I'm going to be honest, the summer slide this year will be mighty. It's not that I want my children to forget all they learned in their aborted school year, but I just don't have it in me to do better. Thankfully,
these Disney+ shows that are basically education are here to rescue parents who just don't have it in them to try anymore.
No, I'm not suggesting that
Iron Man is going to teach your children about quantum mechanics, or that Moana will help your partner access their inner child. Nothing quite so audacious. I'm talking about shows like Cosmos and Wild Yellowstone teaching your kids about the origins of the universe or why Grizzly bears like to lay on their backs and grab their toes. These are shows that teach our children without them feeling like they're back in school, and dang if that's not an accomplishment. Seriously, my daughter acts like I'm telling her to slay stray kittens every time I "force" her to do her summer science or math app program. But maybe, just maybe, she'll watch Brain Games without so much whining.
In this list are documentaries, animated series, movies, and more, and they all teach something valuable to your children without them even being aware of it.
1 'Cosmos' FOX/FOX Image Collection/Getty Images Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson is an utterly engaging look at everything from the history of the world's creation to how scientific thought developed over the centuries. He breaks things down with so much intrigue that it feels like you're experiencing it firsthand. (Newtonian theory has never been quite so interesting.) 2 'School House Rock' Kari Rene Hall/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images School House Rock is a classic for a reason. Whether you're learning about bills in committees, nouns, or you're riding on the Conjunction Junction, the songs and rules stick in kids' brains like glue. (I watched these in reruns as a kid, and I can still sing most of them.) 3 'One Strange Rock'
Will Smith hosts this show about what made the earth, and discusses it through the lens of astronauts who have left it all behind, making the show that much more compelling. Plus, Will Smith is every bit as funny as he is in everything else he does.
There is actually a whole series of shows just like this on Disney+, from
Elephant to Easter Island Unsolved from National Geographic. 4 'Ruby Bridges'
The story of Ruby Bridges, the little girl chosen to be the first Black girl to attend an all-white William Frantz elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana, is told beautifully in this movie.
This is more important than ever. Our kids need to know this wasn't that long ago. There is no "raising your kids colorblind," or "not raising racist kids." You are either actively trying to raise anti-racist kids, or you're not doing enough. A huge part of that is education
5 'Science Fair'
This show is about exactly what it sounds like. I'm hoping that if my kids watch it, they'll get inspired. Not to like, destroy the kitchen, but maybe make a little mess. You know that in the long run of the pandemic, it's all about finding balance.
6 'The World According To Jeff Goldblum' Charley Gallay/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Yeah, so what if this is as much for the parents as it is the kids. Who doesn't want Jeff Goldblum explaining bicycles, tattoos, and coffee to them? His face, his voice, his smooth delivery — I'm sure someone is going to learn something.
7 'Awesome Animals'
Yes, kids will learn all about animals in this series, but it's hilariously narrated by Jake Cuddemi, and so it's just a good time. It teaches about lifespan and environment and eating habits, but also has flappy flappy dog smiles and all kinds of interesting and new animal farts. Win.
8 'Expedition Mars' REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images
This movie is all about the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the ups and downs of navigating these machines, and what it meant to the future of space exploration.
This one is probably better for older kids, as there are portions of the 90-minute movie that move a little more slowly. But my 9-year-old ate it up.
9 'The Story of Perri'
If you could combine 1950s kitsch Disney with a nature documentary, that is
The Story of Perri. It's from 1957 and tells the fantastical story of a pine squirrel named Perri, and it is still just as sweet and wonderful as it was 63 years ago. 10 'Queen of Katwe' Jeff Spicer/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
The 2016 biographical film about Ugandan chess genius Phiona Mutesi follows her story as she wins multiple chess championships in spite of not being enrolled in school. The film is so wonderful and beautiful.
The way it's told feels like the epic tale that it is, and children absolutely adore it. I know that all the kids in my family certainly do.
11 'The Lost City of Machu Picchu'
Machu Picchu is the first vacation I'm taking as soon as it is safe to travel again, so it's no wonder I'd be all over this Nat Geo show, and want my kids to watch it as well. If I'm going to make them hike all over the Andes, I at least want them to have some historical background.
12 'Hamilton' Rudi Von Briel/Stockbyte Unreleased/Getty Images
Yeah, I said it.
Hamilton. Is it Revolutionary fanfic? You're darn right it is, but it gets kids excited to learn about history. My daughter legit bought and read books about Hamilton after seeing the show. (She thinks he's trash now, but still likes the song, and loves Eliza even more.) 13 'Imagineering' Gerardo Mora/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Do your kids have a creative spirit and miss learning from qualified professionals?
Imagineering lets them see what it takes to make a Disney theme park, from the initial creative spark all the way through its opening. My children were captivated to see just how much goes into being a Disney Imagineer. 14 'Dolphin Reef'
This was astonishingly sweet. Viewers follow the young dolphin, Echo, as he navigates his reef and growing up. You'll meet turtles, humpback whales, and find a whole new appreciation for the dolphins' wit and humor. Kids will love the dynamic nature of the film, and they'll never realize that they're learning something.
15 'Little Einsteins'
If you have a kid, chances are good that you can sing this theme song from start to finish. My son was so obsessed with
Little Einsteins that he had their jammies, their cups, and even a backpack. It teaches kids all sorts of important concepts, but also keeps them entertained. 16 'Family Sundays'
The show's host, Amber Kemp-Gerstel. guides family-friendly DIY projects and crafts that encourage creativity as well as spatial awareness and STEAM skills. And don't worry, everything you need is all
available for download online. That way, you can grab everything before you watch the show and craft along. 17 'Red Tails'
Due to the violent war scenes depicted,
Red Tails may be better for older children. The story is incredibly important. Red Tails is narrative of the Black fighter pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen, and how their skills, bravery, and solidarity helped win WWII, in spite of being marginalized, degraded, and talked down to by other officers and the military in general. 18 'Miracle of Midnight'
This is also probably for older kids. It's the story of a Danish family who risked their lives to save Jews during WWII. I have some issues with it, as it centers their story instead of the story of the Jewish people who were fleeing for their lives — much like
Schindler's List — but the story is valuable and beautifully told. 19 'Critter Fixers'
Dr. Hodges and Dr. Ferguson take care of all sorts of animals about 100 miles south of Atlanta in
Critter Fixers, and it is surprisingly educational. Not only do kids learn about farm animals, but they learn how to care for their own pets, and why it's so important that we treat all animals with love and respect. Plus, the doctors are hilarious and there are alpacas. 20 'America's National Parks'
We're all missing out on traveling, so
America's National Parks might be just the thing to settle some of that wanderlust. The show tells the story of how National Parks came to be, and highlights many of the beautiful parks in the U.S. It will definitely have you making a list of "post-pandemic" travels for the years to come. (I'm ready for a long road trip with the wind in my hair and Cheetos in my lap.)