A Quality Alternative to 'YouTube Kids"
If you are one of the many parents disappointed by how videos are "screened" for the YouTube Kids app, I am about to make your day. I tried out YouTube Kids when looking for musical and educational videos for my young children -you know, recordings of a few popular kids songs or answers to science-themed questions in "kid friendly" form. Occasionally, YouTube Kids would deliver -but soon my children were stumbling across videos of middle-aged men playing video games and flaunting collections of over-priced action figures (followed by pitches to "like" their channel and buy the advertised toys). Not what I had in mind.
Enter technology-enhanced books!
As we moved away from YouTube, I opted to indulge my children in some new books. In recent years, our kids' books were limited to library visits and the occasional new book as a birthday or holiday gift. I ordered "The Usborne Children's Encyclopedia" pictured above, but was in no rush to to use the electronic "QR Links" feature -I was trying to get away from electronics after all. That was until this week, when spring break ended and I wanted to do something a little different to get my kids excited about resuming their homeschool work.
So what are QR links?
To put it simply, QR (Quick Response) links are barcodes you can scan with a smart phone app that instantly takes you to a specific internet link. There are a variety of apps you can choose from (some paid, some free), but my free app works perfectly. My kids went CRAZY over this feature! So far the links we have visited all took us to educational videos -and of MUCH higher quality than what we were finding on our own through internet searches or YouTube Kids.
The best of both worlds...
Here is how we use the Usborne Children's Encyclopedia: I let my kids choose a page that interests them (or I choose one relevant to our current homeschool lesson), which we read together. Once we are done reading (I do NOT let them skip right to the video), I let the kids take turns scanning the QR code and starting the video. Not only are the topics interesting and the videos well-chosen, but I have found they are PERFECT for inspiring my kids to ask more questions and instilling a desire to conduct additional research. I thought adding video links to a children't book might be a bit of a gimmick, but now that I have used it I am in love!
Yesterday we read about dolphins and then watched a video of bottlenose dolphins in action. We read about planets and then watched a video explanation of how the solar system formed, followed by clips of the Mars rover. Today the kids learned more about mountains and butterflies, and ended up watching a clip of climbers on Mount Everest. My seven year old says he wants to do at least ten topics a day. My six and four year old pay attention to the video links even when some of the information goes a little over their heads -and ask relevant questions afterwards.
Just what we needed.
I no longer have to roll the dice with YouTube when looking for a great video for my kids -we have just started using this encyclopedia, but so far I am very pleased with our ability to choose any topic of interest and find a great video link pre-selected for us (FYI if you don't have a QR reader, Usborne provides a list of links you can enter manually into your internet browser, but I highly recommend using the scanner if possible). This is a win-win for our family. My kids get to enjoy a little video time, and I love how much they are learning.
This has become a great tool in helping substitute mindless YouTube Kids videos with more educational fare. Highly recommended!
"Screen time" has changed.
My first son was born 19+ years ago. Parents were already wary of the "electronic babysitter," but I kept an open mind. I still remember the moment I popped in a "Baby Einstein" video for the first time, when he was 7-8 months old; it instantly captured his attention. By age two my son was reading, writing simple words, and drawing detailed pictures so I assumed whatever I was doing was working. I never considered electronic toys anything but an asset to his early education.
Tablets, smart phones, YouTube, and more...
When my 7 year old son was born, I thought our experience with electronics would be similar, if not better. Wrong.
Initially, I allowed a few kids videos (Baby Einstein, the "Signing Time" series to teach my little ones sign language, etc.) but shunned certain toys as being "a bit much" for a young child. What child needs a tablet? Eventually that changed. When my husband and I embraced smart phones and tablets, our kids wanted to use them, too. We eventually let the kids play some of the popular electronic video games that many of their friends were playing, and experimented with what we thought would be a safe, friendly, educational children's app -YouTube Kids.
The addictive reality.
The nature of many popular electronic toys and television programs today is different than what I expected, and highly addictive. If parents do not set a timer for screen time, children can power through a series on Netflix at the speed of light -and many new programs are a far cry from the slower-paced shows that my oldest son grew up on. Worse yet, many of the videos on YouTube Kids are long advertisements for toys with zero educational value and a lot of questionable language. Sure, there are some gems out there, but if children are left to browse videos on their own they can easily be sidetracked by low-quality programming.
Should you just say "no" to electronic play?
It wasn't possible for my oldest son to click a smart phone button and instantly access "garbage programming" disguised as a "kid friendly" show -but that is exactly what happens with kids today. So what is the solution? For some parents, it is to turn their back on electronics entirely. I know at least one family who doesn't allow any television or screen time at all, and I respect that, but the reality is most parents are looking for moderation. My family's current solution to occasionally ban electronic play entirely, but most of the time we simply manage screen time with timers and a rule that our kids can only play with electronics at the end of the day.
We have banned a few things altogether. Our children are no longer allowed to watch YouTube Kids unless it is a video selected by an adult. In a few days, we will completely remove video games that do not involve physical activity (meaning we will allow "dance" games or exercise games such as Wii Fit Plus, but we will not allow games that encourage our kids to zone-out such as Minecraft). While our children initially were not happy about new restrictions on electronics, they understand that we are becoming more strict in this area out of concern for their well being, and not as a punishment.
I have always believed that it is important to give your children choices, but to remember it is the parents's job to control the available choices -and this applies to electronic entertainment. What role do electronic devices play in your home? Have you made any changes to acceptable "screen time" in your home? Experiences welcome!
Kristina Johnson is a homeschooling mama who is passionate about childhood education and the quest for a healthy, clean lifestyle. Visit the "about" section to learn more about Kristina, her family of seven, and the mission of the "learning and laughing" website.