I would venture to say that almost all unschoolers in the modern world turn to Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, or some other mega online resource to supplement their educational journey occasionally (or often, in some cases). We certainly do, and I always appreciate a little help in sorting through the often overwhelming choices- so here’s a short, simple list of 5 documentary shows we have enjoyed for their combination of educational and entertaining content.
1.) Natures Weirdest Events
As the title implies, this show chronicles some of the most surprising and bizarre of the earths natural phenomena, and it had us hooked from the beginning. From a fish that makes such an ear-splitting sound it paralyzed and the entire town to a polar bear who becomes best friends with a dog, the makers of the show cater just enough to televisions need for sensationalism, while sticking to tasteful and research-based stories. Though focused on isolated events, more or less, I have been impressed by how much my kids (and I) can learn about the world through stories of animals and plants, adapting in ways we don’t expect.
2.) Great British Castles
Although the truth is that I find the details of British Medieval history a bit gruesome, I am forced to admit that a study of its castles is the perfect way to get an overview not only of that period but many eras afterward, as castles were used for many historical purposes long after they were important militarily. And its absolutely perfect if you have middle school boys who seem to love gory battle stories. There are 6 episodes in this mini-series, and the host keeps things entertaining with lovely scenery interspersed with (often less lovely) re-enactments. With the endless tales of love, betrayal, revolutions and surprising plot twists, this show definitely confirms that history can be far more intriguing than any mystery novel.
3.) Street Food
I have to say, I find this show utterly fascinating! We came across it through my son’s interest in cooking, but it is truly much more than a cooking show. As a matter of fact, the specifics of the recipes are often not covered in detail or at all, and the focus is much more on the specific culture of the country is covered, and the specific cook. Each episode focuses on a different country and a particularly successful cook in the street food world. The introduction features the creator explaining why the world of street food is so important culturally, bringing people together in public places, providing fast affordable food to city dwellers who often are not only short on money but may not even have adequate cooking facilities in their home. They take the story a step further by interviewing each chef about their life story, which in turn illuminates many realities of life in various parts of the world that may be different from ours. Connecting humans through food and online streaming-brilliant!
4.) Wild China
There are so many nature documentaries to choose from, and we have enjoyed several. I chose to list Wild China because it has a nice blend of ecology, wildlife studies, and just enough human history and geography to introduce a huge country (and region, as the series includes Tibet as well) in a manageable way. Including sections about The Great Wall, pandas, monkeys and more, the six-part series captivated my kids and gave them an insight into a part of the world about which most Americans only have minimal knowledge. The whole series is available on YouTube.
5.) World’s Weirdest Houses
As far as I know, this is a stand-alone documentary, but I had to include it in this list because it was one of the most creative films we’ve watched recently. The creators have chosen 10 houses that they consider to be the “weirdest” in the world, which in this case means anything from brilliantly thrifty and energy-efficient, to wildly whimsical and creative, to just plain amazing. Though we didn’t always agree with the order the houses were placed in- (spoiler alert)-I thought the man-made island was far more interesting that the underground party house- we were all pleasantly surprised at the vast creativity and resourcefulness demonstrated by these homeowners. It’s amazing how much you can learn about humans by watching the myriad ways they go about meeting one of their basic needs- shelter.