20 Educational Shows on Netflix for Families During Self-Isolation

Damarys Ocaña Perez | Mar 26, 2020 TV
20 Educational Shows on Netflix for Families During Self-Isolation
Image: Netflix

Kirrilee Berger in

We've played with Play-Doh, we've checked in on the caterpillars that we're growing into butterflies, we've added on to the pillow fort in the living room, and we've taken a bike ride around the neighborhood -- all as a family. 

It's still just 3 p.m. Now what? 

Cover thine ears, no-screen time purists: It's time to watch TV. Specifically, it's time to Netflix and... hit the couch with our tribe, hitting "Play" on something educational that will make everyone happy.  Whether we're in lockdown, self-quarantine, or just being really, really careful, staying at home during a global health concern is not only stressful and anxiety-inducing, it's also super boring -- no matter how much we enjoy baking cookies with our kids. 

Luckily, the streaming giant has plenty of goodies with which to pass the time AND have our kids learn a thing or two.

We all know the feeling. We're sorting through our personal Netflix homepage, and it often feels like we're seeing the same things pop up over and over and over again: Weird show suggestions, stuff to watch again that we didn't even -- like the first time we we watched them -- or that we can't share wit our kids (Mindhunter, You, etc).

But buried in Netflix's vast library of shows are some real gems that we can all watch together and learn something from. They range from mini-series that help us see the world in a new way: explorations of far-off places, animated and kid-science shows that draw in everyone, and cooking shows that are fun and suspenseful.

The trick is knowing where to look and sorting through shows that are worthwhile and those that we can definitely skip due to violence, graphic language, unexpectedly mature content, and other kid no-gos. 

We did all of that for desperate moms out there, and as a result, we put together a great list of varied shows for everyone to watch, worry free during this time of social distancing.


  • 'Brainchild'


    Rated: TV-G

    She's been featured on NPR and other media and it's no wonder: Sahana Srinivasan is a young Indian American actress and writer who's the fun and informative host of Brainchild, a Netflix 13-episode show aiming to demystify science for kids. Produced by Pharrell Williams, this quirky series features eye-popping visuals and presents the info in a way that's easy for littles to understand and yet surprising enough for adults to stick around. 

  • 'Monkey Planet'


    Rated: TV-PG

    They're cute, sociable, and weird. Who wouldn't want to know more about monkeys, our closest relatives? This three-part series investigates just what makes apes so fascinating. For example: Did ya'll know that orangutans wash themselves every morning, and that city-dwelling rhesus macaques are just as good at getting around town as the average New Yorker? We didn't, either, but the show's host, British zoologist George McGavin travels around the world to fill us in with accessible but smart facts, and fun footage.

  • 'Night On Earth'


    Rated: TV-PG

    Using state-of-the-art technology to shoot animals in their habitats at night, filmmakers illuminate the lives of cheetahs, lionesses, and lesser known (and adorable!) animals like golden desert mole, among many others. The six-part series features stunning visuals of the nigh sky, cities, jungles, and the deep ocean, where we can see the beauty and danger of life after dark, from the safety of our couches. The result is a mesmerizing educational experience unlike any other, for kids and adults alike.  

  • 'Kevin Hart's Guide to Black History'


    Rated: TV-PG

    This special is such a refreshing way teach history. Comedian Kevin Hart plays a dad who tells his daughter (played by Saniyya Sidney) the stories of black heroes -- like singer and Allied spy Josephine Baker, astronaut Mae Jemison, blues legend Robert Johnson, and Robert Smalls, the escaped slave and Civil War hero who became a congressman. 

    The stories come alive through light and funny skits and Hart's narration, which is full of slapstick, but the message still comes through. As Hart tells the child: "Black history is more than slavery and oppression. Goodness, you have the innovation, the brilliance, the creativity … these were the things that we use to challenge the oppression."

  • 'The Magic School Bus Rides Again'


    Rated: TV-Y

    What can we say? It's a kids' classic and it never gets old. Back in the day, this charming animated show about a group of kids in a class headed by a wonderfully kooky teacher with a penchant for wild field trips was the go-to for substitutes trying to eat up time. But it's a fun, educational gem with comforting, hand-drawn animation. When the entire class gets on that cheese wagon with supernatural powers, they're transported everywhere from space to the deep ocean and learn about nature, science, and more along the way.

  • 'The Who Was? Show'


    Recommended ages: 7 and up

    Like Kevin Hart's Guide to Black History, this ongoing series relies on funny and well-acted re-enactments to teach kids about historical figures. Its fast pace, original songs, colorful costumes and sets, and skits pairing famous people from different eras -- like Julius Caesar and Bruce Lee or Pablo Picasso and the Wright Brothers -- are genius ways to keep kids engaged. 

    Basically, Hamilton for kids.    

  • 'Carmen Sandiego'


    Rated: TV-Y7-FV

    Now two seasons strong, Carmen Sandiego is beautiful to look at and has layers of story in every episode. Stylish master-thief-turned-Robin-Hood Carmen and her sidekicks solve a mystery, rescue some goods stolen by her former evil mentors while fighting former evil colleagues, and discover a new clue about her own identity and background. The show subtly teaches kids geography and history, and is sophisticated enough to draw in parents. 

  • 'The Great British Baking Show'


    Rated: TV-PG

    Here's a great chance to catch up on one of those shows that everyone raves about and seems to come up in every break-room conversation. The Great British Baking Show really does deserve the love. It's everything that American cooking shows are not -- and that's a great thing for kids to witness as well. There's no money to win, no jump cuts, no tension-inducing music, no cursing. Just some talented, quirky, and diverse British people making delicious desserts and breads, and silly co-hosts. It's endlessly refreshing, and we even learned how to make a proper Yorkshire pudding.

  • 'Ask the Doctor'


    Rated: TV-PG

    Here's a show about staying healthy that is not deadly boring. Ask the Doctor features three young doctors who delve into topics including obesity, genome testing, the common cold, and the dangers of teenage drinking in 27-minute episodes. But they're not just talking heads. The three go out and test things for themselves, such as seven-minute workouts, ear tests, and mind-bending brain experiments. Some parents might opt to skip episode 12, which is about the science of sex.

  • 'White Rabbit Project'


    Rated: TV-PG

    From the producers of MythBusters comes this equally geeky-hip series in which three young science types make things like cyborg cockroaches and cryo-guns, re-enact historical events like a hot-air balloon escape from East Germany, and investigate all manner of other things in the world of science and technology. Who knows? The show may just inspire our little ones to become the next great inventor.

  • 'Wild Alaska'


    Rated: TV-PG

    For many of us in the "Lower 48," Alaska is fascinating -- the ultimate frontier in our own backyard. This three-episode series captures its rugged beauty and harsh environments (hello, we had no idea arctic deserts existed!), by showing how animals live -- and survive -- during three seasons: spring, summer, and winter. Sweeping vistas and frolicking creatures make this series one not to miss.   

  • 'Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Thing'


    Not Rated

    Well, here's a documentary for the times. Whether we're on total lockdown or have chosen to isolate to keep from catching the thing that shall remain nameless, we're all doing more with less. Amazon deliveries have slowed to a crawl. We're not heading out to malls to pick up the latest shoe or that fifth shade of pink lipstick that just a few weeks ago we thought was absolutely necessary. This documentary is all about embracing living with less and reconnecting with the important things in life, for the sake of our own peace of mind: A great value to pass on to our kids during challenging times. 

  • 'Myths & Monsters'


    Rated: TV G

    Got a budding writer at home? Or maybe just a fairy tale junkie? Show that kiddo this six-part mini-series that delves into the global history and inspiration for centuries-old tales, like Robin Hood and Little Red Riding Hood, as monsters like dragons and giant sea creatures. Great animation, 3D illustrations, and movie snippets make the stories -- and the stories behind the stories -- truly come alive.   

  • 'Defying The Nazis: The Sharps' War'


    Rated: TV-PG

    What an inspiring story! It's really amazing that more people don't know about the American couple, Waistill Sharp, a Unitarian minister, and his wife Martha, who accepted a post in Czechoslovakia during World War II, for what was really a mission to help Jewish and other refugees fleeing the Nazis. They saved thousands of lives. This beautifully made documentary by doc master Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky, weaves a tale of daring, danger, and  hope, and is co-narrated by Tom Hanks.

  • 'The Last Man on the Moon'


    Rated: TV-MA

    A grand total of just 12 humans have walked on the moon, and they all have amazing stories, but the little known story of the last man to set foot there in 1972 is riveting and heart-rending. In this beautifully shot and paced documentary, astronaut Gene Cernan talks about being commander of Apollo 17, which spent three days on the moon. While there, he helped collect more lunar material than any previous mission and set a lunar speed record while driving around on a rover (11.2 mph). 

    Great footage helps tell this inspiring story. 

  • 'NOVA: Day The Dinosaurs Died'


    Rated: TV-PG

    Netflix wisely picked up this amazing Nova special -- a favorite with audiences -- after it aired on PBS. Centering around the circumstances surrounding the sudden demise of the dinosaurs (i.e., a  7-mile-wide asteroid slamming into Mexico's Yucatan peninsula), this doc builds up suspense through gorgeous shots of complete dinosaur skeletons, interviews, trips to ongoing archaeological digs, great animation, and yes, good hard science. A winner for kids, who have an unending fascination with the prehistoric beasts, and kids at heart. 

  • 'Tales by Light' 


    Rated: TV-PG

    In this wide-ranging docu-series, photographers go to all corners of the Earth to capture people, places, and animals on film. They follow Orlando Bloom on a UNICEF mission to India, hit the frigid waters off Antarctica to photograph blue whales. With an over-arching theme of conversation and global citizenship, this is the perfect series to watch at a time when we need hope and brotherhood more than ever. 

  • 'Street Food'


    Rated: TV-G

    Right about now, we're all getting mighty creative with whatever we have in the pantry. So watching a series focusing on the amazing and wildly different street foods from throughout Asia -- and the people who make them -- might just be the inspiration we need to get the family together and create something totally new from those back-of-the-freezer chicken gizzards and the exotic spice mix we've never gotten around to using.  

    Street Food is a great docu-series to help teach our children about different cultures.

  • 'Bob Ross: Beauty Is Everywhere'

    bob ross painting

    Rated: TV-G

    As any parent trying to keep kids occupied while staying at home knows well, art has the power to entertain, heal, calm -- and get them to be quiet for a while. Who better to learn to perfect their artwork better than the Mister Rogers of painting, Bob Ross? Throughout 26 glorious episodes, His Royal Poufy-Haired Highness creates sweeping mountain-scapes, forest scenes full of "happy little trees" that he names, and other types of paintings, patiently teaching techniques as he goes along. Honestly, we'd watch along, glass of wine in hand.

  • 'Abstract: The Art of Design'


    Rated: TV-14

    Not all family-friendly shows need to be colorful animated series or wild animal documentaries. Netflix also has a treasure trove of wonderfully produced stuff like Abstract: The Art of Design, which is basically the A Chef's Table for the art and design industries. Episodes center around high-achieving artists, architects, industrial designer, and others who talk about and show off their breathtaking work. The more kid-friendly episodes include episodes on Ruth Carter, the Oscar-winning costume designer for Black Panther, and Cas Holman, founder of the intuitive-toy company Heroes Will Rise.

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