Free and family-friendly: what to watch while you stay at home

Free and family-friendly: what to watch while you stay at home

As politicians and public health officials deploy various measures to try to contain the spread of COVID-19, the message is clear: stay home.

But with closed schools and many parents now working from home, finding accessible and affordable ways to keep children entertained can be a challenge, particularly with rising subscription fees. Fortunately, there are many free and family-friendly options.

Here’s where to start.


You can find Ben Stiller’s turn as a good-hearted but empty-headed model in Zoolander on Tubi. (Paramount Pictures)

Tubi is an ad-supported streaming service with a large catalog of titles and shows. Curation feels like a basement blockbuster, but there are a few gems if you are going to dig (hint: click movie night link).

For GenX parents, Tubi is a virtual time machine for children’s shows from the 80s and 90s. Pour some of your favorite sweet cereal and recreate a Saturday morning playlist with Alf, Transformers, Sailor Moon and GI Joe. If you’re looking for classics, there are the always reliable rubber antics from Mister Bean, plus a healthy selection of Laurel and Hardy securities.

In terms of more modern comedies, you can’t go wrong with Ben Stiller’s 2001 fashion prank Zoolander or Will Ferrell’s Figure Skating Comedy Blade of Glory.


James Rolleston plays a teenager who meets his long-lost father in Boy, a film available on Kanopy. (Mongrel Media)

Kanopy partners with public libraries to offer enriching digital content, including films, children’s series and a wide selection of documentaries. Even if your local library is closed, you can use your library account number to access it. For example, Toronto users can see eight titles per month. If your family has more than one library card, you can increase this number.

Kanopy offers lesser-known and rewarding titles, including Boy, a personal story of transition to adulthood Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi. For lovers of visual art, there is Love Vincent, a magnificent film painted by hand on the life of Vincent Van Gogh. If you’re looking for something more silly, check out A city called panic, a stop motion animation film created with a charming feeling of absurdity. Imagine a movie in the style of Lego movies, but narrated with plastic model pieces. It has French subtitles, but the sense of humor is universal.

Also for the youngest there is Kanopy Kids, which has unlimited streaming, including animated versions of popular children’s books such as Mo Willems Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus! If you need more Mo Willems, the artist now publishes daily drawing lessons on the Kennedy Center YouTube channel.


The Oscar-nominated Cat Came Back is one of the many animated selections available on (National Film Board of Canada)

For an organization established 81 years ago, the National Film Board of Canada adopted the Internet early and has an extensive catalog of Canadiana. If you’re looking for small entertainment, there’s the Oscar-nominated classic The cat returned and many other cartoons. For a feeling of tranquility, how about a marathon Hinterland Who’s Who?


The new series Utopia Falls takes place in a future where a group of teenagers discovers an old archive of hip-hop music. (Brooke Palmer)

On CBC’s own streaming service, CBC Gem, the fourth season of Kim convenience arrived. He finds Appa and his family drawn into ridiculously romantic situations. Also there are Utopia Falls, a new series for young adults Hunger Games meets hip hop. For another type of experience for teens, see PEN15. Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine play their young age starting in the seventh grade – an interesting choice that adds an uncomfortable sense of honesty to the comedy.


Strictly Ballroom, an outrageously romantic dance film from Australia, is available on Hoopla. (Cinepix)

Similar to Kanopy, Hoopla uses your local library account to deliver a rich range of content. The website also offers a “Kid Mode”, where only child-friendly selections are displayed. With a variety of choices, including the Berenstain Bears, The Magic School Bus and Max and Ruby, there are hours of children’s shows and educational programs.

Regarding the film, there are classics including Charlotte’s web and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (if Dick Van Dyke can’t distract you, no one can). Dance fan? It’s time to introduce family fun to scandalous romance Strictly Ballroom.


The critically acclaimed animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is available on Crave. (Sony Pictures)

Bell’s streaming service currently offers a 30-day free trial period to all Canadians.

The children’s collection is full of branded blockbusters. Why not check Lego movie and then build your own survival kit at home? For fans of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the Child who would be king is an animated update for young teens. For comic book fans, there is Spider-Man: in the Spider-Verse, a knock! Pow! masterpiece that brings new relevance to the web crawler.

The rest

Once you’ve exhausted the big and small screen options, there are other ways to be entertained. Audible currently offers a free collection of audio books for children. Music lovers can explore, which offers hours of concerts and classical ballet, and works with most libraries.

What are you looking at? Share it in the comments below.

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About the Author: David Smith

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