Amazon Instant: Kids Documentaries

If ‘factual’ television programming in your house means a ninth re-run of the Justin Beiber documentary, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise. The rise of streaming video services means that there’s a surprisingly great selection of engaging, educational programmes at your fingertips to provide younger kids with some quality downtime and to give you a break from SpongeBob and that pushy little pig.

After the brilliant response we got to our Best Documentaries for Kids on Netflix, it only seemed fair that we do the same for Amazon Instant. All of our Netflix choices (except Being Elmo) can also be found on Amazon so make sure you check that list out too as well as our Amazon specific picks below. And let us know if there are any great titles we have missed.

When We Left Earth: The NASA missions
(PG: 48 minute episodes)
Buy: £2.49 per episode HD/£10.99 per season HD

Made in collaboration with NASA to mark its 50th anniversary, this six part series charts America’s successes (and its tragic failures) in sending humans into space. From Russia’s Sputnik and Apollo 13 to the creation of the International Space Station and the Colombia tragedy, it charts NASA’s inspirational achievements in engineering, science and bravery that never fail to capture the imagination of children.

Narrated by Gary Sinese, it features stunning original footage, remastered for HD, and commentary from the (unbelievably understated) astronauts and mission control engineers. The Apollo moon landings are captured in episode 3, featuring the rarely interviewed Neil Armstrong.

And if space is your son’s thing, Professor Brian Cox’s brilliant BBC series Wonders of the Solar System is also available to rent on Amazon Instant.

Age 7+ (Being so heavily based on original footage, this is very much television of its time: attitudes to women and race are dated and the smoking gives Mad Men a run for its money. Fewer mid-morning martinis though.) 

Once Upon a Forest (U: 78 minutes)
Available free on Prime or Rent: £3.49 (HD)

If your children like natural history and wildlife programmes you are pretty much spoilt for choice on Amazon, but this 2013 French documentary by March of the Penguins creator Luc Jaquet is a standout choice.  Combining truly stunning footage and animation, it is a mesmerising watch which delivers a fact-filled insight into the lifecycles of our rainforests and how each plant, insect and mammal work together to maintain this fragile ecosystem.

Particularly fascinating is the animal-like behaviour of the trees and plants themselves – communicating with other plant life and defending themselves from predators. Plenty for parents to learn, as well as kids, and a low key environmental message on the dangers of deforestation and the need to preserve our world.

Age 3+

Babies (PG: 129 minutes)
Available free on Prime or Rent: £3.49 (HD)

Particularly good for children with a baby sibling (or those with one on the way), this unusual film follows the first year of four babies growing up in very different environments: Tokyo, Mongolia, San Francisco and Namibia. There are no subtitles, or narration, and each family is filmed in its native language, but it is easy to follow and understand nonetheless and leaves much open for discussion with your children as to what they have seen and how they’ve interpreted it.

Watching the four grow and reach their various milestones shows how little cultural, geographic and financial differences matter at this early stage. A compelling watch for any parent too, if only to compare these little people with your own.

Age 7+ (Nudity/breastfeeding but only in social context)

Paper Clips (U: 83 minutes)
Rent: £2.49 (SD)

The Holocaust is undeniably serious subject matter for kids, but this award-winning documentary is an excellent way to introduce KS2 children to the magnitude of what happened and the importance of tolerance and diversity.

The film follows a unique project implemented in a school in Whitwell, Tennessee where pupils were tasked with collecting six million paper clips: one for every life lost. The project gained attention across the world and the children ultimately amassed some 29 million paper clips (including from celebrities, heads of state, WWII veterans, and Holocaust survivors themselves). The impact it had on the children involved is particularly interesting and moving.

This slick documentary manages to introduce important themes and explore a deeply challenging episode of modern history without focussing too sharply on the graphic details of the atrocities that occurred, making it a suitable introduction for younger children.

Age 8+

 

Arctic Tale (PG: 86 minutes)
Rent: £2.49 (SD)

Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth may be a bit hard going for kids so this National Geographic documentary following the lives of a walrus and a polar bear, and their offspring, is a gentle introduction to the issue of climate change and the threat it poses to our arctic wildlife.  The fictional narrative makes this less ‘documentary’ in feel and easy to watch for kids while delivering it’s message with a light touch.

The beautiful wildlife footage, shot over 15 years, gives a fascinating insight into the family dynamics of these famously hard to film animals. And, really, who can resist footage of a baby polar bear?

Age 5+ (there are scenes of animals being killed/eaten that younger children may find upsetting). 

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