When kids are preschool age, usually between 2 and 5 years old, it’s pretty easy to know what TV shows to put on for them. "Sesame Street," "Coco Melon," "Little Baby Bum," and many others teach educational principles in an entertaining way for young kids. They do great at teaching the ABC’s and 123’s. But what about when they outgrow that? What about the older kids? What about the life lessons that aren’t so straight forward? What about self-esteem, parent/child relationships, communication, and other more nuanced lessons? It’s not unusual for a TV show to appeal to this demographic with shallow comedy, fast paced stories, and very little substance. But there are some incredibly uplifting and wholesome series that will both entertain and educate your kids. Here are 5 TV shows that teach big kids amazing life lessons.
We Bare Bears
Where you can watch: HBO Max
Synopsis: “'We Bare Bears' is about three bear brothers (Grizzly, Panda and Ice Bear) and their awkward attempts at assimilating into human society.”
"We Bare Bears" is a Cartoon Network hit that now has a movie and a spin-off series – "We Baby Bears." Each bear has their own distinct personality with their own strengths and weaknesses. This ensures that almost every kid identifies with one of the bears and can take away lessons learned from this optimistic cartoon.
What it teaches –
This show is one of my personal favorites because it teaches the importance of self-assurance and confidence without the need to be super-powered or ultra-talented. These bears are motivated by the desire for friendship and embrace everyone – flaws and all. Grizz is impulsive and over"bear"ing but he is also a social butterfly who has an amazing ability to uplift those around him. Panda is anxious and self-obsessed while also being creative, genuine, and empathetic. Ice Bear is social awkward and introverted but is incredibly talented and intelligent. And every supporting character is equally flawed yet loveable. This show is nonjudgmental and help others be the same. In once sentence, the bears teach you – you are worthy of love exactly how you are.
Where you can watch: Disney+
Synopsis: “'Bluey' follows the adventures of a lovable and inexhaustible six-year-old Blue Heeler puppy who lives with her dad, mum and four-year-old little sister, Bingo. In every episode, Bluey uses her limitless Blue Heeler energy to play elaborate games that unfold in unpredictable and hilarious ways.”
This show MAY be too young for the age group we are talking about. The reason I kept it on this list is because it’s just too good to leave off. "Bluey" has taken the world by storm winning every kid’s entertainment award in its wake and is one of the few young kids shows that parents love watching as much as the kids.
What it teaches –
"Bluey" shows one of the best relationships between kids and their parents. While other most other series depict a group of kids with parents showing up only occasionally, this one sticks within the family. Mom and Dad are a part of nearly every episode. Though the list of lessons Bluey teaches is as long as the list of episodes, I think the healthy, realistic, and uplifting relationship you see between kids and their parents is the most impressive lesson this show has to offer.
The Dragon Prince
Where you can watch: Netflix
Synopsis: “An extraordinary discover inspires two human princes and an elven assassin to team up on an epic quest to bring peace to their warring lands.”
Now that I gave you an option for the younger kids, here is one for the older ones. "The Dragon Prince" can be complex, but the unique animation and amount of action will keep any kid enthralled. This show has appeal for age groups from about 8 years old and up. Great as a show to watch WITH your kids.
What it teaches –
The plot of "The Dragon Prince" is driven by the division of different kinds of people. Though this racial parallel can go over some kid’s heads, it teaches that the acceptance of people for their actions, not what they look like. With the main character being a normal boy who goes on an extraordinary adventure, the lessons of courage, optimism, trust, and hope are also integrated into nearly every episode.
Where you can watch: Disney +
Synopsis: “Doug Funnie is a young boy who keeps a journal. In his hometown of Bluffington, he uses his imagination to navigate through tests of friendship, love, school, and growing up.”
"Doug" is a series that doesn’t feel like it’s over 20 years old. It’s a late 90’s gem that holds up to this day. It’s a Nickelodeon hit that eventually landed at Disney. It features an 11 year old kid and feels a bit ahead of its time in how it handled the complexities of being that age.
What it teaches -
Sometimes adults forget that being young and growing up can be full of anxieties and overwhelming social situations. "Doug" is great at teaching how to cope with these situations. With the main plot device being his journal, you get a glimpse into his inner dialog as a kid just trying to figure it all out. And you get to join him on his journey of stumbling through social situations, learning the importance of imagination and how to navigate being bullied through self-expression and friendship.
Craig of the Creek
Where you can watch – HBO Max
Synopsis: “'Craig of the Creek' follows a young boy, Craig, and his two friends, Kelsey and JP, as they go on adventures within a world of untamed, kid-dominated wilderness in the creek.”
If there is any show you watch on this list, I hope it’s this one. "Craig of the Creek" is wholesome, encouraging, and shockingly complex. If you need help remembering what it was like to be a kid, watch this show. If you want your kids to never let go of the imagination and hope that comes with their childhood, introduce them to this show. And if you really want to bond over something with your kids, watch this show together.
What it teaches –
As one of the most sophisticated kids shows on TV right now, "Craig of the Creek" teaches both abstract lessons like loyalty and honor as well as practical lessons like organization and innovation. This show doesn’t just show kids using their imagination, it teaches kids HOW to use their imagination. It teaches about friendship, the importance of family, the joy of inventing and problem solving, and so much more. Believe it or not, this show somehow is entertaining while it teaches about economics and politics. It’s simply remarkable.
It can be hard to find content you feel good about showing your kids. It can be nearly impossible to find content you look forward to showing your kids. I believe, if you give the shows above a shot, you will find one that checks those boxes.
Author: CJ Lindsey has worked with some of the biggest properties in entertainment and is an expert in content strategy, fan engagement, brand storytelling, and consumer behavior. He has led digital strategies for DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Sesame Street, Harry Potter, and others.
Check out CJ's Podcast: The Parent's Guide To What Kids Watch.