Middle aged kids are great!! They are becoming more self aware, able to read and pursue knowledge, and have blooming personalities and interests. These guys are outgrowing the cartoon movies, but still want to be entertained. Kahn academy is great to pick up on new subjects, but let’s be honest, he’s a little boring for some kids to be able to sit through and absorb new information. (And I love his videos and I love what he offers, but they are lower on the entertainment scale). They will walk away or begin making trouble, and if you’re seeking a little time to address other things in your life, that’s not what you need. This is a list of entertaining and engaging shows with subject material that you will be happy for your kids to learn (and they often don’t even realize they’re learning).
Bill Nye the Science Guy
Bill Nye covers many science topics, one per episode. It’s fast paced and “jazzy” for entertainment value. Sometimes I think it jumps a little too much for teaching purposes, but there is a lot of repetition of the key points and kids do walk away with a better understanding. He covers a wide range of science topics from chemistry and biology, to physics and astronomy.
They basically follow the scientific principles to solve some basic questions and urban legends. They get ideas from movies – could it really happen like that? Then make a hypothesis, plan an experiment, build the equipment or apparatus to the the experiment, run the test, then summarize the results. They don’t specifically call out the steps, but if you had them written down on a paper, your child could identify what they do for each step, thus engaging in learning the scientific principles while watching an exciting experiment (probably about 1/3 of the experiements involve blowing something up).
How It’s Made
These episodes take a close look at the manufacturing and production of many common things in our world and teach you the steps and level of detail that each item requires, from obtaining the materials, making the product, and quality testing. They cover a fascinating array of products skateboards, digital-to-analog converters, diving masks and fins, refrigeration units, coffee roasters, lithographs, etc. Run time is 21 minutes and they are in season 22, so it must have something going for it! (It does, its a great insiders look into processes that you aren’t always welcome to tour as the general public).
How Do They Do It
This takes a look at how particular things are accomplished. Going to the factory, or the mine, and following through an entire process. Topics include elevators, underground railways, ballistic missiles, suspension bridges, leather footballs, almonds, etc. Because they plan on 30 minute TV episodes with commercials, the shows are only 22 minutes, which can be perfect just before bedtime or for a transition period to settle down without committing to hours of TV time.
Man vs Wild – Bear Grylls
I’m pushing it a little bit with this one, but you see a lot about survival, nature, a wide variety of locations, and he takes time to point out different species endemic to the area and sometimes local people and customs. You could certainly add geography by supplementing these episodes by having a map and looking up where he is. Then as he’s hiking and camping, you can see the terrain (desert, jungle, mountainous, etc) and get a sense of the geology. As a plus, it keeps middle aged boys entertained. Enough to even forget about Minecraft briefly.
This is a British humor TV series about European historical facts. You will not get a comprehensive look at any particular time period, but there are tons of connections that children find fascinating. Some of it is a little greusome for younger viewers (‘stupid deaths’ and war scenes which are obviously staged, but show severed body parts). They also show how warriors used to behead their victims and wear the heads on their belts (clearly acting, but not perfect for younger viewers). But they make a video game about the types of warriors battling and what weapons they had which is hilarious and makes the point that you would obviously never want to have to battle with that. It captures kids attention, which is difficult sometimes with history. After watching the series, my 10 year old brought up a conversation with an older British Naval Officer about Queen Elizabeth I being the longest standing monarch with 64 years! He then pointed out that their current queen is now the longest standing. These bits of information were able to give him a confidence to begin to discuss British history with a local. Impressive.
How the Earth was Made
This is a fascinating geology series on the History Channel. They go with a geologist to a particularly fascinating location and review how they “know” what they know in geology. They break it down into “clues” found along the way to draw to conclusions, like that of how Yosemite valley was formed, what happened at Mt. St. Helens, and re-enactments of Mount Vassuvius.
When We Left the Earth
This is a series about the space program in America. Meeting the astronauts through the selection process. Looking at each individual mission and how they each built on the previous one. And an analysis of the Russian space program that was hitting milestones prior to the Americans in each of the critical steps.
This is a 6 part series about the planets. What are they made of, what is their atmosphere and climate? How many moons do they have? What is their temperature? It’s a fascinating look at our solar system with excellent graphics and animations.
This is a fascinating 4 part series with David Progue, a popular technology columnist, as the guide. It takes an in depth look into four specific topics of making stuff wilder, colder, safer, and faster. He dives into the technology to see how it studied and developed. I think making stuff colder was my favorite episode. A lot of science involved in it. He even put himself in a chamber and made himself excessively hot and excessively cold to experience and demonstrate the physical consequences.
Dirty Jobs – with Mike Rowe
A fascinating review of social studies, Mike Rowe dives into some of the dirties jobs on the planet. As you learn what people actually do for a living, you realize all the background roles in our society that must be accomplished for us to live in the relatively speaking “pristine” environment that we live in. We’ve managed waste systems, garbage systems, composting and rotting systems. But who maintains these? Who addresses the leaks, plugs or failures? People collect animal feces for fertilizers and have to sort through garbage for recyclable pieces. It’s interesting how many truly disgusting jobs he’s been able to secure to keep this series on the air! This is as much an education on why to get an education and not have to do these jobs as it is an insider’s look at the jobs done in our society.