>In this constantly expanding age of technology, it takes a pretty deliberate effort to limit screen time and television for your kids. I’m a believer that it’s easy to add television and technology as children grow older, but more challenging to take it away – so we generally err on the side of ‘less is more.’ In our home we avoid heavily commercialized programs so there are a ton of shows and movies that my kids have never seen (i.e. minimal Disney). My husband and I are happy with our choice because we don’t deal with the desires for branded clothing, toothbrushes, food items, stickers, shoes, backpacks, you-name-the-item that’s being marketed to kids with their favorite show character emblazoned on it. We did give in and let the boys watch Frozen, and suffered our share of Frozen marathons last year, but overall we’ve been able to manage the Frozen-everything phenomena with minimal headaches. All that aside, my kids do watch TV.
>Like we all know, TV is an effective “babysitter” for those times when you want to lock yourself in a closet, or pack your kids into a FedEx box and ship them to Siberia. I’m thankful for the TV during boughts of sub-freezing temps or when it’s Africa-hot outside and I personally can not handle to be outside in the elements. So what do we watch in our home? Netflix, HuluPlus, and YouTube. Oh yeah, I should probably mention that we don’t subscribe to any cable television.
>Since we lean towards programs that are less commercialized, we sometimes seek out fun things on YouTube varying from cartoons, videos of animals in the wild, or kids participating in different sports. At one point not too far back there was a Welsh kids program called Fireman Sam on Netflix. My boys LOVED it. And then it was just gone one day. Total tragedy in our house. But after some searching we eventually found full length versions on YouTube. Great, right? Sort of.
>YouTube makes video suggestions and shows other videos that you may not be interested in – such as the video of a kid-sized drivable firetruck with water hose attachment that my boys fixated on for a few days. Thanks, YouTube. Well, that problem is now mostly solved. Enter the new YouTube Kids App.
>Yesterday, YouTube launched the YouTube Kids app that is kid-focused and targets the 5 and under set. It’s easy and intuitive for young kids to navigate, has a huge selection of channels for videos, music, education, and other fun things.
>In the video category line-up I found a channel for Fireman Sam and Tayo, the Little Bus – two of our favorites. (Quick note: Tayo – also available on HuluPlus is a brilliant choice if you’re not already familiar. We use it for transitions or “just one more show” because the episodes average about 11 minutes long. So much better than the typical 25-30 minute length). There’s also a Sesame Street and Thomas the Train channel among many other popular choices.
>There is a music channel category that has a combination of lullabies, educational counting and alphabet songs, and fun/silly kids songs. The education category has a TED-ed channel – think “How did feathers evolve?” or “Why are some people left-handed?” It’s a good channel for those 4-5 year olds that ask 400 questions a day. There is an ‘other’ category that includes an Art for Kids channel with videos such as “How to draw a blue jay/kitten/hippo/poodle?” This new app has a multitude of choices that are a combination of educational and mind-numbing, so there are plenty of options for all parenting styles.
>Are you ready for the best part? There’s a timer you can set to limit the total screen time from 1-120 minutes. It displays a friendly “Time’s up!” smiley face that then goes to sleep and starts snoring when the chosen time has been reached. Note: If your kids know how to shut down and restart an app, they may figure out how to bypass the timer lock-up.
>Occasional screen time definitely falls into my “So What!?” category of things that won’t kill my kids that I need for sanity. I’ll be kicking the tires on this new app over the coming weeks and will report back as needed. Check out the new YouTube Kids app and share your favorites channels, tips, and tricks in the comments below!