Many parents have (quite understandably) thrown their kids’ daily screen time limits out the window during this time of social distancing and widespread stay-at-home orders.
But most of us would rather not fill the gap in our kids’ activities with mindless entertainment. So if you’re looking for some educational content that will still hold young attention spans, here is a list of great options available from PBS right now.
As always with PBS shows, check local listings for time and channel in your area. Also, most children's and primetime PBS programming is available to watch online at PBS.org or the individual show pages; on cable television via On Demand; and via the PBS app on mobile or on devices including Roku and Apple TV, and on DVD. Almost all PBS shows include free additional educational content and resources at their homepages.
Newer or additional episodes are also available via PBS Passport, which is a benefit to financial supporters, called members, of local PBS stations.
For kids from toddler through early elementary school, the weekday animated series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has a lot to offer.
Inspired by Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, it teaches kids valuable lessons that you don’t get in a lot of children's programs, like things like what to do when you’re mad, how to handle other emotions, and how to be kind. Each episode also features a snappy song and plenty of fun visuals to keep short attention spans entertained.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has a few episodes available at a time to stream for free on the PBS Kids app. Seasons 1-2 are also free to stream on Amazon Prime Video right now (the rest can be purchased).
Hero Elementary premieres on Monday, June 1, and a full episode is online. Based on that, this weekday animated kids show looks pretty promising. It features some superhero elementary school kids and a bunch of STEM learning.
The show also aims to promote such things as empathy and kindness. I don’t know if it will measure up to the likes of Daniel Tiger when it comes to emotional intelligence lessons, but I’m certainly eager to see, especially since superheroes are pretty exciting to my kids right now.
This show looks to be aimed at the early elementary school-aged crowd, but the superhero aspect might add appeal to slightly older kids as well.
The first episode is available on YouTube:
Nova is a PBS documentary series about scientific topics, ranging from nuclear reactors to deforestation in the Amazon, to development of new medical technology.
The upcoming episode of NOVA that premieres on PBS on Wednesday, May 20, at 9 p.m. ET/PT is called Eagle Power. It examines eagles’ abilities and looks at a group of eagle chicks trying to survive.
Be aware some episodes of this show do occasionally include topics that aren’t small-child friendly (i.e. AIDS), but many episodes cover topics that can be great for young tweens and up.
This one is a history docuseries that features such topics as the moon landing, Martin Luther King Jr., and the agricultural revolution.
The American Experience episode premiering on Tuesday, May 19, at 9 p.m. ET/PT is called Mr. Tornado and tells the story of the scientist who created the Fujita scale to measure the intensity of tornadoes.
American Experience is rated PG. It does occasionally include such things as mild profanity and somewhat graphic descriptions, so it’s probably best for young teens and up.
Great Performances is basically a show of performing-arts pieces, including opera, dance, drama, classical music, and the like.
The most recently aired episode -- which premiered May 15 and can be streamed online here (note, the video at this link expires on June 12) was Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, a drama/dance/musical piece about the Catholic Mass. It shows both the beauty of the Catholic Mass and the individual’s tendency toward dark doubts.
This particular piece does feature some elements that could be pretty confusing for young Catholic kids, i.e. an enacted sacrilege of the Eucharist, so it’s probably most suitable for teens and up, with parental guidance and conversation.
But lest you think it’s not worth the watch, here's an excerpt of a 2019 article from USCatholic.org:
In Mass we watch a jubilant worshiping assembly become fractured by its doubts and its anger, challenging the Celebrant until he can take no more. In this drama we find the fundamental struggle for faith as old as the Israelite relationship to the God of Abraham and as fresh as the latest crimes we have learned about in the church. A flawed people is in dialogue with their Creator. Their mediator, or prophet, or Celebrant does his best, yet falls prey to his own human frailty and imperfection. Finally, only the improbable intrusion of grace can restore Creation. As much this is what every Mass is, it also is what is achieved in Mass. I hope it will not seem sacrilegious of me to say so, but perhaps we even can say that Bernstein’s artistic liberties heighten Mass to achieve something our Sunday mornings really cannot.
I suspect St. John Paul II understood that. We know Mass intrigued him because he requested a special performance in 2000. A playwright, actor, and a thoughtful observer of culture, John Paul knew that, “Even beyond its typically religious expressions, true art has a close affinity with the world of faith.” Art that moves us cannot be far from the Gospel. Inevitably, art reflects the deepest truth of what we believe or it is not art.
Image: PBS/© Simon Baxter/BBC