Left to her own devices, my four-year-old will find videos on YouTube that remind me of a Guillermo del Toro film. Haunting. Confusing. Impossible to unsee. Mommy and Daddy finger anyone? (Search for it at your own risk.)
Why are kids' YouTube videos so creepy?!
Some smart people have figured out what kids want to watch--mashups of Thomas the Tank Engine and Spider-Man on a Hot Wheels track, for example (45 million views and counting). They're making a living opening toy eggs and letting people watch them play video games. I'm in the wrong business and so are you.
I crowdsourced recommendations for some YouTube channels of substance for kids. Here are eight of my favorites with a creep factor rating from 1 to 10, with 1 being not at all creepy and 10 being Spider-Man-running-in-slow-motion-to-the-Tiddlywinks-song creepy.
Description: 26 animated blocks that each represent a letter of the alphabet and make their sounds a lot.
Audience: Kids learning to read.
Running Time: Varies
Sample Episode: "Alphablocks: The Alphabet"
Why I Like It: Because my daughter does! And because this is a really useful, well done series that deserves more subscribers.
Creep Factor: 2.5 (Imagine a world where everyone stutters on every word. But still, far less frustrating than you'd imagine.)
2. Dan TDM (The Diamond Minecart)
Description: Charming British lad narrates while playing Minecraft.
Audience: Young Minecraft fans.
Running Time: All over the place – 10 to 30 minutes.
Sample Episode: HE STOLE MY GOLD!!
Why I Like It: I've never played Minecraft. I don't love video games. BUT I enjoy funny guys with accents and I can see why young game lovers would love this guy. Parents can relax because he keeps it clean. Plus it seems, as video games go, Minecraft doesn't involve a lot of murdering other characters so that's probably a plus.
Creep Factor: 4 (Only because I don't speak gaming.)
3. Lullaby Baby
Description: Soothing music and animations for babies.
Audience: Babies and high adults.
Running Time: Hours and hours. Could last a whole nap time.
Sample Episode: "8 hour piano medley"
Why I Like It: A friend recommended it as an amazing way to calm a crying baby in the car. Wish I'd known about it when my toddler was a baby!
Creep Factor: 3 (But isn't "baby" music always a little creepy?)
4. Life Hacks for Kids
Description: Fun craft ideas taught by a kid.
Audience: Kids old enough to use scissors and hot glue, or kids with a parent that has enough energy to help out.
Running Time: Around 5 minutes.
Sample Episode: "Washi Tape Hacks"
Why I Like It: It's hosted by a talented young girl and is far more upbeat and fast paced than adult craft shows.
Creep Factor: 5? (There are an awful lot of supplies if you actually want to do the crafts. Maybe creepy isn't the right word… How about an effort factor of 5. But you can watch for no effort at all.)
5. Sesame Street
Description: Old school and new school Sesame Street videos.
Audience: Young kids and nostalgic adults.
Running Time: Some short segments and some full episodes.
Sample Episode: Season 46 opening teaser for HBO version of Sesame Street (it's kind of awesome)
Why I Like It: It's got everything from those awesome 70's interviews with kids to the modern day segments.
Creep Factor: 4 (But the good kind of men-dressing-like-puppets creep. And I'll add two extra creep points because the male-to-female character ratio has to be about 20 to 2 and has been for 46 seasons.)
6. Masha and the Bear
Description: Russian animated series.
Audience: Toddlers to young kids.
Running Time: Most episodes run 7 or 8 minutes.
Sample Episode: "Masha and the Bear - Visiting a fairy tale"
Why I Like It: Reminds me of the good ol' cartoons like Tom and Jerry. The storytelling is mostly visual with little dialogue – which is good because I don't speak the language.
Creep Factor: 2 (Only because I don't speak Russian. They could be cussing.)
7. PBS Kids
Description: Variety of shorts from PBS shows that teach language, math and science skills.
Audience: Preschool age to 8.
Running Time: Anywhere from three to twelve minutes.
Sample Episodes: "I Say Tomato" (Oh Noah!), What flummoxed means (Wordgirl), "Gooey Randall and Goopy Gus" (Odd Squad)
Why I Like It: Something for every kid. Super Why is the show that taught my two-year-old her letters, and a great web series called Oh Noah! teaches kids Spanish with 3 minute videos. I highly recommend the show Wordgirl. It's got a strong female character plus it's funny and educational. I also recommend Odd Squad, a rare live action show about a group of kids who solve math and science problems in an odd world. It's got a very funny and talented cast of kids.
Creep Factor: 2.75 (Depends on the show. I would say 0 creep factor because I don't see any episodes of Caillou on here, but I don't know enough about the show Arthur to trust it.)
Description: Animations of classic fairy tales with words highlighted as they're read to help teach kids to read.
Audience: Toddlers will enjoy the stories and animations and kids learning to read will appreciate the highlighted words.
Running Time: Nursery Rhyme length – most under 5 minutes and some compilations that are long enough to get you through that hot cup of coffee.
Sample Episode: "The Gingerbread Man"
Why I Like It: It's a great reading tool using familiar stories. Unfortunately the pop up ads pop up right over the words so you'll have to teach your kids to hit the little x in the upper right corner.
Creep Factor: 4 (The animations and narrations aren't creepy. However, fairy tales are inherently creepy. Humpty Dumpty smashing to pieces, Goldilocks breaking into houses, Rapunzel letting people climb her hair...)
Hope you find these recommendations pleasant. I'd love to hear what shows your kids enjoy on YouTube – creepy or not.
If you're interested, we started a Facebook page that collects all kid friendly, creep free videos so you can sit and enjoy many in a row with your little one. Find us on FB at Pipsqueak TV: www.facebook.com/purplepantsfamily