Friday, December 13, 2013

Natalie sings!: Creating a toddler YouTube channel

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Yesterday our child turned 23 months old, and as I reflect back on 22 months, I think it will go down in our daughter's life story as the month she started singing. A lot. And asked us to sing for her. A lot. "Mommy sing more songs!" and "Natty sing by self" were two of the most common sentences our daughter uttered this month.

I've caught myself turning teary-eyed on many occasions this month as my daughter sings to me or sings to herself when she thinks I can't hear her. She has many songs now, but she has some all-time greatest hits. She references "Class on the Farm" (aka her pre-preschool class) where they sing "Old McDonald" while holding animal puppets, and then she proceeds to belt out a rushed "OldMcDonaldhadfarm E-I-E-I-OOOOOOOOOOO" (that last O gets really drawn out, and Old McDonald's most popular animal appears to be a's always a duck). She also runs around like an airplane while singing "The Wheels on the Bus" and manages to get through the lines about the wheels and the wipers before just looping on "All through the toooowwwwnnnnn" (again, her signature singing move appears to be drawing out that final note). And, after months of me singing "Hush-A-Bye Baby" to her while rubbing her back as she lays heavy-eyed inside her crib, Natalie has been singing all the lyrics of this song to herself, to me, and this week, to the Cabbage Patch doll of my childhood that I regifted to her as she prepares to become a big sister.

She's added new songs to her repertoire this month thanks to earning a new privilege of screen time. Up until hitting 22 months, Natalie had practically zero interest in TV. I had DVRed her an episode of Sesame Street months back, but it was way over her head and she watched for about 30 seconds before going back to coloring. Of course, her lack of interest in the screen has not bothered me, but I have thought about ways to slowly introduce her to videos without making it too much a part of our lives. Though I am not a believer in parking kids in front of the tube, I figure there might be times in the coming months when having her spend 15 minutes watching part of a show will be useful.

Creating a YouTube channel
I made Natalie a YouTube channel, and it's been the perfect way to introduce her to media while at the same time completely controlling what she watches and for how long. So far her channel is exclusively composed of Sesame Street clips, almost all of them from the official Sesame Street channel.

Making a YouTube channel is super easy. If you're signed in to your YouTube account, each time you watch a video you'll see an "Add to" option in the menu underneath the video. Simply click "Add to" and you'll get several options of ways to save your video, including "Favorite videos," "Watch later," and any personalized channel name you've created.
Our favorite videos
Sing the Alphabet Song!
This is by far my favorite video. It's catchy and fun without being annoying. Memorizing the lyrics takes no time, and it's fun to hear Natalie repeat back all the words as we run through the alphabet together.

Usher's ABC Song
This is one of Matt's favorites, and watching this enough times has caused it to literally become embedded in my dreams (plus, Usher started dancing with me at my friend's party [in my dream] and he is, not surprisingly, an incredible dance partner). How could you not find this man and this song charming and addictive?

Feist sings 1, 2, 3, 4
It took me a couple days to translate Natalie's toddler speak in reference to this song, but now it's impossible not to chuckle when she walks around singing "counting a 4" and "chickens from the shore" and "penguins at the door."

Norah Jones sings Don't Know Y
You know I love a good pun, and I fully hope to indoctrinate my child with a pun-loving philosophy. This is such a clever twist on Norah Jones' famous song. Natalie goes crazy every time the letter Y shows up in the video after being late to his playdate with Norah. "Natalie sees Y!" she shouts. Yes, we are trying to break our child of the habit of referring to herself in the third person, and no, Elmo, you're not helping, but you are cute.

Jimmy Fallon, Sesame Street and The Roots Sing "Sesame Street" theme
This one is purely for fun, but I finally figured out why my daughter runs around saying "A-OK": "Sunny day, everything's A-OK." And Jimmy Fallon is just adorable and a recently minted dad!

ABC-DEF-GHI Song (by Bird Bird)
OK, so the visual quality of this one leaves something to be desired, but that's because it's authentic vintage Sesame Street that dates back to at least the early 80s when I remember watching this frequently. Bonus points for how Big Bird teaches kids to spell "car" and "cat" at the end.

Potty Time
OK, this one is admittedly ridiculous, but it has also prompted my child to ask to go sit on the potty because Elmo sits on the potty. Adults, please notice how many ridiculous puns and other jokes the  Sesame Street geniuses embedded in this one. Oh, potty humor.

I Love Trash
Here's another throwback to my childhood (and yours too, no doubt). I just liked this song as a kid, and as an adult I can appreciate how a song like this teaches some great vocabulary by getting kids to make connections. "Anything ragged or rotten or rusty"? It's impossible for me not to laugh as Natalie runs around singing "I love traasssssshhhhhhh!" and I always have to resist saying, "Actually, remember how you hate trash and hate to get dirty?" Again, she's my daughter.

Kermit and Elmo Discuss Happy and Sad
This is one of the few non-musical clips in our queue, but Natalie loves to ask for this one, saying, "Elmo and Kermit the froggie play tag." Watching this video with her has taught me that I don't talk to her very often about emotions, so I should probably get on that. This video also helped prompt me to buy art featuring Kermit for her new room because Kermit appears to be perhaps her favorite Sesame Street character, and I fully endorse this choice.

Benefits of the YouTube channel
I am not surprised by how well the clips keep her attention, because it's no secret that toddlers and children can be mesmerized by the screen. I am surprised, though, by how much the clips have taught her. Her little brain really is a sponge, soaking up everything in front of her. The videos we've selected for her channel have helped her further memorize the alphabet, identify specific letters by site, begin to understand the sounds different letters make, identify numbers, learn opposites, spell a couple simple words, and even learn about emotions such as happy and sad. Sure, she gets reinforcement of all these concepts through books, toys and daily activities, but that's why I think the personalized YouTube channel has been a great supplement to her routine and education -- it gives her another way to make connections and learn.

Speaking of routine, Natalie wakes up each morning knowing that she'll change her diaper, go downstairs, have some milk, and watch a couple videos while I do her hair. This past month she has asked for this routine without fail. Creature of habit? Clearly my daughter. 

Something I love about the YouTube channel routine is that we only watch these clips from our desktop computer, so she still does not watch any TV on our actual TV. In a way, it feels like this option allows us to save some of the mystique of the television for when she's a bit older and better suited for slightly longer stretches of screen time. Right now, thanks to these 2-3 minute videos, our daughter only gets in about 10-15 minutes of screen time per day, and it seems like the perfect amount.

Have you made your child a YouTube channel? What are the best videos out there for toddlers? We'll eventually look to expand outside Sesame Street, so I'd love some suggestions!


  1. Thanks Steph! Sammy just started singing too. It's sooo cute! He sings to Lexi and she loves it. Sammy still hasn't really gotten into actual TV, but he loves watching trash trucks, trains, buses and fire trucks on you tube. Recently he has asked for pentatonix little drummer boy over and over again after seeing me watch it on facebook. A few veteran moms at the playground recommended KIDTV on you tube. It's a channel with educational videos that you might like. We didn't watch really any tv until Lexi was born, but now I put it on for him when I go upstairs to put Lexi down for a nap.

    1. Thanks for the KidTV tip, Mimi! I'm going to check it out.