15 Best Family-Friendly Documentaries

Naomi Mackay
Dec 12, 2023 By Naomi Mackay
Originally Published on Apr 20, 2020
Film reel with lens and movie clapper

If you're worried about how much screen time your kids are having, between phones, tablets and TV, throw in a few family-friendly documentaries to cut the guilt. Because, you know, documentaries are educational, aren't they? Animal documentary = biology/geography.

Something about space? That's science covered. A dino-documentary covers history, science and biology in one fell sweep.

School has never been so easy or so much fun. Documentaries make great conversation starters too. For more ideas on what to watch during lockdown, see Kidadl's 25 Best Classic Family Movies For Lockdown and our list of the 17 Best Kids Films On Netflix.

1.Growing Up Wild

Ages: 6+

Who can resist a baby animal? We certainly can't and there are loads to ooh and aah over in this Disneynature wildlife documentary.

Little ones (and the rest of us) will be enthralled as they watch babies take their first steps, get help from older family members, and grow up to be quarrelsome teenagers before they have to go out into the big wide world on their own. Getting the Disney treatment are a chimpanzee, bear, lion and cheetah.

Watch it on: Netflix and Disney+.

2. Pick of the Litter

Ages: 7+

It takes a special little puppy to become a Guide Dog for the Blind. This adorable documentary follows five little pups as they go through the training necessary to make them man's best friend.

Along with the all-important dogs, viewers will get to meet the dedicated people who train the animals. But not all dogs are cut out for the Guide Dog programme - will our five little canines make the grade? A fascinating insight into the work that goes into training  Guide Dogs.

Watch it on: Netflix

3. Ladies First

Ages: 9+

If you're usually ferrying your kids between sporting activities, let them take some time out to watch how one inspiring girl who grew up in poverty made it to the top of her game. Deepika Kumari was not only poor, but came from a culture in India where girls were not expected to play sport.

She took up archery at the age of 12 because the archery team were given one meal a day.

She may have been driven by hunger, but her talent landed her a place in the Indian team at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Inspiring stuff.

Watch it on: Netflix

4. He Named Me Malala

Ages: 10+

Another inspiring young lady. Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head at the age of 15 because she stood up for the right of women to be educated.

After recovering from the attack by the Taliban, she travelled the world telling her story and campaigning for women's rights. The youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, her story should stop anyone complaining about having to go to school ever again!

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

5. Science Fair

Ages: 10+

Discover more about that most American of school institutions - the science fair. This documentary follows several students from around the world as they compete at the International Science Fair.

The subjects of the film are high school students, and it is an inspiring and exciting watch - and might give your young scientists some ideas for lockdown projects of their own - check out our science projects ideas for you.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime or Disney+.

6. Batkid Begins

Ages: 6+

We are all learning that we can make a difference - especially when we act together. This film shows what can happen when a whole city gets involved. In 2013 San Francisco was transformed into Gotham City to help make one small boy's dream come true.

Cancer survivor Miles Scott dreamed of being Batman's sidekick Batkid. Thousands of volunteers, businesses and city officials joined forces to bring to create one of the biggest Make-A-Wish projects ever attempted. You might need tissues.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

9. Far from the Tree

Ages: 10+

Do your kids sometimes think they must have come from different parents because you don't agree about anything? Get them to watch this documentary that focuses on parents who are bringing up children who are not like them.

The film deals with Down syndrome, dwarfism, autism and more. It shows how these families face up to some extraordinary challenges with love, empathy, and understanding.

An uplifting watch, which encourages us to cherish our family for who they are, not who we want them to be. A great conversation starter, especially for teenagers.

Watch it on:Amazon Prime

10. They Shall Not Grow Old

Ages: 14+

Peter Jackson is best known for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, but here he takes on an even bigger task, as he takes film footage from World War One, and restores it.

The men at the Front talk about the war itself, the food they eat, the friends they make and what their dreams are for the future.

Adding colour, spoken voices, narration and sound effects, brings history to life and for that reason, given the subject matter, is probably best watched by older teens.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

11. My Life

Ages: 7+

This series of documentaries made for CBBC follows the lives of some extraordinary young people around the UK and beyond. Take a look into the lives of a 12-year-old waiting for a heart donor, a 16-year-old who gives viewers a tour of a refugee camp in Jordan, and children living with Tourette's Syndrome.

Discover what it's like to be an upcoming music star, be a carer for your mum, dedicate your spare time to a sport or musical ambition, and lots more. Fascinating stuff.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer


12. On the way to school

Ages: 6+

Watch these four children as they make their way to school and no one will ever moan about having to catch the school bus, sit in traffic or cycle to school ever again!

In Kenya, Jackson and his younger sister walk 30km a day, through the savannah - the one where the wild animals live - to get their education, Samual in India is pushed to school in a DIY wheelchair by his two siblings, Carlito rides more than 36km a day to get to his school in Argentina, and Zahira walks 22km along mountain paths to get to her Moroccan boarding school.

Great for reinforcing how lucky we are, even while we are in lockdown!

Watch it on: Netflix, Disney+

13. Spy in the Wild

Ages: 5+

Groundbreaking series where a 'spy' creature infiltrates wild habitat to get up close and personal with some of the world's most elusive animals.

The spy creatures take us around the world - to the tropics, the Amazon's flooded forest, northern Australia and the Poles.

Marvel at the spy creatures including  Spy Jaguar Cub and Spy Caiman, Spy Turtle and Spy Vulture, Spy Monkey, Spy Sloth and Spy Macaw - there's even a Spy Orangutan.

Discover how gorillas sing for their supper, what it's like to be in the middle of a hippo fight, and how Humboldt penguins take on hungry seals in a bid to get back to their chicks.

Beautifully filmed and narrated, it's a pleasure to watch for all the family.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

14. Amazing Animals

Ages: 3+

These fun and fascinating short films from National Geographic kids are perfect for little ones or kids with short attention spans. No longer than a couple of minutes, they'll fill you in on some fascinating facts - there are thousands of them too, so you should never run out!

Pick your favourite animal to start with - ours is the tiger. While you are online, check out the rest of the offering from the National Geographic Kids website including competitions, interactive quizzes, articles and more from the info-packed magazine.

Watch it on: YouTube

15. Free Solo

Ages: 12+

Another offering from National Geographic, this award-winning film is for adventure lovers. In 2017, Alex Honnold set out to free solo climb up the 3,000-foot granite El Capitan wall in Yosemite, California.

Without a rope! Yes, we know, utter madness!

As well as the climb itself, some of the film is dedicated to looking at how the producers planned to film the feat without getting in the way - or getting themselves killed. The cinematography is awesome and the tension will have you all on the edge of your seats - not great for anyone scared of heights though.

Watch it on: Disney+

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Written by Naomi Mackay

NCTJ Proficiency Certificate in Journalism

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Naomi MackayNCTJ Proficiency Certificate in Journalism

Raised in the Home Counties, Naomi is an enthusiastic explorer of London, Beds, Herts, and Bucks, frequently accompanied by her husband and son. In addition to this, she is an avid driver, often traveling to various skateparks around the UK. Naomi is always looking for new opportunities to explore or try new activities as a family.

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