About a year ago, our then newly-minted 4 year old daughter, Anaia, slipped onto the stairwell well past her bedtime and watched mesmerized at the images flooding our TV. We didn’t realize she was there and, fortunately, weren’t in the middle of something completely inappropriate (any other night and it could have been all smoke and sex and whiskey in the form of Mad Men). We were re-watching the first episode, “From Pole to Pole” of the legendary nature documentary, BBC’s Planet Earth, featuring a magnificent Great White Shark. We realized she was there just before said shark chomped into some very adorable and helpless seals, dying the ocean a deep and frothy red. We shuttled her back to bed and the next morning all she could talk about was watching that “animal show” again – she begged us to let her watch Planet Earth instead of cartoons for her designated weekend tv time. We braced ourselves during the ferocious shark scene and indeed, she found it upsetting but not enough to make us turn it off. From that day on she was hooked, not only on the beautifully filmed Planet Earth, but on all documentaries – from nature to space to “how it’s made” shows. We started a new family tradition - Friday Documentary Night - with pizza and popcorn including her 2-year old sister and newborn brother as well (although the former is only now enjoying the docs with her sister and the latter spends most of the evening throwing popcorn at the dog).

Here are some of our favorite kid-friendly documentaries from the past year – all available on iTunes, Netflix or YouTube. For especially sensitive kids, it might be better to stay away from the nature documentaries, favoring space and other less “bloody” topics. We also tend to stick to 45 minutes or less for most documentaries, or watch them in two sittings as there is more info to absorb than regular TV.

Walking with Dinosaurs & Walking with Beasts

Available on iTunes


Nothing better for a dino-obsessed pre-schooler! The incredibly realistic photography and storylines that focus on the fate of one or two beastly characters makes it interesting and easily digestable for young kids. It is also an excellent primer on evolution and natural selection as, especially Walking with Beasts, discusses the earliest forms of modern animals more familiar to kids.

The Story of Earth & Life

Available on YouTube:



A suggestion from one of Anaia’s teachers, we all loved this National Geographic documentary which we watched in two parts as it is about an hour. It tackles the origins of the galaxy and our planet, starting 5 billion years ago and taking viewers on a journey through the beginning of life on Earth. Mesmerizing visuals will make this worthy of multiple viewings.

How It’s Made

Available on YouTube:


This show has been on the air for 15 years! With 13 episodes a season, each of which cover the making of a few different objects, that is almost 800 topics to choose from. We found the kids most enjoyed learning about items they use or have meaning for them – any type of candy or food item was a favorite as was an episode on kites.

Suni Williams Tour of the International Space Station

Available on YouTube:


We watched this after Anaia told us that only boys could be astronauts. Since then we have been much more mindful of the popular culture representation of various professions and make sure she is exposed to images of women excelling in male-dominated STEM fields. Suni Williams is a pleasure to watch and makes life on the International Space Station so interesting – with her hair standing up straight, she takes you through daily life in zero gravity - going to the toilet, eating, sleeping while giving you a view of her work. Fascinating stuff for grown-ups and kids alike!

Kid’s Animated History – Egypt

Available on YouTube:


Anaia is only now getting into ancient cultures, although space and nature remain her favorite topics. I wanted to find an animated intro for her to this amazing period of history. While this YouTube video is a little awkward (it seems to come from a DVD), it was a perfect primer starting with how and why the Egyptian Civilization started and giving an intro to fun topics like the curse of Tutankhamen.

Bigger Than T-Rex

Available on Netflix


What made this documentary different from Walking with Dinosaurs is that it focused on the paleontologists who have discovered new dinosaurs (in this case the awesome Spinosaurus) and how they followed clues in the bones to solve the mystery of what it looked like and what it ate. Fascinating for budding scientists and parents alike. 

Cosmos - A Space Odyssey

Available on Netflix


A continuation of Carl Sagan's brilliant Cosmos series, I was surprised this was so kid-friendly. Hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who shows up in a lot of space documentaries, it is an informative and fun way to learn about every aspect of our universe from its creation to the various theories about space and time. The photography is gorgeous and Tyson moves around in a spaceship type structure that my kids loved. We've only just started watching it but so far, we're all hooked. Will try and watch as much as we can before it is pulled from Netflix!

Let us know in the comments if you have any favorite documentaries to watch with your kids - we are always on the look out for new ones!