(Small) Children’s Videos During a Pandemic: YouTube – Part 1

Over the next few weeks as families find themselves largely isolated, without the usual support systems, and parents balancing work and child care more video will be watched by children than is the norm. I’ve compiled a list of some of the shows my son enjoys the most from YouTube. Hopefully you’ll find some shows on this list that your child will enjoy too.

Avoiding Dangerous Content

YouTube can be a great resource for entertainment and learning but there is also the danger of exposure (especially for our children) to inappropriate content. I personally haven’t encountered this situation but have heard about it frequently enough from others that before I share some specific recommendations I’d like to also share a few principles that have helped me avoid this sort of content with our son:

  • Origin – Look for videos that are coming from a trusted source. This could be the original content manufacturer or a third party that has shown consistency in delivering quality and authentic videos over an extended period of time.
  • Age – Look for videos that have been on YouTube for some period of time. The longer the content has been on YouTube the less likely it is to have dangerous content – as it remaining online indicates others probably haven’t reported it as dangerous.
  • Views – Look for videos with a high number of views. This indicates that many people have watched the video and that there hasn’t been a determination by the viewers that the content is dangerous.

None of these methods is foolproof but using these three in combination has helped me keep our son clear of disturbing materials.

Mighty Machines

Our son absolutely loves this show. Each episode is about “mighty machines” in a specific context – whether that is collecting garbage, building a road, or on a farm. Its real video of these machines at work with the individual machines being voiced by a few actors to provide a consistent and informative narrative. The episodes are usually 30-40 mins in length. Some of his favorite episodes include:

We’ve watched a number of these videos on Multi Otomoto’s channel. Another source is the Building Machines channel.

Blippi

Another perennial favorite is Blippi. The show features a man dressed cartoonishly, using a high pitched voice, and oftentimes acting quite silly. This is a show parents both love and hate. It can be entertaining and informative but also a bit insanity inducing (for parents).

The episodes tend to be between 10-20 minutes long.

Here are a few of our favorite episodes:

Gecko’s Garage

A gecko interacts with various machines in his garage, performing fixing and painting the machines – mainly trucks. There are a huge number of these videos, they vary in length. The show is a little more subdued than some of the others so whether a child wants to watch the show often depends on their mood. You can watch the show on the official YouTube channel.

What Shows Does Your Child Enjoy?

I’d love to hear what shows/videos your child enjoys on YouTube! Let me also know if this is useful and we can have a Part 2 with a few more favorite channels. 🙂

Skype – A Better Telephone?

Image of Skyper's Logo

Skype logo
Skype logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the ubiquitous presence of cell phones the need for traditional landlines seems to be drastically decreasing and many individuals and families are choosing to abandon landlines altogether for only cellular service. Still, cell phones aren’t a perfect solution. They generally are fairly expensive on a per minute conversation basis, have high roaming charges, and reception isn’t always amazing.

For me, Skype is and has been a service of great use – allowing me to move to cell-only, losing the landline, but at the same time keeping an inexpensive and constantly available alternative. Skype at its most basic is a free chat application – allowing users to converse via voice, video, and text. Where it passes far beyond many of its competitors is in its ability to call out to traditional phones (landlines and cells) and to receive calls from the same.

Skype offers all of this at drastically low prices. $2.95/mo. will let you call unlimited anywhere in the U.S. and Canada and $12.95/mo. will let you call unlimited to forty countries around the world. Add $60/yr. onto this and you get inbound calls with your own traditional phone number. Finally, dump on voicemail for another $20/yr. All told you are paying $116/yr. for unlimited calls within the U.S. and Canada!

And Skype will travel with you. Going on a vacation? Business trip? If you have your laptop and a internet connection you can make calls with your Skype.

Skype also offers a number of advanced features for businesses and individuals – such as normal phones that use Skype – offering traditional phone convenience without the need to use a computer (though they shouldn’t be used for emergency 911 calls). A whole ecosystem of products has grown around Skype – some of them quite advanced and feature-filled.

Take a look at Skype. Its free. If you want some of the premium features – it does cost, but they won’t trick you into buying anything and if you do buy a subscription from them its amazingly reasonable.

Hulu – Watching Video Online.

Image representing hulu as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

I grew up in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have a television for a number of years. Cable was not available. Satellite was the only (and expensive option). Local TV channels were sparse. We learned to live with VHS.

When I moved to college I didn’t have a TV. I never bought one. We watched movies on our laptops or in the lounge. When Charity and I married and moved into an apartment our TV didn’t get a single channel – even the local ones. When we purchased our house, our home still didn’t get any channels. More recently they’ve changed everything over to digital and we never bothered to get a converter box – so now we definitely don’t get any channels.

We have a huge old TV some friends gave to us. No, I’m not too worried about mentioning this on the internet – b/c it’d take two or three people to move it and has a street value of $25-$50…but, hey, it works great for us – even if those little flat-screens look really pretty.

I still use the ClearPlay DVD player I was given years ago for allowing myself to be interviewed by a Philadelphia reporter for an article on the DVD player. It is starting to break down a little bit – but its been what, eight years?

So, Charity and I have learned to live without real TV (gasp). That’s not to say that we don’t watch anything – we do – but 95% of it is on the computer. The only time we turn on the TV/DVD player is for her exercise videos (no, I never watch / do them…people in leotards is disturbing to me) and when we have friends over and want to watch something as a group.

How do we watch anything? Hulu and Netflix. I began going largely internet based long before most people knew what internet video was. In those days there were a number of small vendors offering a small selection of movies and tv shows – many of these has since folded or been acquired. I envisioned a day when there’d be one site I could visit to watch tv shows – and not just the old stuff from the sixties no one cared about…then one day, a company began delivering on that promise – Hulu.

Hulu offers a wide range of television shows and movies online and for free. It is a pretty great deal. Yeah, if you watch them on TiVo you can skip the commercials, but Hulu is pretty close – with only 30-60 seconds of commercials on each break. The video is high quality, the buffering ensures the video doesn’t crack up even on reasonably slow lines, and the queue features allow you to track when new episodes are released for your favorite shows.

Hulu now has Hulu Plus for $9.95 – I received an invite to the beta but never joined. They wanted us to pay up-front. What? How about at least 30 days free? Especially since its a beta? Plus we already have Netflix – and I’m not going to spend more than $15 or $20 a month for video entertainment – I have too few dollars in the first place and better things to utilize them on.

But I’m still relatively happy with Hulu. I’ve been disappointed that they are now oftentimes stacking two videos – one right after the other. This is annoying.

They have gotten better at not showing you the same commercial over and over again in a single episode. For example, I can remember having four or five commercial breaks in an episode and seeing the same commercial each time! I wanted to shoot myself! Ach! One of those commercials was for the Adam Sandler movie Click – the first few times my wife and I thought it looked funny – then we became so sick of seeing the commercial over and over again we vowed to never see the movie and never have…it still makes me feel ill thinking about it. Overexposure – bleck.

Still, Hulu has a bit of a problem with this – which is funny – b/c part of the beauty of online video is its promise to offer better value (imho) to advertisers than normal video. Why? Well…

  1. When you keep the ads short people don’t have time to leave the room. I sit through the commercial breaks on Hulu when they are thirty seconds – but when they get longer than that I can run to the bathroom, grab a drink from the fridge, or browse a website. Advertisers get my devoted attention when they are the only advertiser.
  2. Hulu needs to learn how to spread the ads better. Yeah, yeah, I know we don’t buy it till the 20th time we’ve seen it – but I’m not that sort of guy….or if I am, you need to spread it out over a year…otherwise I just become annoyed.
  3. Ideally, ads will eventually become part of the show itself. Did you notice how the hero is using a Dell and the villains are all using Macs? Okay, I made that one up…but I’d cast the villains as Mac users. 😉 Point is, you can advertise without even making it obvious…Cisco has done a good job of ensuring product placement in various shows demonstrating their video conferencing technology.

So, anyways, Hulu is pretty great. I made the switch to internet video years and years ago – now the trend seems to be hitting a tipping point, but its very possible you are still doing it the old-fashioned way…which is fine, unless you are paying out the nose for it – which many people are…in that case, try Hulu…I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

P.S. I’m hopeful that internet alternatives to traditional broadcast channels will offer better life to those shows that I love that are continually being canceled b/c they don’t appeal to a wide enough audience. Using Hulu you don’t have to pick between two shows showing at 8:00 p.m. – b/c now they are available anytime…and b/c this competition isn’t as furious you can see shows produced for smaller audiences. This hasn’t happened too much yet, but I expect it to be part of the trend of the future.