This family watches television. It seems among many conservative families, that fact makes us different. Now compare us to conservative homeschool families, and the number of televisions decreases even further. And that this mom is a rebel. At least it feels that way sometimes.
My kids watch more TV than most of their friends. To each his own. Yes, I understand why some feel that way. However, I know that even for me, seeing real-life places, stories, and images makes it all come to life. It piques interest and is at time, let’s face it, much more enjoyable than just words on a page.
Confession #1: While the rest of you cuddle and read favorite books before bed in your jammies, I’m once again breaking the mold. I would love to and enjoy when we do, but usually by nighttime, this introverted mom is done and has read lots of books during the day. It’s okay to watch a family show.
Confession #2: I have very little tolerance for “kid shows”, and the kids want me to cuddle up with them. The solution? Find shows that we grown ups enjoy, and invite the kids to watch them with us.
Yep! I even keep track of shows and movies we watch in my planner for the week to recall what we learned as a family. It gets referenced back if I’m looking for topics to dive further in, book ideas from the library, or cultures to read about.
Let’s consider how you learn as a grown-up. If you sit back and watch a home improvement show, does that help you build a deck? Would you say you learned something? I always say that most of my cooking skills came from watching cooking shows. Does that mean I didn’t learn properly? Sure doesn’t. Give your kids the same credit!
There are so many shows out there with aspects that include learning – History Channel, Discovery, Food Network, HGTV, and more. Education is so much more than “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”. Remember, learning isn’t just sitting at a desk with pencil in hand. The opportunities are everywhere – even on cable TV.
But how? Let’s take geography and science for example. You could have your kid read a dry paragraph in a textbook. Or you could visit the place through your television – see the people, look at the towering mountains, wade through the rain forest’s river, discover their ancient places, learn their customs, encounter their animals. Not to mention, adding in the story element will make it even more memorable. Which would you rather do?
Here are some of our top favorites shows of 2021 and the reasons why these would be a great addition to your learning lifestyle. And, yes, 7:30 at night is an okay time to still consider it learning. When you look at learning as a lifestyle, any time (and show) can totally count.
Just finishing their eighth season, The Curse of Oak Island follows the treasure hunting exploits of brothers Rick and Marty Lagina and their team as they bring in experts and equipment to help them finally uncover the two century old mystery of what is buried on Oak Island off the coast of Nova Scotia in Canada.
The real-life mystery of Oak Island has been known for hundreds of years through previous treasure hunting teams. Each episode of Oak Island covers a week of searching during the summer season before the weather makes it impossible to continue. Artifacts are uncovered weekly in digging sites on the surface and hundreds of feet under the ground. Using highly technical digging devices, their discoveries are plotted in detail, dirt is sifted, structures are uncovered, and the search continues. Don’t be surprised if your kids start referring to the people by name and head out with a metal detector to look for treasures.
How to Watch
This show is telling a story – both of the history of the island but also their more recent discoveries. You should probably go in order, but as with most cable shows, they review so much, that you could easily catch on. To me, the best seasons, are the last several years when they are bringing in more archeologists, geologists, and scientists. We have learned so much about real-life science applications including tree dating, carbon dating, metal testing, archeology practices, and geologic testing.
Where to Watch
This show is broadcast live on the History Channel and its associated app. There is one season on Netflix, and it’s available for purchase through Prime.
History – What can you find out about the Knights Templar or early explorers? Who were these different groups? What would have been their motivation to come to Oak Island? What kind of artifacts have been found that would point to one group instead of another? How would a treasure discovery here change history as we know it? Don’t forget to place the groups in history for comparison.
Science – What are they using for dating? Is dendrochronology accurate? What archeology have they used? GPS tools? Geology and sediment testing?
People – What kind of people might be driven to dedicate their lives to treasure hunting? Are they adventurous or fool-hearty? How have the different scientists on the show been trained to make them good for this experience?
Geography – Find Nova Scotia on the map. Compare it to the other locations discussed. Why is it possible that Vikings or Crusaders or American Revolutionaries might have chosen this place? What about its location or climate or water proximity would have made this ideal?
Logic – What hypotheses presented by the show do you agree with? Are they logical? How much do you think it because of the show and how much is real? How do they pick experts? What would you do differently? Do you think they might ever find the treasure?
This world race is an oldie but a goodie that my husband and I watched two decades ago as newly weds. Because of it’s older age, there are 32 seasons to watch and months of entertainment on Amazon Prime. I admit this is my favorite of these five shows. It’s a great way to couch-travel and expose your kids to other places they will want to visit.
In this race, groups of two race around the world for three to four weeks seeing the sights, experiencing cultural differences, and completing challenges to be the first team back to the start of the race. The teams are a variety of match-ups including friends, family, couples, and even strangers at times. The teams interact with each other so there may be lots of drama, infighting, and sneaky moves which provide plenty of opportunities for discussion with your kids. Apart from the travel aspect, the kids are seeing so much of just people and how they deal with their differences. The ultimate lesson people skills playing out on TV.
How to Watch
Each season is independent so jump right in at the beginning of the season. The rules will be explained as you go and you can catch up easily. It’s available on Hulu and Amazon Prime as well as through CBS for the new season.
Geography!!! – Chart their journey on a map. Look for and learn about the landmarks they saw. Talk about the culture, language, and people from each location. Which place would you like most to travel to and why?
People – Why did they do that? Would you have done that? Who would you or would you not want to be friends with in real life? Did they deserve to win? How does that person’s life choices agree or conflict with the way we choose to live as Christians?
These are diverse people people with all types of couples, walks of life, and topics discussed. Any questionable language would be bleeped out. It’s not 100% clean but no different than anything they might encounter just going to school in my opinion.
Despite the popularity of this show, I haven’t met a lot of people personally who have heard of Expedition Unknown. It’s been around for many seasons and has even spawned longer series, so obviously there are people out there watching. Think Indiana Jones in 30 minute segments and based in more history.
Every episode, Josh Gates, a real-life archeologist, poses a mystery as he sits in front of his staged office with artifacts and maps. However, then he takes off across the world to dive into the water to find boat artifacts or treks into the Himalayas to a Buddhist temple to search for a Yeti or meets up with people searching for gold in the mountains of Colorado. He’s meeting up with real world archeologists and historians to learn what they know and share it with us. How better than to learn about the undiscovered ancient temples in the Mexican jungle that with a team of scientists and LIDAR scanning drones to help map the floor of the forest? This is a fun show for the whole family and exciting enough to make learning fun.
How to Watch
Each episode is independent, so jump right in to whichever episode you find. I have been known to go online, find the list of episodes, and seek out those which apply to what we have been reading about for history. There are so many to choose from, that you will always find something somewhat applicable.
Where to Watch
History channel and history channel apps. There are many episodes on every week. Once you set your DVR timer, you will have many, many opportunities to watch.
Geography – Find his locations on the map. Reflect back on the videos of the area – what did they show you about the people or culture or topography or history?
History – Learn about what he talks about – this is a history show! Do your own referene and see if you agree with his conclusion. What else can you learn? Is it an accurate portrayal? What do other sources say? Is Josh’s version reliable?
Logic – Is he chasing a myth or a proven fact? Are these artifacts reliable?
I have very few warnings about Expedition Unknown. As the host doing daring experiences at times, Josh does occasionally cuss which the History Channel bleeps out. His mouth is still moving though on screen sometimes.
This is the show for bigger kids who love Wild Kratts and have been telling you facts they learned from the Kratt Brothers for most of their life. There is only one season of Kings of Pain from 2020 so far, but it says online that more are in the planning stages. There are only nine episodes, and my kids would love more!
The introduction to Kings of Pain explains that the current system for ranking the danger of animals is based on the Schmidt sting pain index – a 0-4 point scale that is decades old. This daring (and at times, reckless) duo is a combination of wildlife biologist Adam Thorn and Rob “Caveman” Alleva who set out to capture the wild animal and provoke it to defend itself – reptiles, snakes, marine animals, and insects. While done under the guidance of a medical team and local experts, their injuries at times are extreme and serve as a good warning to all about why caution is needed in nature at all times. This show is a family favorite for it’s shock value and our love of animals and travel.
How to Watch
Each episode is independent. However, they are adding animals to their pain and destruction scale with each episode, so previous results are referred to. Out of order won’t work if you want to keep everything a surprise. We didn’t find this a problem and watched the episodes mixed-up without difficulty.
Where to Watch
Look for this show on the History channel.
Geography – Where did they travel? What did you notice about the climate or the land? It is raining all the time – maybe it’s a rainy season? What’s the expected temperature there? If they interact with local people, what did you learn about their culture?
Animals – So much! Learn about the animals – you could even look ahead of time and do research. Dare I suggest an exciting nature study or drawing? What other animals live here? What makes them adapted to the land they explored? Why do you think these animals need such an extreme defense?
Medical – They will have their blood pressure, pulse, oxygenation, and other vital signs checked. Take some time to learn about these too. What’s the proper treatment for their injuries?
I’m giving more caution to recommending this show than the other four. These are real-life daredevils who do dangerous things in the name of science – technically. You should caution your kids that these are not things to be repeated and stress how dangerous they are. Again, these adventurous men have their choice swear words bleeped out, but it’s still obvious words are being said at times. Some of their injuries are a bit gruesome – blood is involved more than once. This is a show for older kids and not for the squeamish. The reticulated python is the worst! Or it’s more dangerous, and your family will love it more.
With more than 40 seasons completed, everyone knows Survivor and Jeff Probst. However, have you thought about bringing it back for family viewing? It’s so much more exciting than another kid animated Pixar movie. I promise. This is a great springboard to go on some family adventures and practice your survival skills. You could even take it to the next step after watching and set up your own challenge courses in the backyard.
Dropped off in the middle of nowhere, a dozen or so partners compete against each other in teams and individually to outlast the other players as they survive each other and the elements. There are daily competitions that vary from puzzles to eating contests to ninja-warrior style obstacles. The people watching is a major draw to this show — it’s a great safe space for our kids to learn how to act than by watching those who may not be making the best and most honest decisions while discussing with mom and dad. They bring in drama as they are forced to work with strangers and learn more about their teammates.
How to Watch
Pick a season and start at the beginning of that season. Our family most recently watched Micronesia and love Yau-Man; he’s also in Fiji. Another all-time favorite contestant is Rupert – on Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villans, and Blood vs. Water. If you’re learning about a certain place in the world, search through the episodes on Wikipedia. They’ve been many places!
Where to Watch
As a CBS production, look for it through CBS or through their app. There are several seasons included on Netflix, more than 10 seasons free with Amazon Prime, and several sites where it is available for purchase.
People – Who is your favorite contestant? What did you think about the way they acted in that situation? What was the motivation? Would you want to be friends with ____ and why not? Do you trust ____? Who do you think we should act like and what has been done that you don’t agree with? What would you do in that situation? What are the group dynamics? Why did they choose ___ to be the leader? Was that wise?
Places – Where are they? What climate or environment would you expect? Animals? Dangers? How do you think they got there?
Survival – Go set up your own survival situation and go camping! This is a great springboard to go on some family adventures and practice your skills.
Real people. Real situations. There may be a rare chance for blurred nudity or bleeped cussing or personal situations. I’ve never seen anything outright inappropriate shown or enough to cause us to turn it off. Think of it more like “Oooh. I see his crack!” or “Why is that crazy person going in the ocean naked?!!” Remember, this is not a kid-focused show though. Don’t forget they’re surviving in the tropics – there will be shirtless men and bikini-clad women. Not having watched 30 seasons recently, I can’t attest to possible conversations, but that’s what why parents have the fast-forward button.