12 of the Best Educational Documentaries for Kids

A look at ten of the best documentaries for kids that teach kids about science, history, world cultures, economics, and inequality.

the best documentaries for kids that are educational

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There comes a time in every parent’s journey when plopping kids in front of a screen is unavoidable.

Maybe there’s an urgent work project due or we simply have a dire need for a mental health break.

And, yes, we know that experts tell us too much screen time isn’t great for kids.

But we’re desperate.

When these moments of desperation come, instead of having kids watch hours of mindless YouTube channels or fluffy kids shows, why not make screen time educational?

Some of the best documentaries for kids teach incredible lessons. Their visual impact can transport children to countries they may never visit or experience a life that’s different from their own or teach lessons about the intricacies of the animal kingdom.

I’ve recently come across a number of documentary series, available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime that are not only educational but also engaging.

Here’s my list:

The Best Educational Documentaries for Kids

The following are some of the best current documentaries for kids I’ve come across.

Apollo 11

Apollo 11 movie

Common Sense Media suggested age: 5+

Even if your child doesn’t have an interest in outer space, they’ll likely still  find this documentary fascinating. Apollo 11 provides crystal clear footage of the first time a man walked on the moon. The film takes us through the astronauts’ preparation for their mission, entering the shuttle and then the shuttle’s take off. From there we see what it must feel like to travel around the globe, head off into outer space, and walk the moon’s surface. History really comes alive in this extraordinary film that children of any age, but especially older kids, are likely to enjoy.

March of the Penguins

March of the Penguins

Common Sense Media suggested age: 6+

This delightful and intriguing film about the life of penguins is one that kids of all ages – including adults – will enjoy. The footage follows penguins as they make their annual trek from the Antarctic shore in Antarctica. Beware that a few scenes could be disturbing for kids. For example, some penguins die during the journey, and others freeze while they try to protect pregnant females and later their eggs and babies. Other penguins are killed by predators. But all in all, this film is a fun and a wonderful exploration of these interesting birds. Narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Pick of the Litter

image showcasing the Pick of the Litter movie

Common Sense Media suggested age: 6+

Pick of the Litter follows the lives of five puppies at Guide Dogs for the Blind to see which will have what it takes to become a guide dog. Animal-loving kids will enjoy seeing the adorable puppies as the move in with their host families and grow-up. But at the same time, children (and adults!) will learn about the challenges of blindness and how life-changing it can be to have a guide dog. It’s also fascinating to learn how much work goes into training these dogs, the sacrifices volunteer families make to train them, and how few dogs actually have what it takes to do the job. This is one you’ll want to watch with your kids.

Wings of Life

wings of life movie poster

Common Sense Media’s suggested age: 6+

Narrated by Meryl Streep and produced by Disney, this nature documentary shows the interconnection between winged creatures and flowers and fauna and the important role they play in sustaining one third of our agriculture. The film takes a close look at butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, bats and flowers and illustrates how these special relationships – and the pollen passed between them – is essential to our survival. The file also shows how these creature’s habitats are endangered and threatened.

The National Parks – America’s Best Idea

The National Parks America's Best Idea

Common Sense Media suggested age: 7+

If you’ve ever watched a Ken Burn’s documentary you know how compelling they are. With each of his thirty films, Burns pulls the viewer into a topic and lets them see and understand an aspect of history in a way no one else can. Although any of Burns’ films would be educational for children, some, like those about war, are too graphic for most young viewers. The most tame of his films, and one that children will likely enjoy, is his extremely popular The National Parks. This six-part series shows how Americans from all walks of life – rich, poor, famous and unknown, soldiers and scientists, natives and newcomers, artists and entrepreneurs – worked together to protect some of the United States’ most spectacular landscapes for generations to come. Click here to see a full list of Ken Burns films.


Jane, documentary, National Geographic

Common Sense Media suggested age: 8+

Most adults have heard of Jane Goodall – a researcher of chimpanzees and advocate for the protection of the environment. But most of us have no idea how she got her start, pursued her research and what exactly she learned along the way. This documentary shows how Jane, who had no formal scientific education, spent years in the Tanzania jungle to conduct her research. Parents should know that there are scenes in the film that could be disturbing to kids such as raw footage of predators attacking and killing prey and chimpanzees killing each other. There is also a brief scene of chimps mating.

The Biggest Little Farm

The Biggest Little Farm

Common Sense Media suggested age: 8+

The Biggest Little Farm follows a couple as they idealistically start and maintain an organic, biodynamic farm just north of Los Angelos. In a short time after beginning their farm, the couple faces the up and down realities of farming and animal husbandry. Some potentially disturbing scenes for kids include: dead animals, the danger of wildfire, a farmer loading a gun to chase a coyote, the death of the family dog, and a human friend’s death from cancer is discussed.

Paper Clips

Paper Clips

Common Sense Media suggested age: 10+

Paper Clips is a great way to introduce kids to the Holocaust and the importance of tolerance and diversity. The film follows kids in the small rural town of Whitwell, Tennessee as they try to collect six million paper clips to represent the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. While the Holocaust is mentioned and described, there are few disturbing or graphic details about the event, making it suitable for most ages.

On the Way to School

On the Way to School

Common Sense Media suggested age: 10+

On the Way to School provides viewers insight into our diverse world through a subject most kids can relate to – traveling to and from school. The film shows four kids from Kenya, Argentina, Morocco, and India on their long and often arduous trips to school. One rides a horse with his sister while another encounters wild animals. This film will expand kids’ horizons as they learn that not all children travel by bus, car or public transit to get to school. It also showcases children who are eager to grow in their education and who will go to great lengths to learn.

Living on One Dollar

Living on One Dollar

Common Sense Media suggested age: 10+

Living on One Dollar provides viewers with insight into the living conditions of nearly 700 million people worldwide. The film is set in Guatemala and features four American college students as they attempt to survive on just one dollar a day. Throughout the film, the students encounter hunger, parasites, and severe financial burdens – exposing the challenges of living in extreme poverty. While the film is eye-opening to all viewers, some aspects of trying to survive extreme poverty could be disturbing to young viewers.

Underwater Dreams

Underwater Dreams

Common Sense Media suggested age: 10+

Underwater Dreams is the story of a robotics team from Phoenix’s Carl Hayden high school, which has a large population of low-income undocumented Mexican immigrants. In 2004, the team entered an underwater robotics competition which put them up against the likes of M.I.T. and other prestigious schools. The Carl Hayden high school outperformed everyone’s expectations and inspired future generations of students at the school to pursue engineering. In additon to the competition, the movie also focuses on immigration reform and what alum from the high school are doing to address it. Beware that there are few times when expletives are used and even though they’re silenced, it’s still obvious which word was said.

He Named Me Malala

He Named Me Malala

Common Sense Media suggested age: 12+

He Named Me Malala is the follow-up film to the best-selling book, Malala. It showcases young Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her human rights activism. Malala’s activism began shortly after she was shot by the Taliban for speaking out about girls’ right to go to school. The film is very forthcoming about the shooting and the political situation in Pakistan that lead up to the assassination attempt. Fortunately, there is no graphic imagery of the event although bloody images are shown of the vehicle Malala was riding in. There are also surgery-prep scenes and news footage about how almost everyone expected Malala to die. This film is intense, making it not suitable for young viewers but the messages of bravery, courage, and the importance of education will resonate with older tweens and teens.

You may also like:

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17 Children’s Books That Promote a Growth Mindset

35 Science Kits that Make Science Fun

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About Kerry Flatley

Hi! I’m Kerry, the mother of two girls and a certified parent educator. I believe it is possible for parents to have a supportive, loving, and warm relationship with their kids while raising them to be independent and ultimately self-sufficient. Over the years, I’ve read numerous books and articles that support this belief and I’ve put these ideas into practice with my own kids. Read more about me and Self-Sufficient Kids here.