PBS is known for its educational programming for the preschool set, but there are plenty of programs great for older kids in elementary and middle school, too. These shows are not only educational, but enjoyable as well, and kids won't feel like they're being talked down to, as they would with some of the younger viewer-directed educational programs. Many of these shows feature kids their age doing things they themselves might enjoy, which makes the shows relatable as well as informative. Any of these programs are also great for use in classroom settings (the PBSkids.org website offers plenty of teacher resources to do so), bringing fun into learning about science, math, or language.
In Cyberchase, three kids—Matt, Jackie, and Inez—along with their bird pal named Digit (who is voiced by the unmistakable Gilbert Gottfried) help the cyber world of Motherboard fend off attacks from the local digital villain named Hacker, who wants to control all of cyberspace. The show has a strong mathematics curriculum, teaching kids how to use math to solve everyday problems. Concepts like logic, reasoning, statistics, measurement, and more are covered. PBSkids.org also has a fabulous website with games and resources for teachers, including a fun SmartBoard application for use in a classroom setting. Kids will enjoy the comedic characters, while parents and teachers will enjoy their kids strengthening their math skills.
Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman
Part reality TV for kids, part cartoon, part game show, Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman combines real kids with an animated dog host and sends them off on fun challenges to learn more about the world around them. Each season, six contestants (kids ages 9-13) are sent to various locations with a challenge to complete. For instance, they are sent to a beach to learn about baby sea turtles, or a radio studio to learn about how radio shows are produced. They must then return to Ruff's dog house studio to answer questions about what they learned, and earn points. At the end of the season, the points are tallied and the contestant with the highest score wins a prize. It's a fun program because it has a reality TV concept (it isn't scripted, and kids don't know what challenges they will face until they arrive), and it's made more kid-friendly with a cartoon cohort. Kids will learn all kinds of neat facts about many different topics, and will have a chance to “play along” at home answering the science-based questions.
Wild Kratts features the famous Kratt brothers, Martin and Chris (of Zoboomafoo fame). In this program, Chris and Martin magically become cartoon characters when they ask “What if...” they had the same skills an animal does. Along with their inventor friend, Aviva Corocovado, and her Tortuga rescue team, the Kratt brothers don Aviva's prized invention, creature power suits, and take on a characteristic of a particular animal to help save it or its habitat. For example, they might sprout the large, sharp teeth and powerful hearing of a Tasmanian Devil to help save a baby Tasmanian Devil from a poacher. The show focuses on the science of animal skills, as well as information about their habitats, life cycles, or prey. The Kratt brothers are humorous in their delivery, and always make a real life appearance on each program, helping kids relate the things they experience in the cartoon portion to the real animal in its real environment. The show promotes scientific reasoning and environmental awareness.
WordGirl is a humorous take on the basic superhero set up. Instead of a handsome millionaire, the superhero WordGirl is disguised as a fifth grade girl named Becky. Kids will snicker every time Becky's father sees WordGirl on the news and mentions how familiar she looks. True to any superhero tale, WordGirl has a superhero sidekick, a monkey named Captain Huggy Face, who helps her battle several different villain nemeses (including one whose name is actually Chuck the Evil Sandwich Making Guy). Her superhero power? A massive vocabulary, although she also possesses super strength, the ability to fly, and is able to pause time for brief periods to stay up later than she's supposed to. The good thing about this show is that it doesn't really hit you over the head with the vocabulary lessons, but rather it uses the words in context several times in logical places so that kids will come to know and understand the words naturally. Programs like this help to not only grow vocabulary, but also assist with reading comprehension.