Ok, I’m going to show my age now but when I was a kid my absolute favourite TV show was Captain Planet. Anyone remember that? Oh my, that theme tune! ‘Captain Planet, he’s a hero, gonna take pollution down to zero!’ Anyway, I started to think about what was available now for children to learn about climate change, our environment, pollution and so on. It’s a topic that has clearly been alive for over 30 years and when you begin to look closely at TV shows or films you really do notice how many cover these problems so I thought I’d provide a list of all the ones I’ve either heard of, been told about or researched because it is so important to keep the conversation going and to teach your children about all of our current environmental issues.
Octonauts– A CBeebies show revolving around animals who help underwater creatures and solve their problems. I have learnt so much about a wide variety of species from this show and it really has the kids gripped.
Go Jetters– The Go Jetters do tend to spend most of their time fixing the problems that Grand Master Glitch causes but there is plenty of information about landmarks of the world, the history behind these, the importance of them and why we should look after our planet.
Biggleton– Another CBeebies show and in this one we see children acting out role play settings in the town of Biggleton. They often cover recycling, fixing problems, looking after the town and so on.
Hey Duggee!– Duggee runs a kids camp (which is a bit like scouts) and the ‘squirrels’ have to earn a badge each episode. Topics usually cover the importance of looking after our environment, recycling, taking care of others and animals etc.
Peppa Pig– Peppa may be slightly annoying but she does often cover topics such as recycling, gardening, composting, looking after insects/animals and so on. When I asked Jake what he knew about composting last week, he easily reeled off a lot of information to me so I asked him if he had learnt it at school. Nope. He said he knew it all from Peppa Pig!
Bob The builder– With his message to fix it, build it up, reduce, reuse, recycle, this is the perfect show to help your small people to understand that we should fix things rather than throw them out.
The Wombles– An oldie but a goodie. The Wombles live on Wimbledon Common and they are usually found picking up the litter that humans leave behind and recycling or repurposing it. Their motto is “Make good use of bad rubbish”.
Sesame Street– Another oldie and classic. Sesame Street was full of messages and the stars were always teaching children about saving water, saving energy, recycling, doing better by the environment and so on. It would be a fun TV show to revisit.
The Simpsons– The Simpsons cover many topics and even though there are often adult jokes or rude humour, there is a message in every episode. Lisa is often seen battling an environmental issue and her passion is clearly seen throughout. She truly believes she can make a difference and you can often feel her frustrations when the other residents of Springfield won’t join her.
Animals of Farthing Wood– Oh my goodness this programme. Ok, it isn’t for the faint-hearted, I was a tough kid and could handle the upset but a lot of friends were traumatised by some scenes. The animals have to find a new home when theirs is destroyed and it’s all about the obstacles they have to cross (oh the roads!) in order to find a safe place where they can stay.
Let’s Go Live With Maddie and Greg– During this Coronavirus lockdown period, 2 kids TV presenters have taken to YouTube to provide live online science lessons. They did a Project Earth week and within this week Earth Day was celebrated for its 50th year. They dedicate an episode to this here.
And finally, I absolutely adore this song from Tee and Mo which really highlights all we can do as a family:
Films for Younger Children
Fern Gully– The story follows Crysta the fairy as she accidentally turns a human (who is chopping down the forest) tiny. She opens his eyes to their world and how important nature is and makes him realise what is really important. They find a bat that has been tested on by humans and together they join forces to fight the evil Hexxus who thrives on oil and pollution.
Happy Feet– This very loosely covers environmental issues but is a good introduction for younger children by including scenes which cover overfishing and pollution. It follows the story of Mumble, the little penguin who loves to dance. All of the other penguins sing to find a mate, but Mumble just cannot do it. His dancing causes outrage in the community but eventually, he shows that it is ok to be different.
WALL-E– A film based on a loveable robot who’s job is to clean up the Earth after humans left it in a disgrace. They abandoned the filthy planet to live on a space ship. He discovers a plant which needs to go back to the ship to allow humans to return.
Finding Dory– This film covers more on the importance of looking after ocean life than Finding Nemo does. During the film we witness Dory becoming entangled in plastic and being rescued, we see a number of ocean animals who have had to be rescued by the aquarium but within the same setting, we also witness how stressful the touch pool is for the marine life and how delicate they are. We also watch as 2 whales are kept in very small enclosures and that getting out is actually a good result.
The Lorax– So many environmental issues covered in this. The extinction of trees, the greed of people, pollution, the bottling of oxygen, building of walls so the people can’t see the destruction on the other side. It is an emotional rollercoaster and so true of human behaviour.
Dolphin Tale– (a true story) Winter the dolphin is found washed up on a beach by a young boy. She is entangled in fishing rope used for crabbing which is cutting into her tail. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium comes to her rescue and try their best to help her but unfortunately, her tail cannot be saved. The story follows her very unusual journey to be the first dolphin to learn how to swim with a prosthetic tail. The second film follows another young dolphin called Hope who is looked after by Winter.
Joey (PG)– A young Australian boy is constantly trying to stop local farmers from killing the Kangaroo families on their land. In a bid to rid them altogether, the farmer and his family hire a man to tranquilise the roos and take them to a new kangaroo park. One Joey is left behind so the boy takes him and tries to find his parents at the park. The park turns out to be an underground kangaroo fighting arena which has to be stopped. (I recently watched this on Netflix and really enjoyed it)
Ice Age– A series of films which show the change in climate from the Ice Age to a warmer world. It follows the journey of some unlikely friends including a sloth, a mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger. It is lighthearted with a message about natural climate change which could lead to more conversations about how we are contributing to climate change today.
Over The Hedge– When a group of animals wake from hibernation to discover that their homes have been destroyed to make way for a new housing development, they have no choice but to go over the hedge and forage for food from garbage cans.
Free Willy– The famous story of Willy the Orca who was captured by hunters and sold to an American aquarium to perform tricks in an arena. The Orca who played Willy (Keiko) really did have this life which makes this film even more poignant. It follows the journey of a young lad, Jesse, who befriends Willy and releases him back to the wild. Tissues may be required. The film led to Keiko being released in real life but due to complications, she died soon after.
The Simpsons Movie (PG)– We all know that Springfield isn’t the cleanest of places and Lisa is often battling against pollution, climate change and so on in the TV show. In the film, the lake has become toxic from the residents dumping their waste. Lisa persuades a cleanup but after this happens, her father ends up polluting it all over again. Springfield is deemed a polluting problem after a mutant squirrel is found and they are placed inside a glass dome. Homer has to fight to put things right.
Fly Away Home– Based on a true story, this film follows the story of one little girl who fights to allow her Canadian Geese to live wild rather than have their wings clipped. She teaches them to fly and guides them on their migration path. Their resting place is set to be destroyed to make way for a new housing development so if they can make it there in time, they will also save a wetland. Get the tissues ready!
Born Free– After being commissioned to shoot a killer lion, British senior game warden, George, also kills a female lion who is protecting her cubs. He takes them home to his wife, Joy, to care for them and she becomes overly attached to the one she names Elsa. The bigger two are taken to a zoo but Elsa remains with them until she becomes too big. Desperate to release her back into the wild, Joy, ignores all advice and sets about rehabilitating her lion. After several failed attempts, they think it will never happen but nature finds a way. Remember the tissues! Based on a true story, The Born Free story also led to The Born Free Foundation to be set up.
Of course, there are many animal films that show children that caring for animals is the right thing to do and this list could go on and on. Some favourite films that help animals include: We Bought a Zoo, 101 Dalmatians, Hotel for Dogs, Eight Below, Beethoven, Bambi, Babe, Charlotte’s Web, Lassie, Secret Life of Pets, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, War Horse.
Films for Older Children
Avatar (12a)– It is almost a modern twist on Fern Gully where a human enters an alien world to seemingly learn more about their ways when in fact, all they want to do is destroy it and take from them.
Gorillas In The Mist (15)– Based on a true story, Sigourney Weaver stars as the naturalist Dian Fossey who devoted her life to the study of gorillas. At a time when poaching was rife and gorilla parts were desired as trophies, Dian comes to loggerheads with locals and poachers time and time again. She fights for her beloved primates but ultimately she pays the price for intervening. Another film where you will need tissues.
The Day After Tomorrow (12a)– As climate change takes a rapid turn for the worst, we see how a new ice age takes hold and the race for survival is on. This film definitely covers it all and has you on the edge of your seat.
Erin Brockovich (15)– Julia Roberts plays the part of Erin Brockovich, a single mum who takes on a large company who are poisoning the ground and water within a community. When she begins to delve into health issues she realises the link and stops at nothing to bring the corporation to justice. Based on a true story. Again, you may need tissues!
Dark Waters (12a)– Very similar to the above Erin Brockovich, a lawyer in Virginia uncovers that a company has been poisoning the water in one of the towns. He decides to investigate and reveal what they have been up to but in doing so he risks everything.
Interstellar (12a)– Climate change meets sci-fi. This may be a little heavy and confusing but it highlights that the destruction of the Earth’s climate means that it is no longer habitable for humans and the only option is to look for a similar planet out in space.
I would recommend viewing these first and deciding for yourself which would be suitable for your child/children. As every child is different, you will be able to gauge what they would be comfortable watching.
Arctic Tale– Focussing on a polar bear and her cubs as well as a Walrus family this documentary explores what life is like for these arctic mammals.
March of The Penguins– A documentary that follows the journey of Emperor Penguins and all they have to endure during their annual trek across Antarctica.
Planet Earth– The famous Planet Earth was five years in the making and is the most expensive nature documentary ever commissioned by the BBC. With David Attenborough narrating, this series takes a close look at our beautiful planet. Planet Earth II is also a must-see.
Blue Planet and Blue Planet II– Taking a close look at our seas, this David Attenborough documentary shows us firsthand how plastic waste, pollution and humans are affecting our ocean life.
War on Plastic– A great BBC 1 show that truly highlights how much plastic is found in our lives, how it is affecting the Earth and what we can do about it.
Time to Choose– A look at what is wrong with our behaviour, what we are doing to the planet and the solutions that could work for us.
Before The Flood– Leonardo DiCaprio takes a look at what climate change means, what is affecting it, what is being done and whether or not it is too late.
Disney Nature: Earth– Disneynature brings you a remarkable story, narrated by James Earl Jones, of three animal families on a journey across our planet – polar bears, elephants and humpback whales.
Disney Nature: Oceans (Find the full range here on their website)– Oceans is a spectacular story, narrated by Pierce Brosnan, about remarkable creatures under the sea. We see the world through their eyes and discover how they live.
Saving My Tomorrow– From the children who will inherit the planet, comes a collection of songs, activism, and heartfelt tips for protecting the earth. Kids share their thoughts on subjects ranging from endangered animals and pollution to climate change.
Chasing Ice– A 2012 documentary film which shows how quickly the ice caps are melting over time and the effect of this.
I hope this extensive list of TV shows and films has given you lots of places to get started in teaching your children about environmental issues. YouTube has so many other learning resources and I am sure there are many more documentaries out there so definitely do get out and do your own research too. And if I have missed anything, just let me know in the comments so that other readers can get even more out of this.
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