[EDIT: 9/25/20 — Alphablocks and Numberblocks is now on Netflix!]
Anytime I hear about a problem with YouTube Kids I can’t help but think that the problem could have been avoided. YouTube, for all the problems that it seems to have (and there are too many to walk through here), it has some quality content on it. Finding that content can be difficult and takes a keen eye to weed out the garbage. Using search, your best parental judgment and some common sense, you too can make YouTube Kids a safe place for them to go.
First thing first: I’m not going to defend YouTube and their bizarre recommendation engine, the lack of moderation and their complete disregard for monitoring their platform. They need to do the work to make their platform a safer place for kids and families. How do they get there? Alphabet and YouTube need to fix their algorithms and recommendation engines. If I was running YouTube (not that I want to…), I would start by putting YouTube Kids on the web and on other platforms outside of mobile platforms. I would also start by having YouTube Kids first launch experience start with parents curating the contest by default. Take recommendations and search out of the fold all together for YouTube Kids. Also, I would partner with content creators that are known as good actors, companies with long histories of quality content and promote educational content. This would allow vetted, high-quality content to have center stage.
With that out of the way, here is how you set up YouTube Kids on iOS and Android so only curated content would be available. First you need to download the YouTube Kids app. The official YouTube app is not YouTube Kids. YouTube Kids is a completely separate application that looks and feels very different. You can get it for Android here and iOS here.
With a new Kids account
- Launch the app, then press the padlock in the bottom right corner.
- Click the “Settings” button.
- Log into YouTube with your Google Account
- Under “My Kids” create a Kids account
- Add your kids name and age (or put dummy information in, if you want to be security conscious) and click next.
- Select “Approve content yourself”
- Click select.
- Search and add content to your kid’s YouTube Experience
- Select Done
That’s it! (I’ve got channel selections at the bottom to help you find great content that my little one loves!)
With an existing Kids account
- Launch the app, then press the padlock in the bottom right corner.
- Click the “Settings” button.
- Under “My Kids” select your child.
- Log into your Google account.
- Under “Content Level” select “Approved Content Only.”
- Tap Manage
- Search and add content to your kid’s YouTube Experience.
- Select Done.
There are three things using this method of moderations does. The first is that it takes the recommendation engine out of the picture completely and restricts your young viewer to content you, the parent, have vetted. The second is that search is disabled, so your child can’t start searching for things you haven’t approved. The third is per-video or per-channel approval. If there is a YouTube channel that you feel only a subset of content is appropriate, then you can approve only the videos on that channel you approve. If you are OK with the theme and content of a channel, you can approve whole channels.
In the wild-west days of having YouTube Kids wide open, we happened to stumble upon some really great content. Then we started applying filters and moderation to weed out the bad but the bad found it’s way in, through no fault of our own. While we stopped using YouTube for a bit (and subscribed to Noggin), we have brought it back because there is some content that we can’t find anywhere else. Below are some recommendations for toddlers that my toddler happens to really enjoy!
Alphablocks and Numberblocks
Sometimes I wish we could get a comprehensive BBC Cbeebies experience through BBC America. Hits like Hey Duggee and Peppa Pig are popular and regularly watched. For a while, before Nick picked up Hey Duggee, we could only watch it on YouTube. AlphaBlocks and NumberBlocks, two other BBC Cbeebies shows focus on counting, math, English and the alphabet, are currently only available on YouTube in the States.
Alphablocks, found here, is about 26 blocks with personalities that teach kids about the fundamentals of the alphabet. Phonics, rhyming and learning how to read in a fun and playful way has helped my son sound out words, spell and learn the sounds that letter combinations and word combinations make. Each letter has its own personality and when they fuse together to make sounds like “ee,” “ae,” “th,” or “sh” they retain their separate personalities. I love it because each letter tries to create their own separate connection or thing that they’re known for.
Numberblocks (linked from the verified Alphablocks page) is found here. Like the Alphablocks, the Numberblocks are blocks that represent numbers. Unlike the Alphablocks, which don’t change dynamically based on value, the Numberblocks do. Sometimes six splits into two-three block sets or three-two block sets. Ten and become eleven by two blocks fusing together and twelve can shapeshift into many different arrays and shapes. Then there is fifteen and the super secret step squad. Each number has its own personality. As the number gets bigger, so do the personality! Eight is an octopus. Ten is a rocket ship. Then there are the troublesome Twos…
There is also a combined page (again, linked from the verified Alphablocks page) that combines the two into a single Learning Blocks page which is found here. I have the two separate pages added into my son’s account. I can’t understate how much he loves these videos, as he’ll prefer these to watching Paw Patrol, PJ Masks and Peppa Pig.
Remember when I said I liked how you could have per-video control over what could be viewed? There is a channel called Wizz that has things like Octonauts, Alphablocks and Numberblocks on it. It also has things my child didn’t like, so it made sense to break out the things he liked because there were channels available for them that had been verified like Wizz did. One show that was on Wizz that my son really liked was Planet Cosmo.
Planet Cosmo is about a girl named Cosmo who lives on the moon with her scientist Mom, clumsy Dad and brother. They travel across the solar system for all kinds of various reasons: vacations, science experiments, and fun! I should note here that my wife and I don’t know why Cosmo and her bother are red and blue, respectively. I have a theory that they aren’t actually humans but are aliens or androids but alas, there is no back story here. Typical toddler cartoons….
The playlist of all the Planet Cosmo can be found here.
For the longest time, I relied on YouTube for episodes of Hey Duggee before they established a real digital presence. All the videos started to disappear around the time that Nickelodeon was going to license it from BBC Worldwide. My son has been watching Duggee since he was about one and a half. For a while, he wouldn’t watch it because it “scared” him.” Nothing about Duggee is scary (as you will see). One day out of the blue, he asked to watch Duggee after seeing it on a commercial when watching Nick Jr. and hasn’t looked back.
That’s great for me because I lowkey enjoy me some Hey Duggee. It’s got all of the charms of Sesame Street but in bite-sized and easily digestible episodes. Each episode is only seven minutes long. On YouTube the episodes are even shorter as they have cut off the opening song and credits. You can find the Hey Duggee YouTube Channel here
Super Simple is just great cartoons for toddlers. It’s a great alternative to PBS Kids, Nick Jr. or Disney Jr. Yes, they have many hour-long videos of songs, which would have typically disqualified a channel for being on this list, however, they break their song and cartoon channels up so you can subscribe one or both!
Super Simple TV, found here has cartoon series that my son enjoyed watching as we started doing The Great Crappy Content purge of 2017. The first series that he fell in love with was The Bubble Nums. These curious creatures create culinary confections by acquiring the secret ingredient of the day just outside their humble abode. Another great cartoon series on the channel is Mr. Monkey, Monkey Mechanic. The title says it all. It’s a monkey, who is a mechanic and helps his friends fix their vehicles. Both are a great watch!
Super Simple Songs, found here, is one of the best kids music channels on the platform. The people behind both channels, Skyship Entertainment, are doing some brilliant animation for not just their shows but their takes on classic and original kids music. The best part about their channel’s music is that you can get all their music on Apple Music, so you can rock out to Super Simple’s songs in the car easily. Their rendition of Baby Shark is exponentially better than the one that was made popular.
Kids Learning Tube
This channel started my son’s love of planets. One day out of the blue he came home from my parent’s house and asked if he could watch the talking planets “like on banana’s iPad.” When we went back to my parent’s house, I inquired to see the YouTube history of on her iPad so I could figure out what this mythical video was. Turns out, it was this. Kids Learning Tube has lots of great, educational content that is set to catchy tunes and has become a staple of screen time viewing.
Kids Learning Tube, which is found here on YouTube (or on Patreon here) puts a new video out every Friday on various topics that are now chosen by their Patreon. Math? It’s here. Planets? You betcha. Countries of the world? Yep. Nature? Absolutely. Parts of the body? In detail, bro. The thing is, my son is absorbing this content and not only remembers it but can talk about all the things said in them as if he’s studied them with great intensity and pleasure.
Take the other weekend, for example, when we had a conversation with one of my wife’s aunts. She was joking to one the other kids about food going into their stomachs and then out of nowhere he starts explaining how you eat food, then it’s carried from the esophagus to the stomach, then it goes into the small and large intestine, then “becomes poop out your butt.” He only added that last part because of personal experience! Needless to say, a toddler knowing that much about how our body processes food was because of some well-produced videos. Color me impressed.
Other honorable mentions
Storybots – If you’ve never seen this on Netflix, I highly recommend it. Their second series has Snoop Dogg be a computer’s CPU. It’s too good.
Peppa Pig – This is the official channel. If it isn’t on here, don’t watch it
PJ Masks – Like the Peppa Pig channel, this too is the official channel.
Blippi – Yes, earlier in the year he came under fire after a failed 2013 experiment never had taken off and he’s probably better because of it. Blippi reminded me of Sesame Street I remember, which means I either don’t remember Sesame Street or expected something else.
Did I miss a good Kids YouTube channel? Any other tips for managing screen time? Let me know in the comments below.