How Your Whole Family Can Enjoy PBS Kids Online Without Cable

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PBS Kids is a great resource to educate and entertain your children. But like most things PBS, it is a little harder to find online than other channels. Read on to learn all your options.

In a hurry? DIRECTV STREAM offers PBS and PBS Kids in all its plans that make moving from cable easy. Get DIRECTV STREAM free for 5 days.

If you’re a parent, you are probably aware of certain guidelines on limiting screen time for kids. And you’re probably also aware your kids are exceeding those guidelines a little. Or maybe a lot. No judgment; raising kids is hard. Stressful, nerve-wracking, and constantly making you second-guess yourself. 

So thank goodness for PBS Kids! It’s one place on the dial where, if you can just dodge Caillou, you’re home free. The content is chock full of more math, science, reading, ways to deal with big feelings, and more adaptations of classic kids books than you can shake a magic school bus at.

Have twenty minutes of peace (or more, you earned it) without the self-flagellation. So where can you find this magical oasis of educational TV time?

What Is PBS Kids

We tend to think of PBS as just another network, like NBC or CBS. But commercial networks (these days, at least) are operated top-down, with the big programming decisions coming from the network heads with maybe only a couple hours of local programming a day or on weekends. In contrast, PBS is much more loosely organized.

Each member station is beholden more to its local members (like you! as the intros to PBS shows frequently remind us) for financial support than to the national Corporation for Public Broadcasting. As a result, programming is generally a hodge-podge of shows produced by the larger stations that can afford it (WGBH Boston, we’re looking at you), imports from across the Pond, or reruns of older PBS programs.

In other words, you’ll find a very different slate of programming from, say WQED Pittsburgh than you will on WFME Fargo.

It’s the same with PBS Kids, which started out as a programming block called “PTV” in 1994, designed to supplement the early education of kids whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to preschool. In 1999, PBS Kids officially launched as a website, a home video line, the block formerly known as PTV, and its own network. That incarnation of PBS Kids ran for six years.

In 2005, PBS shuttered the old PBS Kids in favor of partnering with Sesame Workshop (makers of Sesame Street), HIT Entertainment (responsible for British kids TV like Thomas & Friends, Bob the Builder, and Fireman Sam), and Comcast to launch PBS Kids Sprout. After Comcast bought NBCUniversal, it started buying out everyone else’s shares, until by 2013, they owned the whole thing and dropped the “PBS Kids” from the name. In 2017, it was rebranded as Universal Kids.

Meanwhile, also in 2017, PBS Kids live stream was relaunched on the PBS Kids website and app, as well as DIRECTV and (then) DirecTV Now (more details below). This time it was developed from the beginning as a multi-platform system and was offered to PBS member stations who wanted to distribute it as a digital subchannel (if PBS is channel 12, PBS Kids would be 12.1 or 12.2).

Today, there are over 280 PBS Kids stations across the country, reaching over 94% of all viewers. Some member stations opt to carry more or fewer of the PBS Kids shows in favor of other kids shows, so, as always with PBS, local coverage will vary.

PBS Kids Programming

Parents in their 30s or 40s now checking in with PBS Kids will find reassuringly familiar stuff. No Square One Television, but there is Odd Squad, a similarly math-themed show. Sesame Street is still going strong, though seeing how the human characters aged may make you feel pretty old.

Some stations still show reruns of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but they all show its spiritual successor, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an animated exploration of the little make-believe trolley-world visited in most episodes of Mister Rogers, where little Daniel learns lessons about cleaning up, resolving conflict, managing anger and disappointment, and handling new experiences.

Instead of Zoboomafoo, an early live-action show from the zoologist brothers Martin and Chris Kratt, you’ll see Wild Kratts, a series of animated adventures starring cartoon versions of themselves.

Other popular shows include:

  • Alma’s Way
  • Arthur
  • Curious George
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Donkey Hodie
  • Elinor Wonders Why
  • Hero Elementary
  • Let’s Go Luna
  • Martha Speaks
  • Molly of Denali
  • Nature Cat
  • Odd Squad
  • Oh Noah!
  • Peg + Cat
  • Pinkalicious & Peterrific
  • Plum Landing
  • Ready Jet Go!
  • The Ruff Ruffman Show
  • SciGirls
  • Scribbles and Ink
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Splash and Bubbles
  • Super Why!
  • WordGirl
  • Xavier Riddle

The content on PBS Kids is of a uniformly high level, based on decades of research and experience of teaching and entertaining kids.

DIRECTV STREAM - PBS Kids
DIRECTV STREAM is one of the few streaming services to offer PBS Kids.

Stream PBS Kids

The easiest way for 94% of the country to get PBS Kids (assuming you don’t already have it) is to simply put up an antenna and pick up your local member station’s subchannel. See our HD Antenna Guide for how to do that.

But if you don’t want to mess with an antenna or you live in one of the few spots where there is no local PBS Kids station, you still have some options. It’s not widely available on streaming services (yet), but at least two reliably carry it. Here are some details.

DIRECTV STREAM

DIRECTV STREAM

As of last September, DIRECTV STREAM carries PBS Kids on all four of its service tiers. Plans start at $69.99/mo for 75+ channels, and now feature unlimited DVR, unlimited screens on your home network, and all your local network stations.

Other educational channels in the base package include Animal Planet, Discovery, History, National Geographic, and PBS. Other kids channels are Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon. Educational/kids channels you can find on higher (more expensive) tiers are NickToons, Science Channel, Discovery Family, National Geographic Wild (with a specific focus on animals and nature), Smithsonian Channel, and Universal Kids.

For more information, see our DIRECTV STREAM review.

YouTube TV

youtube tv

YouTube TV was the first live streaming service to carry PBS Kids, plus over 85 other channels in its base package for $64.99/mo. Edutainment and kids networks available: PBS Kids, Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, Discovery, Disney, NatGeo, NatGeo Wild, Nickelodeon, NickToons, PBS, Smithsonian Channel, and Universal Kids. It also includes an unlimited cloud DVR but streaming on only 3 devices at once.

Other Ways to Stream PBS Kids

  • Pbskids.org: The always available, totally free, 24/7 original home of PBS Kids, streaming episodes and clips and offering kids from 2 to 8 a range of educational games featuring their favorite characters.
  • PBS Kids App: Pretty much the same content as the website, available from the Google Play store, Apple App Store, Amazon’s App store, and the Microsoft store. In addition to the “PBS KIDS Video” and “Play PBS KIDS Games” app, there are over 40 more apps starring popular PBS Kids characters like Daniel Tiger, the Kratt brothers, and Super Why! 
  • Amazon Prime Video Channels: You can subscribe to PBS Kids on Amazon for $4.99/mo, giving you access to an on-demand library of most PBS Kids shows going back twenty years or so. Sorry, 3-2-1 Contact fans. Subscribers can download PBS Kids shows for offline viewing, just like other Prime Video content. (Amazon Prime Video review)
  • Amazon Kids+ (formerly FreeTime Unlimited): Amazon also makes its PBS Kids content available to Kids+ subscribers, along with “thousands” of other kid-friendly shows, books, movies, and educational games and apps, bundled together with a suite of parental controls. Plans start at $2.99/mo.

Streaming Devices to Watch PBS Kids

DIRECTV STREAM and YouTube TV both support these devices:

  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Android mobile devices
  • Apple TV
  • Chromecast
  • iOS (iPad, iPhone)
  • Roku
  • Samsung smart TVs
  • Web browser.

DIRECTV STREAM offers its own device, which can simplify matters.

YouTube TV provides access to a number of other devices including Xbox and PlayStation gaming systems.

Wrapping Up

So if you’ve got a fan of Arnold or Angelina Ballerina in your house, you don’t need a cable account or an antenna to keep the PBS Kids goodness rolling. Just sign up for one of the services above — or visit the website — and you may never have to feel guilty about screen time again.

Alanna Baker

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