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18 Educational YouTube Channels to Watch As a Family
Millions of parents are collectively figuring out that keeping kids engaged and learning is hard, particularly while juggling working from home. As Shonda Rhimes said, teachers deserve a billion dollars.
Luckily YouTube has been here, patiently waiting for this moment.
If you know where to look, YouTube provides outstanding educational content to take in as a family when you want to take a break from navigating the 20 websites your school district is emailing you.
YouTube has virtually unlimited content, so the purpose of this article is to point you in the right direction towards channels that are perfectly built for this situation we all find ourselves in. Talented creators who have spent years putting out finely tuned and edited content to keep our brains growing and engaged. If your family likes science and creativity, these selections will be just right for you.
On the education vs entertainment spectrum, the bias of these recommendations is slightly towards entertainment. Khan Academy has hundreds of outstanding instructive videos for older students, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to watch them as a family (but certainly don’t let me stop you). These choices are geared to be widely appealing and great for sparking curiosity and conversation.
But first, a few notes on making the most out of YouTube and this list:
Use a mobile device or computer to make navigating YouTube channels and playlists easier. If you want to view a video on your TV, cast it instead of using the clunky Smart TV based YouTube apps.
Absolutely sign up for a free month of YouTube premium. You get access to YouTube Music and the ability to listen in the background on mobile, but by far the best part is not having to sit through any inserted ads. It’s $12/month after the free trial.
For channels you like, always check out the playlists tab, which are made by the creators themselves and almost always have useful category or subject breakdowns.
Also be sure to sort by “most popular” in the videos tab when further exploring a channel.
If your kids are on the younger side, don’t assume some of these will go over their head. I’ve been amazed at the engagement from my four and six year olds around topics they don’t fully understand.
I can personally vouch for all of these channels and videos as high quality and great for watching together with your kids.
And of course, these are also perfect to binge watch without kids. Many of these channels I’ve been into for years, well before the kids joined in on the fun. Like most great educational content, these will keep most age ranges engaged and learning.
So with that, here is a list of some of the best family-friendly YouTube channels and a few recommended places to start for each.
Educational YouTube Channels
Mark Rober [fun with science and engineering]
A former NASA engineer who now makes engineering focused videos with fun twists. He has one of the highest per video view counts on all of YouTube and made the glitter bomb video that you probably saw last year.
Kurzgesagt [illustrated science explainers]
“Videos explaining things with optimistic nihilism”. Their official description is spot on. As a heads up, the videos do tend to mention death frequently, but they are extremely interesting and well-researched videos with an arresting visual style. If you are feeling brave, here is the existential crisis playlist.
Crash Course [snappy explorations on almost every school subject]
A TON of different subjects. Each topic has a different instructor, many of which are led by either Hank Green or John Green (the famous YA author). To get a crash course on the Green Brothers themselves and their sprawling new media empire, read more here. Below are links to the full playlists around a few subjects.
Physics Girl [short explainers about the physical world]
Dianna Cowern is a science communicator who graduated from MIT in physics. This channel is full of short, engaging explainers that explore the biggest and smallest aspects of the natural world. Below are some great starter videos and here is a playlist of all the videos that contain experiments you can try at home.
Smarter Every Day [infectious science enthusiasm and explanations]
Destin Sandlin is a rocket scientist by day and science YouTuber by nights and weekends. He explores the world using science with infectious curiosity. Learn more about Destin and Smarter Every Day here.
Simone Giertz [engineering and creativity]
An all-star personality who is a hands on builder and tinkerer. She grew acclaim by building hilariously bad robots, took a break while defeating brain cancer, and now does some seriously impressive projects. An inspiration for any kid to see what hands on creativity can achieve.
Minute Physics [drawings that explain physics]
Henry Reich has formal education in physics and math and creates compelling hand drawn videos about, “cool physics and other sweet science.”
Veritasium [science and physics explanations]
Derek Muller wrote his physics PhD about how to communicate science effectively through video. His channel is basically a living embodiment of what he learned. Here is a couple minute video that sums up the research and the strategy of his early videos. It works because this series on inertia has forever drilled into my brain what the word actually means.
Slinky drop videos (teaches how waves propagate and cooler than it sounds).
Animal Wonders Montana [adorable fact-filled videos about exotic animals]
A great virtual stand-in for a zoo. Watch this first video below to instantly feel better. Jessi Knudsen Castañeda rescues exotic animals and shares her knowledge with the world.
Numberphile [videos about numbers]
Science YouTuber Brady Haran speaks with mathematicians who explain math concepts in easy to understand language. The trademark of this channel is that the explanations are all done on large sheets of brown paper. The topics of this channel aren’t things like “what is algebra?”, but instead mind blowing concepts that mathematicians get excited to talk about. Things like infinity and the largest numbers you can possibly think of.
CGP Grey [stick figure explanations on deep subjects]
CGP Grey animates educational videos on a wide variety of topics like geography, political structures, and technology. They are concise and precise.
3Blue1Brown [entertaining high-level math visualizations]
Grant Sanderson is a math wizard and programmer who uses visualizations to explain high-level math concepts. These are largely engaging enough to be perfectly interesting even when things start going over the head.
Vsauce [quirky but deep explorations about the world]
I’m jealous of people who get to experience going down the Vsauce rabbit hole for the first time. Learn about our amazing world in a unique way only Michael Stevens can provide. One of my favorite things on the internet is the Vsauce explanation of how many different combinations there is for a deck of cards. It's the ultimate little factoid. Check this out to learn more about Vsauce.
Art YouTube Channels
For the above channels, you wouldn't easily be able to stumble upon some of them. For art it's a little different. There are so many high quality drawing channels that are somewhat similar, that I recommend starting with something in mind to search for instead of being attached to any particular channel. Ask your kid what they would like to draw, and you are guaranteed to find a kid-friendly tutorial from a high quality channel.
My four year old daughter wanted to learn how to draw an elephant, and we quickly found this video that she was able to do entirely on her own. Well, except for the shouting at us when to pause and play.
Here is her handy work:
Thanks YouTube art teacher!
Even though it's handy to simply search all of YouTube for what you want to draw, here are a select few channels that I have personal experience learning from.
Great for learning perspective drawing and 2D illusions.
If you have the supplies, this is a great channel to browse through for a family paint night. A few years ago I followed along on this nebula tutorial.
This is a fun competition between established artists drawing iconic characters from memory. It isn't as follow-along friendly as most art channels, but is something everyone can enjoy together to get the creative juices flowing. This show lives in the Buzzfeed Video YouTube channel that is full of all sorts of other types of content. I linked directly to a playlist that contains only this show.
Channels That Are Doing Live Lessons
In these times of social distancing and closed schools, there is an increasing amount of channels doing live lessons to instill some sense of normalcy. These go live at set schedules throughout the week, but you can also watch them anytime afterwards at your own convenience. Keep an eye out for more and more of these types of lessons appearing across YouTube.
Mark Rober (mentioned in the first section) has always wanted to be a high school physics teacher, and this is his chance to practice for the first time in front of tens of thousands of students. He focuses on mental models instead of memorizing equations. Each M,W,F at 4pm EST.
These go live on the World Science Festival YouTube page. Physicist Brian Greene talks through one famous equation each weekday at 3pm EST.
Part of The Kennedy Center YouTube page. Famed children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems is doing daily live instructions on how to draw his characters. The actual drawing part is pretty short and sweet towards the beginning. Goes live each weekday at 1pm EST.
YouTube sometimes gets a bad rap, but it's really just a microcosm of the internet itself. If you know where to look, the promises of free, enriching content is fully there. If you watch as much YouTube as we do, you'll also find that the algorithm for recommending new videos is surprisingly fantastic and way ahead of most other similar algorithms.
What did I miss? What have you enjoyed as a family? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out on Twitter @erikthejones.
And if you are into the idea of learning about the world via podcasts and other links, be sure to sign up for the Hurt Your Brain newsletter.