Shaikh Ibn ul-‘Uthaymeen rahimahullah said:
“As for viewing pictures in magazines, newspapers, and television, then if it is a picture that is not human, then there is no harm in viewing it. However, he should not possess it due to this picture. If it is a picture of a human, then if viewing it is with pleasure or enjoyment by looking at it, then it is haram. If it is without pleasure and enjoyment nor is the heart or desires aroused due to that, then if it is from what is permissible to view like a man looking at another man or a woman looking at another woman or at a man according to the more correct opinion, then there is no harm. However, he does not possess this picture…” [Majmoo’ al-Fatawa wal-Rasaail (12/269)]
So it is permissible if the picture is permissble to view.
Likewise, when it comes to certain images of animals or fish or landscapes that are found in documentaries or videos which are beneficial. A person can view them if there is a benefit, without owning them or making them.
Shaikh Abdul-Muhsin al-‘Abbad hafidhuhallah was asked:
Question: There are some films that are about the world of the sea. A person sees the creation of Allah and these images are images of animals and fish that are moving?
Answer: “If these things are films which are of things that are not an image but something viewed similar to what is on the television. It is from the type of [images] that are on the television. These things are not present [in reality], but are displayed sometimes [on the screen] and then disappear, when there is a need. This affair is easier [Sharh Ibn Majah on. 260]
So taking this into an account with what was mentioned earlier, it is allowed for someone to look at permissible images as long as he is not owning them, making them, and they do not include haram things.
So that includes things like historical events or historical sites etc. as long as there is no prohibited matters involved.
Shaikh Salih al-Fawzaan hafidhuhallah answered a question about viewing films about an excavation of ancient artifacts which include idols etc. He answered that if there is idols which are worshiped besides Allah, then this is not allowed due to it leading to shirk. But if its just a film of buildings and things that are not worshiped besides Allah, then the affair is easier [See: http://www.alfawzan.af.org.sa/node/10206]
Also, any picture that serves a benefit for Islam and the Muslims in terms of education and cultivation is permissible.
Shaikh al-Albani rahimahullah said:
“These two Ahaadith [Bukhari no. 6130 and 1960] prove the permissibility of pictures and owning them if there is behind it a benefit in cultivation which is specific to disciplining the soul, cultivating it, and educating it. So added to that is everything that has a benefit in it for Islam and the Muslims from pictures. Whatever is besides that remains on the origin of prohibition like the pictures of Mashaaikh, great people, friends and the likes of what does not have benefit. Rather in that is the imitation of the disbelievers who worship the idols. And Allah Knows Best” [Adaab uz-Zafaaf pg. 196]
So for children, pictures and toys can be used for education. Likewise, pictures which serve a benefit for the Muslims and cannot be achieved besides them.
With that being said, a person should strive to avoid viewing pictures/videos as much as possible.
And Allah Knows best
Faisal Ibn Abdul Qaadir Ibn Hassan
I would like to add the following to what I posted above to provide better clarification:
Similar to what Shaikh al-Albani rahimahullah said, Hafidh Ibn Hajr rahimahullah wrote:
“This hadith is used as evidence for the permissibility of owning pictures for young girls and dolls in order for young girls to play with. This is specific to the general prohibition of having pictures. [Qadi] Iyyad was certain regarding it and he quoted this from the majority. They permitted selling dolls to young girls to cultivate them at a young age in regards to the affair of their houses and children… ” [Fathul-Bari (10/527)]
Shaikh Muqbil ibn Haadi al-Wadi’ee rahimahullah said:
“Eighth: it is exempted from this chapter the dolls for the young girls due to what is established from ‘Aisha radiallahu anha that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) married her when she was seven years old, and she was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he (the Holy Prophet) died she was eighteen years old [Muslim no. 1422]
She also said: “I used to pay with dolls in the presence of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and I had playmates that played with me. When Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) entered, they felt shy of him, whereas Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) sent them to play with me” Reported by Muslim [no. 2440]
The Scholars said that was for a necessity and a need for dolls so that they can cultivate their children. Then, that [i.e. the dolls] do not last [i.e. do not remain for a long time]. And likewise what is made of sweets or from flour, it does not have a [long lasting] existence, so that is permitted. And Allah Knows best” [Hukm Tasweer Dhawaatil-Arwaah pg. 72]
In regards to toys, there is evidence that toys were used by both boys and girls in the time of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them)
عَنِ الرُّبَيِّعِ بِنْتِ مُعَوِّذٍ، قَالَتْ أَرْسَلَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم غَدَاةَ عَاشُورَاءَ إِلَى قُرَى الأَنْصَارِ “ مَنْ أَصْبَحَ مُفْطِرًا فَلْيُتِمَّ بَقِيَّةَ يَوْمِهِ، وَمَنْ أَصْبَحَ صَائِمًا فَلْيَصُمْ ”. قَالَتْ فَكُنَّا نَصُومُهُ بَعْدُ، وَنُصَوِّمُ صِبْيَانَنَا، وَنَجْعَلُ لَهُمُ اللُّعْبَةَ مِنَ الْعِهْنِ، فَإِذَا بَكَى أَحَدُهُمْ عَلَى الطَّعَامِ أَعْطَيْنَاهُ ذَاكَ، حَتَّى يَكُونَ عِنْدَ الإِفْطَارِ.
Narrated Ar-Rubi’ bint Mu’awadh:
“The Prophet (ﷺ) sent a messenger to the village of the Ansar in the morning of the day of ‘Ashura’ (10th of Muharram) to announce: ‘Whoever has eaten something should not eat but complete the fast, and whoever is observing the fast should complete it.’ “She further said, “Since then we used to fast on that day regularly and also make our boys fast. We used to make toys of wool for the boys and if anyone of them cried for, he was given those toys till it was the time of the breaking of the fast.” [Saheeh Bukhari no. 1960]
This does not mean boys played with dolls, but another form of toy. Dolls were used by the girls at the time of the Prophet (ﷺ).
As for the dolls, then they did have heads, but no facial features that make them resemble an actual human and animal.
Shaikh Abdul-Muhsin al-‘Abbad hafidhuhallah explained the Hadith on the dolls [Sunan Abi Dawood no. 4931] saying:
“This is the purpose of playing with dolls. The small girl was made something from rags. Two feet were made for it, and a head, and two hands, and it was said: this is your daughter (i.e. like a daughter for you)…or something made of wool fabric which had the form of two feet, two hands, a head. So this is pleasant and this is what was done in the time of the Prophet (ﷺ). As for what is done in this time of making an image which has bodily form according to the characteristic of a person, then this is not pleasant” [Sharh Sunan Abi Dawood no.560]
Islamically, toys should not have detailed features that make them resemble real life humans or animals. Toys of this nature are prohibited according to the Scholars.
Lastly, regarding using pictures for educational benefit, Shaikh al-Albani rahimahullah said:
“Before I finish this speech, I do not want it to miss the opportunity to turn the attention to the fact that even though we take the opinion that pictures are categorically prohibited with certainty, then we do not see a preventative for pictures that have in them a verified benefit without a haram associated with them. And this benefit cannot be achieved by a path whose origin is permissible. Like pictures which are needed in medicine, geography, in assisting in catching criminals and warning against them, and the likes. For verily these are permissible, rather obligatory in some occasions and the evidence for that is two Ahaadith…” [Adaab az-Zifaaf pg. 194]
And Allah Knows Best