What to watch with your kids this winter break

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Regular readers know that I’m somewhat obsessed with the topic of screen time. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing, or the years our kids spent in a Waldorf pre-school, but I can’t help feeling a little guilty about letting my boys watch stupid Disney TV shows or play mindless video games when I could be engaging them in healthier pursuits. I stand in awe at my friends who have gone years—years—without allowing their children to watch a drop of television. It’s nothing but board games and arts-and-crafts at their homes. Incredible!

I don’t have that kind of discipline. And, as I’ve argued before, I’m not even sure a mass-media ban is what’s best for children. Everything in moderation, right?

So let me admit that the Petrilli family will be enjoying some screen time this winter vacation. Here are some great things you can watch with your kids that allow everyone to relax and will keep everybody learning to boot.


Geography Now!

My ten-year-old is obsessed with this YouTube channel, but in a good way. Paul Barbato, the affable host of the show, is the Sal Khan of geography. With the help of some friends, he profiles countries, one at a time, at warp speed and with great humor and insight. Trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds. Because of these clips, my child can explain the Arab-Israeli conflict; can yours? Barbato is making his way through every country in the world; at last count he was up to the Koreas. Join along for the ride!


Walking with Dinosaurs

It’s hard to believe that this BBC miniseries is almost twenty years old. My kids loved, loved, LOVED this show, and my wife and I did too. Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, it takes viewers through the evolution and eventual extinction of dinosaurs, all with amazing computer generated images that make you feel like you’re watching a nature show…but with dinosaurs. Just make sure to choose the BBC miniseries, not the movie of the same name. And if you like it (and if you don’t, something is wrong with you), check out Walking with Monsters, Walking with Beasts, and Walking with Cavemen, too. It’s on Amazon Video.


Liberty’s Kids

This animated series is a gem. It tells the story of the American Revolution over the course of forty episodes. Forty! That means it can go very much in depth on the people, ideas, and events that framed our country’s founding. And no, it doesn’t shy from tackling slavery, our nation’s original sin. I bought the show on Amazon video but the episodes appear to be on YouTube too. Once you watch it, perhaps you’ll have the same question as me: Why hasn’t someone made a similar animated show for kids about the Civil War, or Westward Expansion, or all the other great topics in American history?


Wild Kratts

My favorite PBS show, hands down; this nature show combines animated fun with live-action footage to teach kids about the creature world and lots of important science concepts. It’s clever and well-done, and unlike, say, Caillou or Dora, it won’t make you want to poke your eyes out. At times it’s been on Netflix but you can also get it on Amazon, PBS Kids, or straight from the Wild Kratts website.


So there you have it—a few of our ‘faves. For lots more, see our “Education on Demand” site with educational videos listed by content area. And have a happy—and educational—New Year!

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