Parents’ guide to the 8 best streaming services for kids

9 min read
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I enjoy streaming everything from sports to Korean dramas, and like to argue about politics. I subsist on iced coffee.

Streaming services for kids watching a screen.

With many parts of Europe and the United States going back on lockdown due to a new coronavirus spike—not to mention colder temperatures that limit the option for extended outdoor play—parents around the world are getting desperate to keep their kids occupied.

Fortunately we are living in the age of streaming, with ever more content options at our fingertips, including decades’ worth of children’s movies and shows from Disney, Sesame Workshop, and others.

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The 8 best streaming services for kids

Read on for our breakdown of which services have the best streaming content for kids, along with handy info on parental controls and the all-important price consideration.

Disney+

Starting price: From 7 USD/month
Free trial period: None

From Frozen to 1928’s Steamboat Willie, nearly every Disney movie ever produced now lives in this impressive online streaming library. You’ll also find popular titles from Marvel, Pixar, and the Star Wars franchise (if anyone has all-ages appeal, it’s Baby Yoda). And then there are the thousands of hours of television shows. Nostalgic parents will be thrilled to get their kids hooked on 80s and 90s classics like Duck Tales and Rescue Rangers, but you’ll also find more current faves like Bluey, The Lion Guard, and Doc McStuffins. For screen time with a side of learning, there’s plenty of engaging documentary content, particularly ideal for kids who are obsessed with dinosaurs, space, nature, and history.

If you’ve cut the cord and plan to do a lot of streaming, we recommend signing up for the Disney+ bundle, which is priced from 13 USD per month and also includes subscriptions to ESPN+ and Hulu.

Key parental controls: Disney+ allows you to create a separate profile for a child that automatically limits content to G-rated movies and TV shows for ages 7 and under; note that you can’t customize by age and allow PG movies, however. There’s also no PIN functionality, so it’s not difficult for kids to toggle to an adult profile. That said, the entire library is designed to be family-friendly, so nothing is rated above PG-13/TV14 anyway. Unlike some other streaming services, there’s no option to set time limits.

HBO Max

Starting price: 15 USD/month
Free trial period: 7 days

Newly launched in 2020, HBO Max features everything from the legendary HBO library (perhaps not the kid-friendliest, but plenty of parents will like it), along with movies and shows from Warner Bros., DC Entertainment, Cartoon Network, and Studio Ghibli. There is plenty of great kid-friendly content, from the entire Harry Potter series to The Lego Movie and all 50 seasons of Sesame Street. The dedicated Kids & Family section helpfully allows you to browse by age groups (2-5, 6-9, 10-12, and 13+); preteens may enjoy bingeing 90s classics like Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Key parental controls: Parents can create a kid profile (note that this asks for the child’s birth month and year) and customize the age-based content ratings their child can watch. Parents can also put a PIN on their own profile so kids can’t easily switch to it and suddenly start bingeing The Sopranos.

Netflix

Starting price: From 9 USD/month
Free trial period: No, but you can sample a few shows and movies with Watch Free

Netflix caters to viewers around the world with sizable libraries that vary by country, but generally range from 4,000-6,000 titles. As of 2020, U.S. Netflix is estimated to have about 5,800 movie and TV titles combined, with plenty of original quality content for kids of all ages. For the toddler set there are sing-along shows like Beat Bugs, Little Baby Bum, and The Wiggles; for slightly older kids there’s the hilarious Ask the Storybots and The Magic School Bus; and for preteens there’s a mix of anime as well as live-action sitcoms, dramas, and reality content (who doesn’t love to laugh at Nailed It?). Another Netflix standout is its plethora of shows based on beloved children’s books, including Llama Llama, The Cat in the Hat, and Room on the Broom, though kids might honestly be more drawn to the toy-based shows featuring Barbie, My Little Pony, Lego Ninjago, and others. Within the dedicated Netflix Kids page you can browse by quirky categories like “Magic,” “Dealing with Feelings,” and “Talking Animals,” alongside more conventional groupings like Anime, Action, and Comedy.

Key parental controls: Netflix parental controls are highly customizable, allowing parents to not only set up a separate Kid profile, but individually choose an age-based maturity level for each profile (requiring a PIN if they so choose), and create a specific list of Restricted Titles for each profile. Parents also have the ability to monitor their kids’ viewing activity (note this can only be done from a web browser, not within the app itself).

Amazon Prime Video

Starting price: From 9 USD/month
Free trial period: 30 days

Plenty of parents around the world already rely on Amazon Prime for its same-day delivery of groceries and household goods, in which case Amazon Prime Video is a standard inclusion with the 119 USD annual membership fee. That said you can access Amazon Prime Video on its own without the books and groceries and other stuff, and you’ll find the world’s largest streaming content library (nearly 13,000 titles), including plenty of great kids’ programming. Among the standouts: select seasons of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (just watch out for your kids trying to purchase those not-included-with-Prime episodes!), SpongeBob Squarepants, and Dora the Explorer. One area where Amazon may even outshine Netflix is with its dedication to animated children’s books, both in the form of series (Pete the Cat, Busytown Mysteries, Clifford the Big Red Dog) and standalone shorts (The Snowy Day, The Gruffalo, Strega Nona, Good Night, Gorilla, and many others).

Key parental controls: The first step is to put a PIN on any profile to restrict both purchases and viewing options; parents can also create a dedicated “Kids profile,” which automatically limits content to ages 12 and under, and disallows purchases. Similarly to Netflix, Prime Video enables parents to place general age restrictions ranging from “General” (G-rated) to “Teen” (PG-13 and TV-14) on any profile (though kids will still be able to see anything that was downloaded through an Adult profile. Yikes). Another slight annoyance is that you have to individually adjust your Prime Video settings on various devices, including Fire TV, tablets, browsers, and so on.

Apple TV+

Starting price: 5 USD/month
Free trial period: 7 days

Not to be confused with Apple TV, Apple TV+ is another recent entrant on the streaming scene. And while its offerings are currently quite slim—about 50 mostly original shows and movies at the moment—there are a few fun picks for kids. Helpsters, from the makers of Sesame Street, is ostensibly a “coding show for preschoolers,” but it mainly focuses on problem-solving and the importance of always making a plan. Apple also recently acquired the Peanuts library, with plans for new content as well as the rights to air holiday classics like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Millennial parents may appreciate the Ghostwriter reboot for preteens, as well as the classic episodes of Fraggle Rock. And is there anyone on Earth who isn’t charmed by Ted Lasso?

In addition to its seven-day free trial, Apple TV+ also comes with a free one-year subscription for anyone who purchases Apple hardware (and Apple recently announced that the original one-year free trial, set to expire in November 2020, has been extended to February 1, 2021).

Key parental controls: Parents can create an account for their child with Family Sharing, then set content restrictions and age ratings on an individual profile with a four-digit passcode. The annoying part is these restrictions do not apply across platforms, meaning you’ll have to separately set up parental controls in a web browser, on your phone or iPad, on Apple TV, and so on. On the plus side, parents can also use Family Sharing to set screen time limits for their kids.

Hulu

Starting price: From 6 USD/month
Free trial period: 7 days

Hulu has far less original programming for kids but wins out when it comes to innocuous classic sitcoms and reality competition shows (just try to find a child who isn’t mesmerized by LEGO Masters). Hulu also has heaps of cartoons old (Looney Tunes) and new (Teen Titans Go!), and plenty of family-friendly movies, including a healthy dose of Disney offerings. It is worth noting that pricing varies widely on Hulu depending on whether you opt for content with commercials (6 USD/month), without commercials (12 USD/month), or cut the cord and get Hulu + Live TV (55 USD/month), which comes with 65 live and on-demand channels.

Key parental controls: Parents can create an individual profile for kids within their account, automatically restricting viewing options to content from the “Kids Hub” (geared toward ages 13 and under). Note that there’s no way to individually restrict shows on a non-kids profile; parents can just adjust the age settings for the entire account, but what’s the fun in that?

YouTube TV

Starting price: 65 USD/month
Free trial period: From 5 days and up

Parents collectively sobbed when Paw Patrol came off American Netflix earlier this year, so thank goodness you can still stream it with YouTube TV, which includes access to Nickelodeon as well as three different Disney channels, Cartoon Network, and 24/7 PBS Kids (home to Daniel Tiger, Arthur, Sesame Street, and many others on demand). While the downside of live streaming means commercials, you can DVR shows to fast forward through them.

Key parental controls: Parents can create up to six accounts and restrict each one individually to TV-Y, TV-G, G, or PG only, which will limit what comes up in search results. That said, the parental controls are far less robust than what you’ll find with the YouTube Kids app, which allows parents to turn search off completely, restrict content by age, review watch and search history, and set a timer to control screen time.

Sling TV

Starting price: 30 USD/month
Free trial period: 3 days

Sling TV is fairly similar to YouTube TV in that it offers TV live streaming; it just comes with fewer channels (and a lower price point to match). Both the “Orange” and “Blue” packages include Nick Jr. (home to Paw Patrol) and Cartoon Network, while the Orange bundle also includes Disney Channel. Annoyingly, the Orange bundle only allows streaming on one device at a time, though it does include 10 hours of cloud DVR storage.

Key parental controls: Parents can put a PIN lock on any level of content they choose (such as R-rated movies or TV-MA), so that when someone tries to access that content, they will be prompted to enter their PIN first.

The best family streaming services in 2020

While the above list out what we feel offers the best kids’ content and value for families, there are plenty more streaming services coming on the market all the time. With ExpressVPN you can watch all the streaming services with unlimited bandwidth and no throttling—we promise your kids will never be bored.

Also read: Cut the cord: We compare 7 live TV streaming services

I enjoy streaming everything from sports to Korean dramas, and like to argue about politics. I subsist on iced coffee.