With schools across the nation closed and many normal extracurricular activities on hiatus, most families are spending a bit more time than usual in front of a screen. Some families might work hard to avoid an increase in screen time. But with the combination of more time spent at home, caregivers working from home without extra childcare, and the general stress and tension of this whole unusual period of isolation in our homes, families need to give themselves a bit of grace if kids are watching more TV and spending more time on their tablets.
Whether your kids have grown tired of old favorites or are driving you up the wall watching How to Train Your Dragon and My Little Pony on repeat, here are a few suggestions across a variety of platforms to offer some variety to the next few weeks or months of isolation.
Before You Add More Screen Time…
As always, consider the needs of your family and consider watching an episode of any new show before introducing it to your children.
You can also do some quick research on Common Sense Media, which offers age recommendations, warnings about various types of content, and information about educational content levels of different offerings.
My elementary-age kids (8yo and 5yo) are both fairly sensitive to tension and danger in shows and movies, and most of the offerings below are hits in our household.
Pro-tip: Hulu and Disney + are providing a package deal right now!
Our Family Netflix Favorites
Keep in mind that my children are 8 and 5, so this is the target age range we’re working with here. Without further ado, here are our family’s Netflix favorites!
Over the past year, this has become an absolute family favorite!
While my 8yo typically watches with a longer attention span, even the 5yo tornado of energy in my house often snuggles up for a whole episode, making frequent requests of recipes we should bake at our house.
There is occasionally a mild curse and a decent amount of double entendres, but these typically sail right over our kids’ heads.
The overall tone of the show is cheerful and supportive with contestants congratulating each other and appearing to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. The judges offer critique in a firm but never in an overly derogatory manner.
Another baking show that is a bit more frenetic than GBBS, Nailed It embraces bad bakers who want to take on new challenges with often disastrous results.
Again, kids might hear a few mild curses and jokes that will hopefully just go right over their heads, but they will love giggling over the baking attempts.
The judges always try to sprinkle critiques with some positives, and the overall vibe is one of everyone laughing together over the attempts instead of bullying the contestants.
Our Planet is a fascinating and vibrant look at creatures from around the world. It focuses on different areas in each episode, from jungles to coastal seas and more.
Some sensitive kiddos might become worried about certain animals featured or be grossed out by a particular creature, but the general tone is gentle and celebratory of all the beauty of our world.
While we sometimes throw in a few episodes of the original version of Chopped, my kids prefer the Junior version, and us adults are regularly amazed at the kid-created dishes showcased on the show.
It is a great show to watch and then discuss with kids in an effort to consider trying new foods as a family, and the show has taken on a new element as families everywhere avoid unnecessary trips to the grocery store and might face a few ingredient swapping challenges in their own kitchens.
This one also features young contestants competing in a cooking championship and can easily inspire plenty of fun in the kitchen.
Kids can watch contestants near their own ages work on creating a wide variety of baked goods and some pretty amazing decorating attempts.
My 5yo is Lego obsessed, so this is a recent favorite in our house.
Teams of two compete against each other for the title of Lego Master, and Will Arnett, the voice of Lego Batman, hosts.
When tensions run high in the competition, some team members become argumentative and negative towards each other. Some pairs seem to grate on other teams a bit more than others, so kids might sense more animosity on this competition show in comparison to most of the cooking shows mentioned above.
However, there are lessons to be learned about working through communication challenges and team building.
Maybe I’m raising a future engineer or inventor, but my kids are fascinated by how things work and how they are made.
This long-running show has plenty of videos on its YouTube channel also, but the most recent seasons are available on Hulu.
Certain videos, like how climbing walls and toy figurines are made, might be of higher interest to most kids, but I am frequently surprised by the episodes my kids find particularly fascinating.
Episodes sometimes feature the creation of things like champagne or crematories, so be aware about content that might invite unwanted questions or trigger some fears. Pre-screening episodes or checking out the content before watching is recommended.
Our Family Disney + Favorites
Disney + offers loads of movies and documentaries from the Disney catalog that can entertain the whole family, and it has made headlines for early releases of movies like Frozen 2 and Onward onto the platform as a result of coronavirus concerns.
There are tons of cartoons and live action shows that offer plenty of childhood nostalgia for parents and caregivers, along with some new offerings for everyone.
Kids can take a trip behind the scenes of the Disney theme parks and how they were created.
My 8yo loved this show, which follows the journey of 6 dogs who might become guide dogs.
She knows all their names and can tell you everything about their training! This one might leave inspired kids trying to teach family pets a few new skills.
One of the newest Disney + offerings with more episodes to come, Be Our Chef combines a family cooking show with a behind the scenes peek into the Disney characters and dining. My 5yo loved the first episode, and we’re eagerly waiting for more to be released.
Marvel’s Hero Project is one show we haven’t watched yet, but I’m excited to check out.
Real life kids are showcased for ways they are positively impacting their communities, and they receive a cameo in a Marvel comic as a reward for their efforts. We love this premise!
A Final Note on Hulu
One downside to the basic Hulu membership is the inclusion of ads in programming that are not directly intending for children.
While the shows below might be easy choices for your family, try to be present for the commercial breaks if you are worried about children viewing ads that are not as child-friendly as the shows are, or consider paying extra for commercial-free viewing.
What are some of your favorite shows or movies for the whole family? What’s in your family Netflix, Disney+, or Hulu queue to try next?
Tessa is mommy to NL (age 7) and FR (age 5), school librarian/teacher, doctor’s wife, and the keeper of all the schedules. She has a Master’s in library and information science with a K-12 school library certification and an undergraduate degree in English, and she works at an elementary school library. She writes about living life with OCD, anxiety disorder, and depression, helping my children learn to navigate life with anxiety, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, auditory processing, dyslexia