It looks like we may all be spending a lot more time at home over the next few months, which is tricky if you’re trying to keep children entertained. If you’re concerned about resorting to screens, remember that psychologists agree that it’s not screen-time that’s harmful, but the quality of what children watch. It’s also a bonding experience to watch as a family, whether you’re viewing highbrow adaptations or trash, glorious trash.
Almost as if it knew the UK was going into lockdown, Disney + launched in Europe on March 25 (£49.99/year), with entertainment gold from the Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and National Geographic vaults. You can also rent films via Amazon, BT, Google Play, the BFI and Apple.
Best new movies and shows on TV
Netflix is streaming the exquisite, imaginative films of the Anime Studio Ghibli, including My Neighbour Totoro (U) and Spirited Away (PG). Bond with your teens over Love is Blind (Netflix), a dating show with physical attraction taken out of the equation. The photorealistic Lion King (2019; Now TV) stars the voices of Beyonce and Donald Glover, and the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (PG; Now TV) is a dazzlingly animated love story to comic books. Sex Education (Netflix) is a not-for-the-fainthearted watch with (older) teenagers, but it’s funny and wise.
What to watch by age group
Teach your kids Maths while they watch with the entertaining Numberblocks; Alphablocks does the same with letters. Nina & the Neurons answer science questions, and I Can Cook guides kids through easy cooking lessons. Mister Maker is good for crafts (all CBeebies). Dora the Explorer (Amazon) teaches Spanish words and pronunciation, and Baby Einstein Classics (Amazon Prime) covers art, colours and scientific discovery to a soundtrack of classical music. Sesame Street (Youtube) teaches through games, songs and lots of muppets. Go Jetters (Cbeebies) features world-travelling super heroes, and the Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot about That (Netflix) educates Dr Seuss style.
Discover the science of stuff, from evaporation to ice cream, via Maddie’s Do you Know? (Cbeebies). Good old Blue Peter (CBBC) soldiers on, a reliable source of interesting topics and ideas. The Odd Squad (CBBC), features a kids’ detective agency while teaching ages 5-8 about maths.
The acclaimed His Dark Materials (BBC) brings the Phillip Pullman books to life, while A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix) follows the tribulations of the extraordinary Baudelaire orphans. The Aeronauts series (Amazon Prime) is a sumptuously shot adventure.
Horrible Histories (Netflix) is always a winner, and has the reassuring message that humanity has survived many worse wars, pestilences and plagues.
With a literary theme, watch the brilliant black-and-white David Lean-directed Great Expectations (PG; 1946) and Oliver Twist (1948). Romeo & Juliet (PG-13) and the Great Gatsby (12) directed by Baz Luhrmann are eye-candy adaptations that are accessible for older kids. Watch Netflix’s gripping, retro Stranger Things, and the updated Anne of Green Gables Anne with an E. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (U) is a must-see, and Silent Running (U) is an eco sci-fi classic. Or settle down to Dr Who, all 12 series of it (iPlayer), enough to see you through an apocalypse.
Watch the Explained (Netflix), shorts that cover topics from the rise of cryptocurrency to the world of K-pop. Prod design-curious teenagers to watch Abstract (Netflix), which profiles top designers and architects. Remember when climate change was the world’s most ominous threat? Relive those happy days by watching Leonardo Dicaprio’s documentary Before the Flood (Disney +).
One of the joys of your kids growing older is watching comedy with them. Classics include Monty Python & the Holy Grail (12A; Netflix), the IT Crowd (All 4), Friends (Amazon), Seinfeld (Netflix), and police-precinct-based Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Netflix). The Good Place (Netflix) runs with the idea that hell is other people, while Rick and Morty (Netflix) explores quantum mechanics as well as dark humour. Sunny, sweet Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) has a whip-smart script by Tina Fey.
Sofa-surf the natural world through watching Blue Planet, Planet Earth (BBC) and Our Planet (Netflix). Don’t miss, also, the brilliant Miniscule (Youtube), a French animation about the wonder of insects.
Alpha parents should check out the BFI Player family content, where you can watch anything from 1970s the Clangers to the 1908 silent film of Alice in Wonderland (all free). They also have great movies for rent (£1-3.50), including Early Man (PG), and Oscar-nominated Japanese animation Song of the Sea (PG).
Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo (U; Netflix) is a magical tale about a five-year-old boy who befriends a goldfish princess. Classic family films include Freaky Friday (when a mum and daughter swap bodies), the Parent Trap (identical twins try to reunite their parents), whale-bonding Free Willy (Netflix), cute-alien classic E.T. and time travel fun in Back to the Future, as well as perfect romantic comedy Groundhog Day (Netflix). And if you’re really in need of a boost, sing your heart out like an Italian on a balcony.
Musicals such as Les Misérables, Mamma Mia, and Annie (all Netflix) or Oliver!, Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, the Greatest Showman, Bohemian Rhapsody, and the Sound of Music are bound to lift the spirits.
Have we missed one of your family favourites? Please let us know in the comments below.