8 Amazing Documentaries to Watch with Your Kids

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documentariesAs we hunker down for a long cozy winter of hibernation, we’ve prepared our lists of things to organize, recipes to try, and things to watch. We’re particular fans of good documentaries at our house because they are often the only pieces of content that can bridge the divide between the 3 1/2 years between our girls and the 30 or so years between them and their parents. Here are our top 8:

1. Doubletime

Two teams from wildly different backgrounds (one from my wealthy college hometown of Chapel Hill and another from inner-city Columbia, SC) compete for gold in jump rope. We’ve watched this one three times and love it again and again. Between the incredible athleticism, lovely personalities of the kids and coaches, and an all-around feeling of goodness, I can’t figure out why it was never a huge sensation. You won’t be disappointed.

It’s not listed on Common Sense Media, but I would rate it at age 6+. Available on Apple TV. 1 hr 10-24 minutes, depending on which site you believe. 2012.

2. Super Size Me

Follow a month in the life of filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who sets off on a quest to consume only McDonalds foods (no salads) for three meals a day, always saying “yes” when asked if he wants to supersize. What it does to his body and energy is predictable, but seeing the effects on screen is still shocking. It certainly makes a strong point and has lots of entertainment value. Don’t miss it, even if Micky D’s is not your go-to.

Common Sense Media says it’s appropriate for ages 13+. My younger daughter, who is generally squeamish, saw it at age 9 and did just fine. Available on Amazon Prime. 1 hour 18 minutes. 2004.

3. The Social Dilemma

Want your kids to temper their use of social media? Start with a viewing of this movie. With interviews of the people who invented and now denounce social media, including the man behind the “like” button, The Social Dilemma is both scary and highly convincing. I know several people who have deleted their social media accounts after watching the movie. Though I did not, it made me think harder about putting my phone away for longer.

Common Sense Media says it’s appropriate for ages 13+. It was fine for my 11-year-old, though we had to stop and explain concepts and vocabulary at times. Available on Netflix. 1 hour 29 minutes. 2020.

4. March of the Penguins

Follow a group of real penguins in Antarctica as they walk 70 miles to their breeding grounds, nurture their eggs, and birth their young. Between the cuteness, the beauty of the landscape, and the incredible story, this is one of our all-time favorites.

Common Sense Media says it’s appropriate for ages 6+, though I think it’s rather upsetting because some penguins die. Available on Hulu and Amazon Prime. 1 hour 20 minutes. 2005.

5. Pick of the Litter

Learn about the intensive training seeing-eye dogs go through while watching the most adorable puppies in the world. Follow a litter of 5 pups through early rearing with volunteers, training with the experts, and (for the ones who pass) graduation, and matching with their new owners. If you don’t have a dog and never plan to get one, maybe it’s too much temptation.

Common Sense Media says it’s appropriate for ages 6+. Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and more. 1 hour 20 minutes. 2018.

6. RBG

Masterfully made, funny, touching, inspiring, and educational, RBG is a must-see for all human beings, especially kids. It contains interviews, photos, and old footage about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life (and filmed when Ginsburg was still alive). It will make you cry. Follow it up with a viewing of the movie On the Basis of Sex for a satisfying doubleheader.

Common Sense Media says it’s appropriate for ages 10+. Available on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and more. 1 hour 47 minutes. 2018.

7. Ask Dr. Ruth

I happened upon this one on a plane (remember those?), and boy, am I glad I did. Another Ruth, another life shaped by the Holocaust, another powerhouse short woman who changed our history. It’s not just about her but how she hailed acceptance of issues like masturbation and LGBTQ and our own bodies when the world was a different place. It will make you smile, cry, and want to hug your grandmother really tight.

Common Sense Media says it’s appropriate for ages 15+ due to sex talk and cursing.
Available on Hulu. 1 hour 40 minutes. 2019.

8. Cheer

Not a movie, but close enough as a docuseries. This tugs at your heartstrings like an abandoned puppy and won’t let go. Similar in concept to Doubletime (two top teams vying for gold, sharing the incredible stories behind the talent), this one tackles serious issues such as sexual abuse and abandonment but was still appropriate enough for our then ten-year-old to watch. It also addresses the insane competitiveness in sports.

Common Sense Media says it’s appropriate for ages 14+. Available on Netflix. 6 1 hour episodes. 2020.

What great and kid-appropriate documentaries would you recommend? We need a few more to get us through the winter.

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Ruth Berkowitz lives in Scarsdale with her husband and two girls (born in 2005 and 2009), a Havanese named Scout (a Corona puppy), and beta fish, Lilly. During the day, Ruth works in marketing at a health insurance start-up. By night, when she's not driving her kids around, she plays tennis and mah jongg, volunteers for various organizations, and updates the family calendar. She immensely enjoys sitting in front of the TV with chamomile tea, an ice cream sundae, and a chewy cookie in hand.

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