We can learn a lot from children’s TV shows, including about biodiversity and how to care for our planet. Here are nine cartoons and shows that inspired generations to fight for the environment.
Sesame Street is one of the top kids’ education shows in the world. It’s been around for over 40 years and Elmo, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, and Bert and Ernie have always taught kids to care for their environment – whether that’s by saving water or recycling. They usually do so with the help of a celebrity or with a jaunty tune. Adults and kids definitely don’t want to be litterbugs or wasteroons!
“Earth! Wind! Fire! Water! Heart! Go Planet! By your powers combined I am Captain Planet!” Many kids of the 90s will remember the opening lines of the theme song to this short-lived animated environmental show.
“Captain Planet and the Planeteers” saw Gaia – the spirit of earth – awakened from a long slumber by eco villain Hoggish Greedly. To her horror, Gaia realizes the planet is badly damaged and sends out five magic rings across the continents. Four of the rings control an element of nature and one controls the element “heart.”
The five eco warriors who receive the rings are called the Planeteers and their job is fight environmental destruction and raise awareness about it. The Planeteers can combine their powers to summon green superhero Captain Planet, whose catchphrase is “the power is yours,” reminding viewers that they have the power to save the planet.
Each episode ends with a discussion of an environmental problem, telling viewers how they could be part of the solution rather than a contributor.
In the contemporary British animated series, “The Octonauts” children learn about the ocean, sea animals and how to protect the environment.
In “The Octonauts,” Barnacles, the brave polar bear, leads his seven-person team of anthropomorphized animals in exploring the ocean depths. While the technology in the show is sci-fi, the team encounters unusual but real sea creatures in each episode. They often have to discover a biological or behavioral fact about the creature in order to get it or themselves out of danger.
Marine biologists Lara A. Ferry-Graham and Michael H. Graham helped out on the series to ensure it was accurate while being fun for kids. The scientists also advised on children’s film classic “Finding Nemo.”
Bill Nye the science guy
In another 90s U.S. series that was also popular around the world, wacky scientist Bill Nye made science easy and fun for preteens. Nye explained a range of subjects, including ecology and environmental science with the aid of crazy experiments.
Though the TV show was cancelled in 1998, the science guy still appears in science videos, explaining subjects like climate change with, for example, emojis.
And now for a beloved German children’s show. Löwenzahn – the German word for dandelion – explores various topics, such as technology, nature and the environment, in its 30 minute episodes . In one episode, for instance, the main character Fritz Fuchs and his dog Keks take on the trash, recycling and composting.
This Canadian and French animated TV show followed the Suntots, a group of environmentalists on the fictional Coral Island. The Suntots constantly had to defend their home from three polluting treasure hunters called the Smoggies who try to steal the magical coral around the island.
The Smoggies travel in a coal-fired ship, call the SS Stinky Poo, polluting the water and air around the island as they go.
The Magic School Bus
Based on a book series of the same name by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen, “The Magic School Bus” featured the wise Ms. Frizzle, a science teacher who would take her students on amazing field trips to discover more about nature – including reptiles, climate change and the water cycle. The U.S. – Canadian show was also a 90s hit but a new CG animated series in set to stream on Netflix in 2016.
The Animals of Farthing Wood
“The Animals of Farthing Wood” helped children learn about the dangers animals face through human encroachment on their habitats. Based on a 1979 book, the TV series commissioned by the European Broadcasting Union focused on a group of animals including wolves and foxes who are forced to flee their homes when humans start destroying the forest to build houses.
Led by Fox, the animals start the journey to White Deer Park, a nature reserve where they will find protection. While the animals deal with internal feuds, predators and prey work together to get to the safe haven. Like Watership Down and Bambi, Farthing Wood takes a more serious approach to the topic.
For people from the UK, “The Wombles” is probably one of the most enduring childhood memories. These pointy-nosed, furry fictional animals first appeared in a series of children’s novels in the late 1960s and in the 1970s in a BBC stop-motion animation show.
The thrifty Wombles lived in a burrow on Wimbledon Common in London, England where they helped the environment by collecting and recycling rubbish. Their motto was “Make good use of bad rubbish” and their love of recycling was way ahead of its time. Still, The Wombles inspired children around the UK to organize Womble cleaning up groups and there was even a Womble’s band.