Parents’ Picks is a new series that will help you wade through the endless options competing for your kids’ screen time. If you have other TV or film suggestions or questions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hang in there, fellow parents. I get it. It’s been a blur of a year. And things don’t look like they’re going to get better any time soon. Figuring out child care is a doozy in the best of situations. So I totally understand if your assortment of smart devices – cellphones, tablets, computers or TVs – have taken on the role of babysitters. If you haven’t even bothered password-protecting your Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV+, YouTube, Disney+ accounts lately, zero judgments from me.
I know how mind-numbing it can be to scroll through all those options and find shows your kids will love. So I’m here to help, in a column that will appear every other week. And I want to hear your suggestions, too. Tell me what you are watching with your kids. I’ll also try to answer any queries you may have. Should you really suggest Sixteen Candles for your daughter’s 16th birthday, for example? Look for the answer to that burning question in a coming column on problematic classics.
Here are some suggestions to get you started. Viewer discretion advised.
Cosmic Kids Yoga
Age range: Preschooler and up
Where to watch: YouTube
Elevator pitch for parents: Come for the downward dog, stay for the momentary quiet time.
Elevator pitch for kids: It’s not really exercise if you’re having fun! (Or is it?)
Chances are you recently came across this site during the various periods of virtual school. Teachers were prescribing this popular YouTube series to keep kids moving. I’ll lay my cards down. I have a natural distrust of anyone who describes themselves as a yogi while dressed in a colourful tracksuit. I roll my eyes every time the host starts the class with a “Nah-muss-tay” in what I think is a Manchester accent. I still don’t get how she manages to incorporate a Harry Potter narrative with yoga poses. And yet, Cosmic Kids Yoga has got my eight-year-old son trying to hold an Eagle Pose while asking if the animal for Ravenclaw is indeed an eagle. (Yes, it is.)
I’m told this interactive show is equally appealing to preschoolers and kindergartners. Thankful parents don’t feel so bad about their child in front of a tablet or phone for 30 minutes if the young ones are actually moving rather than sitting like zombies.
Age range: 6 to 10/11
Where to watch: Kanopy
Elevator pitch for parents: Like The Office, but in an Aussie schoolyard.
Elevator pitch for kids: Check out wacky stuff kids get up to during recess in Australia.
I’m biased toward zany Aussie humour, but that’s partly because I spent part of my high-school years there. Naturally I was delighted when my daughter and son discovered Little Lunch on TVO Kids two years ago; they would have been around 8 and 6 at the time. At first I tuned in because the accent was immediately familiar. I felt a wave of nostalgia seeing the school uniforms – checkered Peter Pan collared dresses for girls, polo shirts and shorts for boys, and that Aussie hat to save your neck from sunburn.
The mockumentary style, 15-minute episodes full of banter between kids – and occasionally their teachers – reeled me in. It’s a fun mix of kids: bookish and smart Debra-Jo, jockish Tamara, daydreaming Battie and always-in-trouble Rory, among others. Their concerns are totally relatable. An immigrant grandma who packs unfamiliar lunches. Talent show politics among friends. Cheering up your friend when he’s sent to the principal’s office. The humour is both broad and nuanced enough for a wide range of kids – and adults – to enjoy.
Age range: 6 and up
Where to watch: Most streaming services
Elevator pitch for parents: Superhero movie meets family drama.
Elevator pitch for kids: It’s a superhero movie – featuring kids!
I watched this movie when it came out in 2004 – six years before my daughter was born. I appreciated this Pixar pick’s unique plot line: A bickering family of superheroes living undercover, who come together to fight an unusual enemy. I smiled at the dry humour mixed in with very real, everyday problems – a husband bored-to-tears-at-work, while the wife puts out a million little fires at home and the kids’ school.
I recently rediscovered the film with my two kids. Although they had watched it out of curiosity a few years ago, I find them coming back to it over the past few months, laughing at the many little side jokes. I don’t mind catching a few scenes here and there, even as I ask them incredulously, “You’re watching this again?!” I particularly love Dash’s delighted laughter in the scene when he discovers just how fast he can run, and the epilogue with Jack-Jack and his babysitter.
Over the Moon
Age range: 8 to teens
Where to watch: Netflix
Elevator pitch for parents: Come for the moon cakes, stay for a universal story about loss and finding family.
Elevator pitch for kids: Celebrate the Year of the Ox with a family just like ours.
With Lunar New Year on Friday, this might seem like an obvious suggestion. This Netflix film retells the Chinese legend of the moon-goddess Chang’e through the story of Fei Fei, a young Chinese girl mourning the loss of her mother. Faced with sudden changes in her life, she builds a rocket to the moon to try and keep her family together.
The movie features an all-star cast including John Cho, Sandra Oh and Ken Jeong, along with Phillipa Soo of the hit musical Hamilton. And boy, do Soo’s musical chops come into play, especially in the K-pop-like song Ultraluminary. The film meanders a fair bit, and several plot points didn’t make sense to my adult brain. But it held both my children’s attention until the end, even if the themes of loss and renewal are better suited to older kids.
Age range: Family viewing, ages 10+
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Disney+
Elevator pitch for parents: True story about Black women scientists offers many other lessons.
Elevator pitch for kids: Anyone can reach for the stars, if given the opportunity.
In honour of Black History Month, may I suggest this film for your family viewing. I honestly can’t remember how we came to watch it. Maybe it was because we were discussing segregation at our dinner table or maybe we were discussing mathematics. Either way, the film happened to be coming on TV, and so we tuned in one night.
The themes in this film make this an excellent choice to watch as a family, because mom and dad can help by providing context and answering questions. It took some time for my kids to get into the story. They didn’t understand the subtle tension of a white police officer approaching a broken down car and three Black women making that road trip to NASA’s Langley Research Centre or the many small ways in which structural racism works. By the end of it, however, they saw heroes in the female mathematicians portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.