Oh, YouTube. You provide so many funny cat videos and mysterious unboxing channels (seriously, what is up with those?) — and lull us into a sense of security with your “kid-friendly” option. But are our kids are really safe scrolling through the site’s unfiltered suggestions?
With 400 hours of video uploaded every minute, we get that YouTube can’t curate a perfectly appropriate, mind-expanding, imagination-inspiring watchlist for our children’s tender minds. But you know who can? We, the parents, can. And it doesn’t have to be a joyless process, either. Here are a handful of YouTube videos that you and your kids will love.
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Have your kids discovered the Muppets yet? There is really nothing more fun than watching your small people laugh at the same things that made you chuckle back in the day. Luckily the Muppets have an entire YouTube channel full of music videos, skits, and behind-the-scenes videos that are sure to win over even the most screen-savvy youngster.
Speaking of rediscovering things you used to love, anyone of a certain age who went through a They Might Be Giants stage will be delighted to know they’ve made a whole bunch of songs for kids, too! My kids and I love this video about the number zero, which is educational, catchy, and cute but doesn’t make us cringe. like some saccharine-sweet kid videos.
Guess what? Sesame Street is still serving up fun educational songs featuring popular musicians. I learned about Pentatonix from my much younger cousin’s Instagram feed, but I’m sure I would have been hip to this super-cool a cappella (no that’s not an oxymoron!) group anyway. This particular number blends some familiar tunes with some help counting, and no I didn’t just watch it three times in a row.
One more musical pick, and then I’ll move on, I swear. But what I love about OK Go is that their videos aren’t necessarily made for children, but kids love them anyway. My kids are obsessed with all the wacky, geeky music videos of OK Go, especially those involving Rube Goldberg-type devices. They get inspired to try out their own engineering projects without even realizing they were watching something educational, so joke’s on them. Or on whoever trips on a marble in the middle of the night.
While not technically hosted on YouTube, this entire site is a Must-Bookmark. A brilliant compilation of non-kid kid videos on YouTube. Rion Nakaya and her two children compile the best videos from all over that weren’t made specifically for kids, but are interesting and fun. She has a peerless eye for clips that are just the right length and tempo, like this stunning video of starlings migrating. But really, all the videos posted here are going to be great bets.
If you and your kids haven’t discovered Fiona the Hippo yet, well, you are welcome. Born prematurely in the Cincinnati Zoo, Fiona struggled to survive – and a savvy zoo employee tracked the whole story on social media. Since then, videos of the tiny hippo have gotten thousands and thousands of views. T-shirts and other swag have been made to celebrate her, and she’s become a bonafide internet star.
This new channel from PBS Digital Studios is packed with fascinating, nicely produced videos that explain questions kids have that parents can’t always answer. Where does the nuclear family come from? Why do women give birth lying down? How does your rubber ducky explain colonialism? (!) And of course, my kids’ favorite, “Why DO We Eat Artificial Flavors?” Parents will learn a lot from these videos too. And the host Danielle Bainbridge (a Yale doctoral candidate who says she likes telling people she’s a Ravenclaw) is incredibly charming, and makes learning history seem super cool — quite a coup.
My kids love watching other kids do things, even things as simple as making cookies, or having a picnic, or putting on a puppet show. Consequently, my kids and I are all super obsessed with the gorgeous, well-designed Olive Us video series, made by the family behind the beloved Design Mom blog. These six kids are all different ages, so the videos are sure to appeal to kids of various ages too. Something I’ve always loved about these videos is how they portray siblings seeming to really get along. I use the video of the kids cleaning up after dinner together as happy sibling chore-doing propaganda (shhh). While the Olive Us kids haven’t uploaded a new video in a few years, we still love all of their gorgeous archives!
What’s better than an educational video that feels like pure fun to watch? Now that my kids are elementary school-aged, they love the whole lineup of TED Ed videos, especially the riddles. These beautifully animated shorts are brought to you by the same people who invented the TED Talk. I would never be so cynical as to suggest that kids training their brains to solve riddles is good for acing standardized tests but, well, let’s just say these brain-twisting videos are really fun.
Here it is, one of the awesomest things to ever happen on the internet—astronaut Chris Hadfield rocking out to David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” on the International Space Station. I can’t tell you how many times my kids and I have reviewed the video of the astronaut floating around, playing guitar in zero gravity. Chills! And now that Hadfield is back on earth and off the space station, he and his son have started an entire channel, Rare Earth, of charming and curious videos about really cool parts of the world. They go from the ocean floor to Japan to Canada, and the 10-minute-or-so videos they create are interesting mini-docs perfect for curious, older kids. Plus, isn’t it nice to see parents and kids making cool things together?
Amy Shearn is a novelist, essayist, and editor. She lives in Brooklyn.
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