Growing up in the early 90s, my sisters and I did not have cable TV. To our frustration (at the time), this left nothing on daytime TV for us to watch beyond a few hours of early morning PBS for “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street.” However, our mom knew what she was doing. From a young age, we each had our own library card and every week she would drive us to our local library where we were allowed to pick out a certain number of VHC videos that we wanted to watch that week. As a result, we were watching Rogers and Hammerstein when our classmates were consuming Nickelodeon cartoons—and we could tell you who Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck and Hayley Mills were, but had no idea who the hippest, new Disney channel star was.
While this might have seemed odd at the time, I think this was the best thing that we could have experienced at such a young age. With more and more research pointing towards fast-paced, action-packed cartoons as the culprit of low attention spans and anxiety in children, I think back to the movies and television shows that we watched as children with fond memories and a realization that they were intentional parenting decisions made by my mother and father.
Having spent many years as a nanny and then as a teacher, I was shocked to find that so many of these classic movies and shows are now completely foreign to many children. Yet, these are the movies that I want my children to watch, not just the latest Disney blockbuster or new cartoon streaming on Netflix.
Here are 7 movies and television shows to consider adding to your child’s library:
1. " Pollyanna"
Released in 1960 and starring Hayley Mills, Pollyanna tells the story of a cheerful, talkative and optimistic 12-year-old orphan who arrives in the small town of Harrington to live with her rich and strict aunt, Polly Harrington. Although her aunt has all the money she could ever need, Pollyanna brings adventure and love to her house—soon proving that money can’t buy everything.
This movie, based on the novel “Pollyanna” (1913) by Eleanor H. Porter, is sweet, charming and lesson-driven as it teaches children the power of positivity. I remember playing “The Glad Game” during challenging moments as a young child thanks to the optimism I learned from Pollyanna.
Bonus: For more classic movies like “Pollyanna,” try searching through the early Hayley Mills Disney library and you’re sure to discover more similar gems.
2. "The Swiss Family Robinson"
“The Swiss Family Robinson,” released in 1960, brings the excitement of a pirate adventure and warmth of a family drama all together in one movie. After the Robinson Family is stranded on an island due to a great storm, they make the best of their new home by building a tree house that is every childhood dream come to life.
Some parents and grandparents might remember this Disney classic with fond memories—however, as the years pass by and with the walk-through experience of “The Swiss Family Robenson Tree House” now replaced by “Tarzan’s Tree House” at Disneyland in California, this movie is quickly becoming a treasure of the past.
3. "Anne of Green Gables"
So many young girls grew up loving to read about Anne’s adventures in the “Anne of Green Gables” book series. And with the new Netflix show based on the book gaining popularity, this story is coming back to life. But despite the popularity of new remakes, there will never be a movie as beloved and pure as the original “Anne of Green Gables” film from 1985. It only takes a few bars of this movie’s theme song to bring nostalgic tears to my eyes.
Encouraging children to stay focused for the entire movie length, versus a short episode, this story tackles themes surrounding friendship, loss, love and change.
Bonus: Part 2 of the story, “Anne of Avonlea,” was made as a sequel to continue the story.
4. "The Secret Garden"
The 1993 release of “The Secret Garden” was one of the most mysterious and magical movies I remember watching as a child. Based on the classic novel written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1909, the movie tells the story of Mary Lennox, a spoiled, quiet and sad child raised in India but sent to live in her uncle’s manor in Yorkshire after her parents’ death.
It’s not until she finds a mysterious friend hidden in the rooms of the manor and a beautiful surprise hidden behind the garden walls that Mary’s new life takes a magical and beautiful turn for the better.
5. "The Long Long Trailer"
“The Long, Long Trailer” starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez and released in 1954 is a movie that combines clean, adult humor that parents will love along with slapstick, fun humor that kids will adore. For children 10+, “The Long, Long Trailer” is a great choice for family movie night.
In the movie, Nicky and Tracy are all set to get married. Nicky wants to save up money for a house, but Tacy dreams of starting off with their own home on wheels and heading out to see the world. After the wedding, they hitch up their trailer and begin their honeymoon in their new, long, long trailer—and the hilarity begins.
Bonus: For kids that enjoy “The Long Long Trailer,” the “I Love Lucy” series is the perfect follow-up. While the black and white series may seem outdated in comparison to today’s action-packed shows, the humor is clean and the episodes are heartwarming for children ages 10+.
6. "Little House on the Prairie"
The “Little House on the Prarie” series gained huge popularity in the 70s, but became less relevant in the decades since. However, these classic episodes based on the story of the Ingalls family are great family programming for kids and parents alike. The stories follow the three Ingalls sisters and their parents as they venture into the unknown prairie and settle in Walnut Grove. The girls experience growing pains and coming-of-age challenges such as friendship, bullying and divorce that children of any decade can relate to.
Note: Some of the later episodes do begin to introduce adult themes, so be mindful to prescreen for appropriateness based on the age of your children.
7. "My Fair Lady"
To this day, I can sing each word to every song in “My Fair Lady” by memory. At a shocking 2 hours and 33 minutes, my sisters and I would watch this as kids, captivated through the entire movie.
“My Fair Lady” starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, tells the story of a pompous phonetics professor—Henry Higgens— who makes a bet that he can transform a Cockney working-class girl into a fine lady who can pass for a cultured member of high society. His subject, Eliza Doolittle agrees to the lessons to improve her job prospects, not knowing how the process would ultimately change her life forever. Both Higgens and Doolittle come out on the other side having learned a great deal about themselves and each other.