Video Killed the Radio Star (or: what to watch when you’re watching YouTube)

If you’re anything like us and own something like a dozen internet-connected devices and a small daughter who knows how to access features on your iPad you didn’t even know existed, then you may well have an interest in video content for young children. Some of that interest might be the positive kind, like “which is the episode of Peppa Pig in which they sing the Muddy Puddles song?”; some of it might be general concern like “how many hours of YouTube can my two-year-old watch before her brain melts?” and some might be more specific concerns of the kind comprehensively covered by writer James Bridle in a much-shared blogpost late last year.

If you’re a parent of a pre-school child you probably already know the guidance is to limit screen time to no more than 2 hours daily; and to watch with your child, asking questions and getting your toddler to make observations in order to make it a communicative activity rather than a passive process. But we’re not going to tell on you if you occasionally use YouTube as a means to facilitate the cooking of dinner.

So, you’re snuggled up on the sofa with your favourite device – what are you going to watch? Here are our top suggestions.

THE GOOD

1. Peppa Pig
Look, I know, I know, I wrote a whole post about everything that’s wrong with Peppa Pig and it was wildly popular and many of you not only agreed with my misgivings but added your own fuels of fury to the fire; but there’s no denying that Peppa is incredibly popular with young people, and that some of it really is quite funny. Look, here’s one of my favourite moments:

Without wanting to make exaggerated claims for the educational value of Peppa, Scarlett has certainly learned vocabulary items that she otherwise wouldn’t have (we don’t have a kite or a camper van in the house so I’m pretty sure Peppa is why she knows these things exist), and several of the episodes also reinforce concepts like counting, colours, and simple good manners. Honest, Scarlett says “fankoo!” three times more often than non-Peppa-viewers, we’ve proved it in tests. You’re most welcome.

2. Super Simple Songs

Got a tiny budding musical theatre star in your life? Like songs about colours, numbers and basic emotions? Do you like broccoli? Super Simple Songs is probably the most bearable of the “songs for kids” channels, owing to the general quality of both music and animation and that fact that it also has had measurable impact on our toddler’s ability to name animals, observe weather, describe grumpy and happy pumpkins, and count to ten with confidence (and mostly in the right order).

Look, we made you a playlist of all the best Super Simple Songs so that you don’t have to. You can thank me later.

A word of warning if you’re planning to sing along: some of those songs aren’t as simple as they make out.

3. The Muppets and Sesame Street

I mean, how could you not love The Muppets? This version of Never Smile At A Crocodile is the actual best one on the internet.

Sesame Street has been educating the world since 1969 and we know a good thing when we see it. Onetwothreefour-five-six seveneight-nine-ten (eleven twelve!)

4. In The Night Garden

Confession: we have never watched In The Night Garden, or Octonauts, or anything else on CBeebies. But lots of people love this so it must be good (and it’s from the team that brought Tellytubbies to the bright-eyed young people and red-eyed young adults of the 1990s, so that’s another plus point)

THE ODD

1. Surprise Eggs

One of a category of thing that is not bad as such, but simply the sort of thing that James Bridle, per his blogpost,  might call “definitely and markedly weird”.  A series of coloured eggs (more colours! So educational!) are opened to reveal surprise contents that variously include viviparous mammals that most definitely do not hatch from eggs; and, on some occasions and even more surprisingly, motor vehicles.

Because the videos are produced in South Asia and therefore required by law to cause seizures in under-18s, the clips come complete with flashing neon colours and a hyperactive bleep-filled soundtrack. If these videos keep playing in your peripheral hearing, perhaps while autoplaying thanks to YouTube’s algorithmic selections, they will annoy you. They will annoy you greatly. On the plus side, they may or may not help to explain the miracle of birth.

2. Hours and hours of the same damned song on repeat

Kids love repetition. This is a known fact (see Tellytubbies reference above). Traditional videos only play once – boo! You can solve this problem yourself manually by creating a playlist of the same video two dozen times (as we’ve done with several locally popular songs and stories); or you can stick on two hours of the Five Little Monkeys songs with two musical arrangements and mildly differing animations and forget your brain ever existed. Actually, this Monkeys video is weirdly fascinating. I sincerely want to do an anthropological study on the species variations of the monkeys, mummys and doctors contained within. Stick with me, it’s going to be great.

3. Colour-switched pirate videos

Patently simply a way to cash in on unlicensed streams of copyright online content. I don’t know why these channels think “funny colours” is the way to go with this kind of barely-concealed pirating, but Scarlett doesn’t seem to notice at all. (Maybe Surprise Eggs is ruining her colour vision?)

THE PROPERLY BAD

1. “Wrong Colours” colour-learning videos

There are hundreds if not thousands of these “colour-learning” videos, using a template that consists of a popular character (Peppa is a popular option, Disney characters are another) dressing in a series of clothing items, only one of which is canonically correct. If the central character wears the wrong outfit, a secondary character pops up and cries. They’re weird, they make an awful noise, and I’m really not convinced of their educational potential. Your child will love them.

2. The Finger Fucking Family

When I first encountered the Finger Family (accidentally, by absent-mindedly allowing a playlist to finish and wobble off onto the recommended next video) I naively thought it was one of those US-UK variations, like the way Americans sing about an “itsy-bitsy spider” and render a long and complex lyric about the adventures of a Danish mouse who plays the banjo as a simple “I love you”. Reader, I was an idiot. The finger family is not an overseas redaction of a beloved nursery rhyme classic, it is an invention of the internet. An evil invention of the internet that has spawned many imitations, each worse than the last. It is an epidemic. A plague. It is the worst thing to put in your ears last thing at night.

Worst of all, nobody making these videos can actually sing. Witness:

3. This guy

While we’re talking about video creators who can’t sing:

The over-rigid adherence to synthetic phonics (a long and furious rant for another day) is only the second-worst thing about this video, ahead of the cheap-ass clipart graphics and a smidgen behind the pigging awful vocal performance. If you want to torment your sensitive ears, there’s an animal sounds song too. Predictably, Scarlett loves it.

What are your HOT YOUTUBE RECOMMENDATIONS for under-fives? Is there a channel we just must subscribe to? Can you not get enough of toy unboxing, learn-to-draw Peppa and Friends, or four-hour nursery rhyme compilations? Should we just set fire to the internet already and have done with it? Answers on a three-minute live action video shot in your living room, or in the comments below. And don’t forget to like and subscribe!

4 thoughts on “Video Killed the Radio Star (or: what to watch when you’re watching YouTube)

  1. From Jacqui via Facebook: Magda showed me the Duggee stick song at the weekend. I think it might not be a force for good in the world. (Tessa is right.)

  2. From Rick via Facebook: It’s funny how we all occupy our own little media bubbles: Ushi has literally seen none of those and I’m only aware of maybe one. Our favourites on YouTube are Moomins, Meg & Mog and increasingly Bod. As well as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift of course. Swish swish bish, indeed.

    My hot tip is to use a video downloader app to copy the videos you like from YouTube and store them in Plex without risk of adverts or auto playing the Pink Windmill or similar by accident.

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