We always love having a television show to go with our history studies, being lovers of television. I thought I’d list some of the best shows out there to be a nice go along for history. If you know of any others, I’d love to hear about them as well. Amusingly, more than half of these are European and two are French. You don’t think of France as a powerhouse of children’s television, but clearly they love history.
This live action CBBC show has clips you can easily find on Youtube. The episodes are available on Amazon to buy as well and if you happen to have Discovery Education Streaming, they’re available on some levels of that service too. It’s a sketch comedy show that delivers bits of hilarity from ancient times to World War II, generally all jumbled up. The songs and jokes are smart enough for kids who know some historical background and childish and silly enough for kids who don’t. Note that there is also an animated American show with the same name, but which didn’t seem nearly as fun when I had a chance to watch part of it.
The history in this show about the American Revolution is detailed and complex enough that I was repeatedly impressed. While younger kids can enjoy it, there’s enough information and subtly of presentation here for older kids too. The story follows young characters who work for Benjamin Franklin’s printing shop in Philadelphia. They represent different points of view about the war, points of view that change as the series goes on and they conveniently meet famous characters and learn about important events. Episodes come on and off of screenings via Netflix. You can also find them all very inexpensively as a DVD set.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold
This animated show was beloved by me as a child and I found it held up surprisingly well when Mushroom and BalletBoy watched it (then rewatched it) when we studied the Age of Exploration and the early Americas. Three children – two Native Americans and one European – are united in their quest to find the cities of gold. They follow a conquistador who is also looking for the cities. While there is a fair bit of magic and fantasy in the show, much of it is rooted in real history and each episode ends with a mini-documentary about some aspect of culture or history from the show. Last year, a long promised sequel to the original show began airing. I haven’t seen these episodes yet as they haven’t been released in English yet, but they look beautiful (the old animation is a little cheezy now) and clearly hold to the original series while taking the trio to a new land (Asia!). That’s the Youtube link above. The original series is streaming on Netflix.
The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones
This live action family show made in the 90’s is now available on Netflix streaming. The episodes are arranged almost chronologically, which is useful for history teachers. The episodes take place between 1908 and 1920, during which Indiana Jones (played by two actors, one a young boy and the other a teenager) travels the world and meets everyone from Teddy Roosevelt hunting big game in Africa to Krishnamurti in India to Winston Churchill in London and manages to be at historical events ranging from the opening of King Tut’s tomb to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. It’s a great show and perfect for modern history. Note that some of the episodes may be too serious or dark for younger kids.
Once Upon a Time… Man
This older French animated series is all on Youtube now (though occasionally you may have to hunt). It follows the earliest history to the present. Note that some of the early history is out of date or may not reflect your own family’s view of early man. I linked the first episode above, but you may actually find later ones more useful. Since it covers so much, it’s an odd show, but filled with unexpected detail. If you like it, there are other Once Upon a Time entries, including one about the human body.
This Canadian made animated series retells Greek myths animated style. While there are a few deviations from the original tales and some character embellishments, most of the information is surprisingly accurate and detailed. The way the stories are presented is memorable. We’ve only seen a little, but Mushroom and BalletBoy asked to watch more and I think I’m going to have them watch them as part of their prep for the National Mythology Exam, to refresh themselves on all this stuff we haven’t learned in years. The only source I’ve found for episodes is Youtube since the show doesn’t seem to be available on DVD. However, they all seem to be there.
Kids’ Animated History with Pipo
This is a new show to me, but the first season, which covers a huge amount of history from ancient times to the middle ages, is streaming for free on Hulu (with ads), so many people may find it useful. I only had a chance to watch a little of it, so I can’t give it a full review, but it seemed light and enjoyable. There’s no story per se. It’s sort of like a blurby DK book brought to life with a few side jokes. The history seemed basic, but not every show can be as hilarious as Horrible Histories or compelling and creative as The Mysterious Cities of Gold.
There are a couple of other shows I’m aware of. One is the CBBC show The Roman Mysteries. This is a live action show based on the children’s book series that is supposed to be excellent. Unfortunately, there’s no way to legally get this show in the US unless you have a region 2 DVD player and are willing to buy the UK version of it. Also, The Time Warp Trio, an animated show based on another book series, is now out of print on DVD and not available streaming anywhere that I’m aware of. I’m not as fond of this series as the episodes I’ve seen introduce big historical names, but without as much context or other information as the other series mentioned. Still, for history mad kids, it’s another option to consider.