Many of us can look back on our childhoods with distinct memories of our parents telling us to turn off the TV—to go outside and play, or pick up a book. Some of us, tragically, even grew up without cable or any TV at all, and we vowed that when we grew up and became parents, we’d let our kids watch all the TV they wanted. Well, the good news is that kids TV—much like grown up TV—has gotten a lot better over the years. And the other good news (sort of) is that we all grew up and became our parents, also telling our kids to turn off the TV every once in a while. But when we’re being the cool, fun parents (or the parents secretly injecting them with all the knowledge of the universe via entertaining programming, or the parents just trying to keep them happily distracted while we binge Kimmy Schmidt on our own streaming device), we have these shows to thank. And if we’re being honest, in addition to being wonderful programs for children, these are great picks for the unrelenting kid in us all. Here are the 30 best kids shows streaming on Netflix Instant.
30. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Original Run: 1993-1995
Creator: Haim Saban and Shuki Levy
Stars: Austin St. John, Thuy Trang, Walter Jones, Amy Jo Johnson
Original Network: FOX
One of the most popular shows of the 90s, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was originally created using footage from the long-running Japanese program Super Sentai. Producers used fight scenes from the foreign show, intercut with scenes filmed in the States of the plucky teens chosen to protect the planet from alien invaders. The Power Rangers have proven to have surprising staying power, both among 90s kids who giggle now at the scrappy low-budget look of the show, and a new generation of fans finding it through both Netflix and a reboot that landed on ABC in 2010.—Robert Ham
29. The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries
Original Run: 1977-1979
Creator: Glen A. Larson
Stars: Parker Stevenson, Shaun Cassidy, Pamela Sue Martin, Janet Louise Johnson
Original Network: ABC
Amateur detectives The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew started appearing on bookshelves in the late 20s and have, rightfully, evolved greatly with each passing decade, and inspiring generations of readers. For many kids in the late 70s, though, their introduction was through this short-lived ABC series that alternated between the tales of two brothers solving crimes in a seaside town in Massachusetts to a young woman doing similar work in her home of New Jersey. It’s all fairly cheesy stuff by today’s standards—particularly the slightly zonked dialogue and chintzy episodes that took the brothers off to Egypt or Europe—but at the time, it was vital fodder for young viewers hungry for the adventures of adulthood.—R.H.
Original Run: 2011-present
Creator: Pamela Eells O’Connell and Adam Lapidus
Stars: Debby Ryan, Peyton List, Cameron Boyce, Skai Jackson
Original Network: Disney Channel
The story of a small town girl running to the Big Apple to pursue her dreams has been revisited, and sometimes parodied (hello Kimmy Schmidt), countless times. But this particularly Disney-fied version of that same tale, which follows the titular Jessie as she tries to maintain order in the home of a rich New York family, is as engaging as it gets, thanks to the plucky energy and whip smart comic timing of its lead Debby Ryan, and the four young actors playing the kids in her charge. Like most Disney Channel fare, this show was a massive hit for the network, and while it is scheduled to wrap up after its fourth season (currently airing), plans for a spinoff are already under way.—R.H.
27. Jake and the Neverland Pirates
Original Run: 2011-Present
Creator: Roberts Gannaway
Stars: Colin Ford, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Corey Burton, Madison Pettis and David Arquette
Original Network: Disney Junior
A sort of Peter Pan spin-off, this one is many-a-child’s favorite, although the show might drive parents a little batty since the same thing happens in practically every episode. Captain Hook tries to take something from Jake and his crew. He fails. Jake and his pals Cubby and Izzie are nice to Captain Hook—always rescuing him and helping him out. But the recurring theme centered on being nice to everyone (even those who aren’t so nice to you) resonates. Plus there are guest appearances from Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Just don’t be too surprised if, one day, your child asks you to pass that blasted crayon.—Amy Amatangelo
26. The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
Original Run: 1993-1996; 1999
Creator: Andy Heyward
Stars: Jaleel White, Long John Baldry, Christine Cavanaugh
Original Network: ABC, syndication
Just as he had done with the world of Nintendo, producer Andy Heyward latched on to the potential of the Sega video game system and spun it out into a TV franchise. Loosely based on the plot of the popular Sonic The Hedgehog game, Sonic (voiced by Family Matters star Jaleel White) and his buddies fought against the evil Robotnik on the planet of Mobius. Like its title character, Sonic had some surprising legs, moving after one season from ABC into syndication and then getting revamped a few years later with a new look and storyline under the name Sonic Underground.—R.H.
Original Run: 2007 – present
Creator: Dorothea Gillim
Stars: Dannah Feinglass Phirman, Tom Kenny, Maria Bamford
Original Network: PBS
WordGirl originally appeared as short interludes during episodes of fellow PBS program Maya & Miguel ,but proved so engaging to young audiences that execs decided to spin it out into its own series. The audience follows the adventures of the titular superhero as she battles ne’er-do-wells in Fair City, while also introducing a pair of new words that are used during the episode. It’s a brilliant way to sneakily help youngsters expand their vocabulary, and it’s also one of the funniest shows ever produced for kids on the public broadcasting giant thanks to the use of writers with backgrounds working on shows like SNL and Daria.—R.H.
24. Signing Time
Original Run: 2006-present
Creator: Rachel de Azevedo Coleman and Emilie de Azevedo Brown
Stars: Rachel de Azevedo Coleman, Leah Coleman, Alex Brown
Original Network: PBS
Inspired by the plight of her children (one was born deaf, the other with cerebral palsy) and seeing how her daughters were communicating on a much more advanced level than their peers by using signing, Rachel de Azevedo Coleman conceived of this program to teach kids—and often their parents—American Sign Language. The show succeeds by introducing only a few new words or phrases at a time, and cementing them in the minds of viewers through repetition, song, and the bubbly spirit of Coleman and her children.—R.H.
23. The Aquabats! Super Show!
Original Run: 2012 – 2014
Creator: Christian Jacobs, Scott Schultz
Stars: The Aquabats
Original Network: Hub Network
Fans of Southern California’s punk and surf rock scenes will recognize The Aquabats from the band’s high energy live performances. But for kids, these blue suited dudes are some of the coolest superheroes around. Created by two of the men responsible for Yo Gabba Gabba!, this campy and wickedly funny series follows the adventures of The Aquabats as they defend the world from all manner of weird and wonderful aliens and villains. Fans of the 60s Batman series and the strange world of Japanese tokusatsu should welcome this magical, musical show into their lives immediately.—R.H.
22. The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That
Original Run: 2010-present
Creator: Tony Collingwood
Stars: Martin Short, Jacob Ewaniuk, Alexa Torrington
Original Network: PBS
Scaling back the anarchic spirit of Dr. Seuss’ original books, this series (and the books from which it was adapted) puts The Cat In The Hat in teaching mode, bringing his endlessly curious and positive friends Sally and Nick along to learn about science and nature. Taking some cues from from The Magic School Bus, the Cat and his friends are ferried along in a strange vehicle called a “Thing-a-ma-jigger,” which can rocket through space and shrink down to microscopic size as needed. Like most kids’ shows, it follows a pretty strict formula, but is endlessly enjoyable thanks to spirited voice work from Martin Short as The Cat and the impressive amount of information it relays in each episode.—R.H.
21. Dinosaur Train
Original Run: 2009-present
Creator: Craig Bartlett
Stars: Philip Corlett, Claire Corlett, Erika-Shaye Gair
Original Network: PBS
Though the crux of this show—a steam train bounces through prehistoric eras through the use of time-traveling tunnels—is completely apocryphal, that’s no reason to dismiss the delights found within each episode. Created as a way to teach kids about the diverse kinds of dinosaurs that used to roam our planet, the CGI series is anchored by the sweet-natured family that is the focus of each episode and the occasional appearance by a bona fide paleontologist who helps bring some real science into this otherwise light-hearted fare.—R.H.