The best TV shows to watch with your kids

Regular readers know that I’m something of an apologist for “screen time,” at least within limits. That’s because there are lots of great shows, documentaries, and apps out there that can engage young minds, build critical content knowledge, and even help to create connections across the many chasms so prevalent in America today. That’s why, in the past, I’ve offered a list of the best children’s TV shows, created a collection of educational videos available for streaming, and put forward some of my favorite educational apps. (Traditionalists, fear not: I’ve also compiled a list of 100 great children’s books, The Kindergarten Canon.)

But it struck me recently that I’ve never weighed in with a list of television shows to watch as a family. That’s on my mind, as my boys are now six and nine, and thus old enough to enjoy shows that I might like too—programs that don’t make me want to poke my eyes out. (Dora, I’m looking at you.)

So this summer I reached out to friends and colleagues, and looked around on the Internet, for input on what other parents with school-age kids like to watch with their children (beyond sports). Here are the results.

What’s most striking about the recommendations I received was the dearth of sitcoms or family dramas. This list is dominated—overwhelmed, really—by competition shows. And many are great. (My boys and I are particularly big fans of American Ninja Warrior.) But what’s up with the missing sitcoms and dramas? Has Hollywood given up on them? I was raised on The Brady Bunch and Family Ties and (yes) The Cosby Show, not to mention Little House on the Prairie. What are their analogues today? Shows that depict loving families (and role-model parents) that educate and entertain? I found a few (and added them below) but it seems that the major networks have largely ceded this ground to the Disney Channel, which is a real shame. It doesn’t count as a family show, in my book, if the parents almost never materialize on screen.

But enough blather. Here I present my list of the best TV shows to watch with your kids (including a few classics), along with information about where to stream them. Click on the title to see parent reviews from Common Sense Media. Enjoy!

Competition Shows

 

American Ninja Warrior

People compete on some of the world’s toughest obstacle courses for a major cash prize.

Hulu

Amazon

America's Funniest Home Videos TV Poster Image

America’s Funniest Home Videos

A compilation of funny clips from home videos across the nation.

Hulu

Netflix

Amazon

America's Got Talent TV Poster Image

America’s Got Talent

A variety of talents perform before celebrity judges for a $1 million prize.

NBC

Chopped TV Poster Image

Chopped

A competitive cooking show.

Netflix

Amazon

Chopped Junior TV Poster Image

Chopped Junior

A competitive cooking show for kids.

Amazon

Cupcake Wars TV Poster Image

Cupcake Wars

A dessert- centered competitive cooking show.

Netflix

Amazon

Cutthroat Kitchen TV Poster Image

Cutthroat Kitchen

A competitive cooking show in which contestants can sabotage their opponents.

Netflix

Amazon

Dancing with the Stars TV Poster Image

Dancing with the Stars

A competitive ballroom dance show in which celebrities team up with professional dancers.

Hulu

The Great British Baking Show TV Poster Image

The Great British Baking Show

A baking competition.

Amazon

Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge TV Poster Image

Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge

A group of “Creature Designers” compete against each other to create puppets and animatronics.

Amazon

MasterChef Junior TV Poster Image

MasterChef Junior

A competitive cooking show for kids.

Amazon

Iron Chef America TV Poster Image

Iron Chef

A competitive cooking show featuring renowned chefs.

Netflix

Amazon

Current Sitcoms

Black-ish TV Poster Image

Black-ish

Family sitcom about an upper-middle-class African American family. 

Hulu

Amazon

Fresh Off the Boat TV Poster Image

Fresh Off the Boat

Family sitcom about a Chinese-American family that moves from Chinatown in Washington D.C. to Orlando, Florida.

Hulu

Amazon

Classic Sitcoms

The Brady Bunch TV Poster Image

The Brady Bunch

Family sitcom from the late 1960s and early 70s about a blended family of 8 and their live-in housekeeper.

Hulu

The Cosby Show TV Poster Image

The Cosby Show

Family sitcom from the 1980s and 90s about an African American family living in New York.

Hulu

Amazon

Family Ties TV Poster Image

Family Ties

Family sitcom from the 1980s about a family of six living in Ohio.

Amazon

Full House TV Poster Image

Full House

Family sitcom about a widowed father and his two friends raising his three daughters in San Francisco, California in the late 1980s and 90s.

Amazon

The Wonder Years TV Poster Image

The Wonder Years

Family sitcom about young Kevin Arnold growing up in the late 1960s.

Netflix

A Different World TV Poster Image

A Different World

A sitcom set in the 1990s that features strong, well-educated African-American characters at a historically black college working toward careers in medicine, politics, and the humanities.

Netflix

Amazon

Family-Friendly Dramas

Little House on the Prairie TV Poster Image

Little House on the Prairie

Series telling the story of the Ingalls family’s life on a Minnesota farm in the late 1800s.

Amazon

Star Trek: TOS poster

Star Trek: The Original Series

The original Star Trek television show features Captain James Tiberius Kirk and his crew exploring the universe, traveling to places where no one has gone before.

Hulu

Netflix

Amazon

Star Trek: The Next Generation TV Poster Image

Star Trek: The Next Generation

The Next Generation follows the intergalactic adventures of Captain Jean Luc Picard and his loyal crew on the all-new USS Enterprise.

Hulu

Netflix

Amazon

Star Trek: Voyager TV Poster Image

Star Trek: Voyager

Voyager follows the intergalactic adventures of Captain Kathryn Janeway and the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager.

Hulu

Netflix

Amazon

Doctor Who TV Poster Image

Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a science-fiction television show about time travel that has been produced since 1963.

Amazon

Supergirl TV Poster Image

Supergirl

A live-action superhero series featuring Supergirl.

Netflix

Amazon

The Flash TV Poster Image

The Flash

An action-adventure series on the CW inspired by a DC Comics character, whose superpower is super speed.

Amazon

Other

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey TV Poster Image

Cosmos

Series featuring scientific explanations for the world, universe and other fascinating phenomena.

Netflix

Amazon

Monster Fish TV Poster Image

Monster Fish

Host, Zeb Hogan, travels the world seeking some of the world’s largest fish.

Netflix

Amazon

NOVA TV Poster Image

Nova

A science series exploring innovations and discoveries from the past, present, and future.

Amazon

Love It or List It TV Poster Image

Love It or List It

A real estate and renovation show.

Amazon

Property Brothers TV Poster Image

Property Brothers

Jonathan and Drew Scott help families buy a house to make their dream home.

Netflix

Amazon

Dirty Jobs Down Under with Mike Rowe TV Poster Image

Dirty Jobs

Host, Mike Rowe, explores the dirtiest jobs in America.

Amazon

How the States Got Their Shapes tv poster

How the States Got Their Shapes

A History Channel series that, as its title suggests, explains how America's 50 states got their shapes.

Amazon

Many thanks to Fordham’s communications intern, Irene Mone, for her help compiling these lists.

 
 
Michael J. Petrilli
Michael J. Petrilli is the President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.