11 STEAM and STEM TV Shows for Kids

Children’s programming experts Lisa Henson and Dr. Alice Wilder discuss the power of STEAM-focused programming for kids. Plus, we share our recommendations!
Jul 13, 2018

Ages

3-13

11 STEAM and STEM TV Shows for Kids

Jul 13, 2018

When Lisa Henson and her team at The Jim Henson Company created Sid the Science Kid in September of 2008, it was “pretty much the first pre-school show about science,” according to Henson. She added that at the time, it was “mildly controversial as to whether you could even teach science to preschoolers.”

Luckily, PBS and other networks saw the genius in the idea. After all, science is fun, and science-focused shows help kids play and learn at the same time. Today, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math)-focused shows have become some of the most popular programming for kids from three to thirteen.

The resources and expertise that have been poured into STEAM programming have created a diverse and exciting universe of shows to stimulate young imaginations and make all kids feel like they can play at being an inventor, engineer, scientist or artist.

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Lisa Henson (Doozers, Dinosaur Train, Sid the Science Kid) and Dr. Alice Wilder (Tumble Leaf, Creative Galaxy, Super Why, Blues Clues) are leading experts in creating and developing children’s programming. They talked about what goes into making award-winning children’s shows.  

While Sid the Science Kid focused on hands-on science, Henson’s latest project, Doozers (Hulu), focuses less on reality and more on a curriculum of “design teaching,” which models a way of thinking based on engineering and design. 

Process and collaboration are front and center in Doozers, where four animated kids who call themselves the Pod Squad design and create everything from fantastic machines to ketchup, working through problems until they’re satisfied with what they’ve made. There’s an environmental aspect to the show as well, as the characters re-use and recycle resources in their imaginary community.

Henson emphasizes that the characters embrace challenges in ways that allow viewers to emulate the process. When things don’t go as planned, the Pod Squad repurposes what they’ve made, break it down to build something new, or even take a break and play so that they can come back with fresh thinking. Henson notes that when things go wrong, it creates a perfect opportunity to add humor to the show.

Dr. Alice and the team at Tumble Leaf have taken a similar approach, with a show that doesn’t bill itself as STEAM programming, but fits the bill in the way it celebrates creativity through play and kids as natural born scientists who learn science through play. Each episode encourages kids to “let me figure this out” and asks, “what will you play today?” 

Dr. Alice emphasizes the importance of age-appropriate characters and stories. “By providing meaningful and relevant content, kids will be interested and are more likely to learn. Part of that is creating characters that resonate with the audience and stories that are relatable to the audience’s life. Add to that learning we want our audience to garner, and we can make a powerful impact on a child exploring any skill or mindset off (or outside) the screen!” She notes that friendship and role models are crucial, and that we all need heroes that not only move us, but who inspire us to emulate them.

There is interdisciplinary expertise behind the scenes as well, which adds accuracy and personality to the stories. For example, paleontologist Scott Sampson is a consultant on Dinosaur Train and is the voice of Dr. Scott on the show. The creative team of Doozers works with experts that include the top design firm IDO, and invention expert Steve Grand, whose ideas include encouraging kids to look for inspiration by taking a nature walk. The Tumble Leaf team worked with Scot Osterweil at the MIT Education Arcade and consulted with David Robinson, a Kindergarten teacher, to guide them on the science of each episode.    

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Many of these shows give kids a nudge to head into their own kitchens, backyards, and garages to explore what they’ve learned off-screen. After all, kids are experts at play, and they’re naturals at mixing the arts into science, technology, engineering, and math. Everything they learn through play is a potential building block for the next project they tackle, whether it’s digging a hole or building a robot.  

What are your favorite shows that feature STEAM, or encourage creativity, teamwork, problem-solving, and character? Here are some of mine, both old and new, from the extensive STEAM menu available for today’s kids. 

Annedroids (Amazon) ages 5 and up*

Brains On (NPR podcast)  

Creative Galaxy (Amazon) ages 4 and up*

Dinosaur Train (PBS) ages 4 and up*

Doozers (Hulu) ages 4 and up*

Magic School Bus (PBS/Netflix) ages 5 and up*

MC2 (Netflix) ages 7 and up*

Sci Girls (PBS) ages 7 and up*

Sid the Science Kid (PBS) ages 4 and up*

Science with Sophie (YouTube)

Tumble Leaf (Amazon) ages 4 and up*

*age recommendations from Common Sense Media

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