My favorite movies, especially with kids of all ages, are nature documentaries. At least the well done ones. Unfortunately, some seem to be home videos and/or propoganda films and you can’t always tell by the cover or description. You don’t want to waste your time or money on these, trust me. My interest in the category has taken me off the beaten path, and there are some less than valuable ones out there. Let me save you the hassle!! Here is a list of some of my favorite ones out there. Ones that we’ve watched repetitively because we enjoy them so much and/or there is simply so much to learn from them.
Most afternoons after lunch we try to stay out of the peak sun (about 12-2 pm), so have a quiet time (used to be nap time, but they are growing). The kids are allowed to watch educational TV. You can learn from anything, but to be considered educational it must really impart knowledge. The best case scenario is if you are able to select a film that relates to something the child is seeing or experiencing in the real world, this will improve both the experience in real life and the information they remember from the video.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a “best of.”
The Human Planet takes a look at how the human race has been so successful to have inhabited almost every corner of this Earth. It is divided into sections of how people inhabit the mountains, specifically the Inuit culture and how they survive despite the frozen tundra with no gardening or farming to speak of. It covers how people live on islands, and in deserts, and finally, even in cities. It’s a great look at cultures and how they’ve developed as an adaptation to the environmental factors or limitations around them. It also looks at sustainability of a culture within it’s resources.
Nature’s Most Amazing Events
This movie was filmed over 2,000 days in the field with 40 cameramen and 200 locations. It is a rare look at some of life’s most amazing events that are rarely, if ever before, captured on video. The locations are well varied for a diverse presentation. The cinematography is great with a nice commentary that is well researched and presented. The behind the scenes bonus is always interesting as you learn more about the locations and logistics that it may take to try to actually see these things for yourself.
Earth From Space
This is a two hour special put together in conjunction with NASA. The movie look at our satellite technology and introduces quite a few of our major satellites out there. It gives a detailed look at what they are capable of, what information we’re receiving from them, and what we’ve learned or changed because of it. There are beautiful images that show how one area of Earth affects the next. By taking a step back and looking at the big picture of the Earth as one, you can really appreciate how interconnected it all is.
Covers the range of our planet – deserts, caves, mountains, jungles, ice worlds, fresh water, great planes, shallow seas, seasonal forests, and deep oceans. Filmed all in high definition, there are some amazing images. Paired with patience in their filming, you are rewarded with never before seen footage, sometimes in time lapse or slow motion so you can really take in the action. Narrated by David Attenborough, became the gold standard for nature documentaries for the detailed videography. It has over an hour and a half of behind the scenes footage, which is fascinating to see what the crew went through to get the images they got.
The Wild Pacific
(previously the South Pacific)
This is a beautiful review of life on the islands in the South Pacific including cultures, animals, climate and oceans. It is now called the Wild Pacific because it includes portions of Hawaii which is in the northern hemisphere, but it’s a great look at life on remote islands. The introductory music is beautiful and catchy too! This is where we first learned of Land Diving in Pentecost and the penguins and sea lions co-existing on McCray Island, Australia. Fascinating and beautifully presented.
Galapagos – The Islands that Changed the World
This is a 150 minute BBC special video that takes a look at these volcanic islands and their development and distance from mainland has led to a unique ecosystem with species seen nowhere else on earth. As the newer volcanic islands are expanding and creating new opportunities for life, the older islands are in decline. This video shares the islands from the vantage point of land, sea and sky.
The Blue Planet – Seas of Life
David Attenborough narrates this exploration below the water’s surface. It won two Emmy Awards for it’s ground breaking footage, especially that of the deep sea which has only rarely been explored because of logistical difficulties. This 4 disc series explores coral reefs, a fresh water amazon river and as well as the deep ocean. It’s a great look at the huge variety of life that exists in the water on Earth, which is about 70% of our planet. From algea and plankton to dolphins and whales. It also covers the seasonal aspects of plankton blooms that can be seen from space. And ending with a look at the coasts, where the ocean life meets land life, with fishing birds, crabs, marine iguanas and other species.
Inside the Living Body
National Geographic reveals the life story of the human body, its organ systems, its growth and development to its degradation from the first cry to final breath with detailed imagery.
Inside Planet Earth
Despite living on this Earth, we cannot see or experience the core. This movie takes you on a voyage into the fiery center of our world. Using computer generated visual effects, the Earth is split open to reveal an amazing view of the interior. You see the magnetic fields that protect us from the lethal radiation of space, diamond caverns, and the pure liquid iron ore core. You are walked through the geologic processes that take place forming mountains, volcanoes, moving of the plates, and the striking of meteorites. Study geology like never before!
Faces of Earth
This is a two DVD set about the Earth’s geologic system to show how it came to be and how it continues to change. Four sections include 1) Buidling the Planet 2) Shaping the Planet 3) Assembling America 4) Human World. Blending computer animation with stunning photography, they try to peel back the layers of the planet and walk you through it’s geologic history, present and potential future.
David Attenborough narrates 130 incredible stories from life in the natural world. Fifty-four of the stories have never before been filmed. It includes a ten part series focused on the spectacular and extraordinary tactics plants and animals have taken to survive and even thrive in our world. There is no way to describe how amazing this footage is. You simply can’t observe creatures in nature at this level. With their high definition and zoom lenses, they have captured the most intimate details about some of the most unique and rare species in the world. This one is a must see!!
Nature: Animal Misfits
This is a 60 minute PBS special episode including sloths, penguins, and mole rats, amongst others. All of nature’s unusal animals and their habitats. With a look at how they’ve evolved and are specially adapted for their environments despite the fact that their features would be ridiculous in another setting. It’s a fun look at the diversity on Earth and how it suits it’s particular setting.
From the team that made Blue Planet and Planet Earth, we now get a look at the polar regions of our planet in depth. David Attenborough narrates about life at the poles in the Arctic and Antartic, including the hardy animals that survive there and their survival tactics, with a special look at the rarely seen narwhal whales. Imagery is present both above and below the ice at the surprising amount of life present in these harsh climates. They also follow the significant variations through the seasons and how life adapts to the changes.
Wild China is a natural history video that travels through four very different landscapes, each journey following a historical character’s path. You get to see the world’s 4th largest country from the peaks of the Himalayas to the tropical islands and sub-Arctic to deserts. You get a glimpse of life in China, from fishermen to monasteries. It’s a great preview if you are considering going and a beautiful overview if you’ve been.