Lots of kids wind up going through a knight, princess, pirate, or cowboy phase. (Or short phases of each.) It makes sense – the past can be a fun place to visit in our imaginations. (In real life, not so much, what with all the lack of sanitation and dysentery.) Fortunately, there are lots of shows and movies about history that can inspire and educate your kid. From learning how the U.S. states got their shapes to a kid-friendly introduction to the civil rights movements, there’s plenty for your little history buff to stream.
A few caveats before we delve into our various recommendations. In general, a lot of this content skews a bit older — think more grade school than pre-school. It makes sense if you think about it: history can be pretty... let’s go with “not family friendly.” Also, for some reason, toddlers don't love learning about the Revolutionary War. Weird, right? Another thing to note is that these shows and movies can't replace
actually studying history — even the best historical content often struggles with precise accuracy. So this list should be seen as a jumping off point or supplement rather than an educational main course.
We've included ratings for all content (most are rated PG, which puts it safely in family viewing territory) as well as where you can stream them. We hope this list can help encourage your kid in their love of learning about (and from) the past!
Xavier Riddle And The Secret Museum
Join Xavier, his sister Yadina, and his best friend Brad as they travel back in time to learn about history straight from the likes of Marie Curie and George Washington... back when these famous folks were kids themselves.
Stream Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum, rated TV-Y, on PBS Kids or tune in to your local PBS station. The Sound of Music
This lively and beautiful movie-musical is the gold standard of the genre, and just happens to give viewers an age appropriate look at some of the struggles faced by resisters in World War II. Come for
My Favorite Things and Do Re Mi, stay to teach your kids all the reasons Liesl’s boyfriend Rolf sucks. Stream The Sound of Music, rated G, on Disney+. The Sword In The Stone
Young Arthur, nicknamed Wart, is destined for greatness but time-traveling wizard Merlin seems to be the only one who believes that. Determined to guide the boy to be a great ruler, Merlin schools him in the ways of science and philosophy beyond the imaginings of Arthur’s Medieval world. Scholars go back and forth on whether King Arthur was an actual historical figure, but the greatness of this excellent animated feature is very real.
Stream The Sword in the Stone, rated G, on Disney+. An American Tail
Fievel Mousekewitz and his family are desperate to leave the endless persecution they face from the wicked cats in their small village in this classic film from 1986. Fortunately, they hear that in America there are no cats! And the streets are paved with cheese! But when the young mouse gets lost on the way to his new home, and the mice learn that things aren’t as perfect as they believed, they must work together to make a new life in the United States.
Stream An American Tail, rated G, on Peacock. The Royal Diaries
This series of three films features female rulers throughout time and around the world as young girls, from Cleopatra to Elizabeth I, giving viewers a chance to learn about their worlds through the unique voices of each princess.
Stream The Royal Diaries, rated TV-Y7, on Hulu. An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has To Win
In this movie, Detroit resident Melody faces adversity and discrimination as the American Civil Rights movement finds its place in American culture. With creativity, bravery, and imagination, Melody perseveres.
Stream An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has To Win, rated TV-Y7 , on Amazon Prime. Dear America
Based on the beloved books, this series looks at American history through an unaccustomed lens: the eyes of children, exploring subjects such as early colonial life and the Civil War.
Stream Dear America, rated TV-Y7, on Hulu. Fiddler On The Roof
This classic movie musical tells the story of the
shtetl of Anatevka in Russia and the Jewish community that lives there. With Tevye the milkman serving as narrator, we see how the world was changing at the beginning of the 20th century, starting with his own family! Even if you’re not into history, the music slaps. Stream Fiddler On The Roof, rated TV-Y7, on Amazon Prime. Moana
Let’s be honest: our kids have already watched this movie a billion times but we’re never mad about it because it’s good. It’s also a fun jumping off point to talk about Polynesian history, which
even critics of the film acknowledge were often portrayed with impressive accuracy. The story begins, for example, in an actual historical period known as “The Long Pause” — a break in Polynesian island migration. Other details, such as the design of the boats and houses, as well as the idea that Polynesian culture promoted highly skilled nautical wayfinding techniques, are also true. As far as historians can tell, however, there is no period in which giant, gold encrusted crabs singing like David Bowie reigned in underwater kingdoms. Stream Moana, rated PG, on Disney+. Little House On The Prairie
For parents of a certain age, just looking at this picture means you’re already humming the theme music for this classic bit of Americana. Being a TV series from the ‘70s, it can be dated at times, but overall it’s still solid family viewing.
Stream Little House On The Prairie, rated TV-G, on Amazon Prime. Who Was
This genuinely funny, educational series features teenagers playing the roles of various historical figures. With two biographies presented each episode, the sketches are anachronistic (as seen above: Marie Antoinette never invited Louis Armstrong to a party at Versailles), but the facts are solid and you and your child will definitely learn something.
Stream Who Was, rated TV-PG, on Netflix. Ruby Bridges
This movie is based on the story of how 6-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first Black child to integrate her New Orleans elementary school, and the adults who helped her through it.
Stream Ruby Bridges, rated PG, on Disney+. Horrible Histories
Who Was this British series explores various historical periods and incidents in a funny, lively way that is nevertheless accurate and highly educational. Stream Horrible Histories, rated TV-G, on Hulu. Newsies
Based on a true story,
Newsies is about Jack “Cowboy” Kelly, and how he and other New York City newsboys stood up against media giant Joseph Pulitzer to form a union and assert their rights in 1899.
You could do either the movie of the adapted Broadway stage play that was adapted from the original movie
or you could just watch the original film. Not to tip the scales or anything but, like, the original has young Christian Bale in it, so... Stream Newsies, rated PG, on Disney+. Kevin Hart’s Guide To Black History
In this movie special, when Kevin Hart’s daughter Riley gets upset after seeing
12 Years A Slave, her dad wants to show her that Black history is more than pain and degradation, and that Black Americans have achieved great things (even if they didn’t always get the credit they deserved). Stream Kevin Hart’s Guide To Black History, rated TV-PG, on Netflix. Prince of Egypt
Based on the Book of Exodus in the Bible (though certain liberties are taken), this 1998 feature film is set in ancient Egypt, when an adopted royal son feuds with his brother, the pharaoh, to free the enslaved Hebrews.
Stream Prince of Egypt, rated PG, on Peacock. Hidden Figures
This movie is the true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson — three Black women whose brilliant minds helped launch the first American into orbit (and get him safely home) in 1962.
Stream Hidden Figures, rated PG, on Disney+. Remember The Titans
Based on a true story, this movie follows the story of Coach Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington, and how he led the first racially integrated football team in Alexandria, Virginia to win the state championship game in 1971.
Stream Remember the Titans, rated PG, on Disney+. How The States Got Their Shapes
Every wonder why Michigan is shaped like a mitten? Or why Rhode Island is so teeny tiny? Host Brian Unger takes viewers on a cross-country road trip to explore the history of how states were determined and how those choices continue to influence us today.
Stream How The States Got Their Shapes, rated TV-PG, with a History VAULT subscription on Amazon Prime. Wow, I Never Knew That! Amazon Video/Jamie Kenney
This lighthearted series will seriously improve your trivia game by diving into the history of everyday objects, phrases, practices, and ideas, from the origins of toys like the Etch-A-Sketch to why exactly we say “God bless you!” when we sneeze. Perfect preparation for your future Jeopardy champion.
Stream Wow, I Never Knew That!, rated TV-PG, on Tubi.