a bit anthropomorphic, but otherwise cute.
Classic/Educational Kids’ TV:
- Silly Symphonies (Y) – classic Disney animation with classical music scores
- Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood (N) (P- more seasons available here)- the Neighborhood of Make-Believe is creepier than you remember, but your kids won’t mind, and everything else is super educational! This might also give you new ideas for topics to pursue further– my kids loved the Stomp episode and we watched tons more footage of their performances on Youtube another day.
- Reading Rainbow (P)- I started my kids on Season 1 and it was too retro, even for their tastes. I’m going to try again this year with more current episodes and see how it goes.
- Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck, et. al. (Y)- my kids go bananas for these classic cartoons, in all their non-PC glory.
Miscellaneous/Just for Fun:
- The Boxcar Children (N)- a sweet animated version that is very faithful to the book
- Going on a Bear Hunt (P)- animated version of the book
- Wallace and Gromit Complete Collection (P)- this cheese-loving clay man and his faithful dog won’t teach your kids much, but it’s very low-tech and slow moving: good, calm TV fun!
- The Busy World of Richard Scarry (P)- old school and gentle
- Exercise: when your kids need to move but it’s hot outside, try YouTube- search “how to dance”, “yoga instruction”, “ballet class”, or “exercise” and see what comes up! Adding “for kids” will also help refine your search and (hopefully!) keep it appropriate. (My kids also enjoy dancing along to all the dance videos I mentioned above, so try that, too.)
(Obvious note, just in case it needs to be said: I recommend closely supervised use of YouTube, even YouTube Kids! Many videos require you to watch ads before the video will begin. Our Apple TV automatically plays the “next video” after the video we’ve chosen is completed; a computer will usually display recommendations for “related” content. These can expose your kids to content that is not appropriate, or that is Just Plain Weird.)
There are several maybe-interesting titles that I’m planning to try out, so I’ll try to update this list as we explore new things throughout the summer. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear YOUR suggestions!