Television isn’t just for fun and entertainment. It can also educate and inspire in a fun way. Here is a list of family friendly TV shows that make learning fun. Some of these are older and some are newer, but they stand the test of time.
This is the first post in a two part blog post series on fun and educational TV shows.
1. Bill Nye The Science Guy
This popular American TV show was a highlight in science classes for many children. Before hosting this popular PBS kids’ science show, he worked as an engineer for Boeing and Sundstrand Data Control in Seattle. In his spare time, he did comedy and that led to him doing freelance work for various TV shows. Finally, in 1993, he filmed the first episode of Bill Nye The Science Guy, heavily inspired by 80s kids science show Mr Wizard and the humour of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The show got funding from the National Science Foundation and US Department of Energy and the rest is history.
Because of his background in comedy, he was so charismatic and children loved the way he presented science topics in a fun, fresh, exciting way. The theme song is super catchy and kids will sing along. In every episode he’s seen in his quirky outfit, a blue lab coat and a bow tie. The episodes are short, fun, and easy to digest. In a typical episode, there are skits, sometimes celebrity guests, simple science DIY/at home demonstrations, basic explanations, and a pop music science parody song. The show is one of the fastest paced kids’ shows of all time and that’s the appeal.
All sorts of science topics are talked about in Bill Nye the Science Guy: geology, biology, anatomy, astronomy, electricity, ecology, and meteorology. And they’re all explained in a fun, not at all boring way. The show may be from the 90s, but it’s timeless.
Below is a clip from the show:
2. Magic School Bus
Not only a TV series, it was an entire franchise of books and computer games too. The show takes place in a primary school in America and the class isn’t an ordinary class. The teacher is the quirky and adventurous Ms Valerie Frizzle. There is never a dull moment in class because they go on field trips via a “Magic School Bus” that can shrink to a microscopic level, float on water, time travel, and go to outer space.
Like Bill Nye The Science Guy, the show is 30 minutes long and explains science in an engaging way. The difference is there’s a story and it’s all animated so it can take you to places that live action can’t take you.
This is a show from the 90s, but there is a modern day reboot on Netflix called The Magic School Bus Rides Again, but this time Ms Frizzle’s little sister is the star of the show and the elder Frizzle is now Dr Frizzle. The show has always had a diverse cast of characters, so everyone can relate to at least one of the characters.
The trailer for the Netflix reboot can be found below:
3. Schoolhouse Rock!
This educational programme from the 70s is a favourite among multiple generations. What makes this programme stand out from the crowd is its musical approach to multiple subjects: maths, grammar, science, history, economics, and science.
The original series from the 70s focused on multiplication, parts of speech, American history and government, astronomy, anatomy, and earth science. Later series had songs about computers (may be a little outdated in the ever-changing technology world of today), economics,
These music videos have engaging visuals and the songs are catchy. The good thing is that the songs are short and they can be shown at the beginning of a class to complement a lesson.
Here’s a clip of one of the most famous songs, “Conjunction Junction”.
4. Where in the World/Time is Carmen Sandiego?
Like The Magic School Bus, Carmen Sandiego was a whole franchise. There are computer games, books, board games, an animated series, and a game show. In 2019, Netflix rebooted the franchise with a new animated series. This time, we’ll focus on just the two game shows.
In the early half of the 90s there was a game show called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? The show was created in response to a survey conducted by National Geographic that showed that Americans largely didn’t have much knowledge about geography. In fact, that survey said that 25% of Americans couldn’t point out where USSR or the Pacific Ocean was on a map.
In a typical episode, there are 3 contestants between the ages of 10 and 14 and the goal is to answer multiple choice trivia questions about geography to find the crook, and ultimately the mastermind, Carmen Sandiego. The crook and Carmen Sandiego run all around the world and the trivia questions follow their path.
In the questions, kids are given clues. Sometimes the band Rockapella give clues. There’s also a lightning round where contestants have to buzz in.
Kids can play along with the show and answer the questions or you can take some of the questions and do a Geography Jeopardy.
Keep in mind, since the show is from almost 30 years ago, some of the country names have changed.
PBS had a spinoff game show called Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego. The major difference is this game show focuses on history instead as contestants answer questions “travelling in time” through history to find Carmen Sandiego. A lot of questions are about American history, as this is an American TV show. Students with an interest in history will love it!
5. The Crocodile Hunter
Everybody loves Steve Irwin. From 1996 until his death in 2006, he was filming these unconventional, game-changing documentaries about wildlife where he’d travel to the animals’ natural habitats and get really up close with the animals, risking his own safety, and giving vibrant commentary. You can easily tell from the narration that he loved wildlife and conservation. You’ll be on the edge of your seat at times too.
The show was aired all over the world and got people interested in animals and conservation. No matter how old you are, you’ll learn something from this show and it will get you to think more about our planet and the creatures who inhabit it.
One good quote from Steve Irwin is, “It’s my job, it’s my ambition to show you this snake. Not so you’re scared, not so you fear this animal, but so you’re passionate, and enthusiastic about all our wildlife.”
These shows are great ways to inspire learning, get a discussion going, and to spark an interest in various subjects in school. They’re good supplement material for class, but they’re not a substitute for lessons or tutoring. In combination, these can get children started on the path to being lifelong learners.