If you have preschoolers in your family, check out The Algorithm That Makes Preschoolers Obsessed With YouTube, appearing in The Atlantic. Written by Adrienne LaFrance, the eye-opening article describes how the YouTube Kids app works as well as the experiences of 21st Century preschool children who use it. The author also shares thoughts about the app (though not endorsements) from academics including Michael Rich, who directs the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical School and Sandra Calvert, who heads up the Children’s Digital Media Center at Georgetown University.
It appears that many older toddlers and preschool kids spend a considerable amount of time with YouTube Kids. They love the app, and the article in The Atlantic details many of the reasons why.
The gist of LaFrance’s engaging report is that preschoolers love the YouTube Kids app because it offers them the opportunity to make their own decisions by choosing from age-appropriate content. The app is straightforward to use, and YouTube’s algorithm figures out what to suggest on the basis of what a child watches. Interactivity the author notes, seems to help children learn more about the content that they are watching.
It turns out that toddlers have viewing habits that are different from preschoolers, in terms of both subject matter and video length. These and other observations come from researchers who have spent years studying how young children watch and react to television, and they are now beginning to study how children use apps. YouTube Kids can provide a good deal of data for their analysis.
Now if you, like me, have a young child — toddler or preschooler — in your family, read this article to learn a bit more about how young children interact and engage — early-on — with digital devices and the digital world. As you read you may also find yourself considering the personal video watching strategies that you want to adopt with your little one.
If you are wondering about much time a little boy or girl should be allowed to spend staring at a small screen playing animated activities or whether children at these young ages should ever be alone with a screen, the Atlantic article does not consider these questions. Each family has a different tolerance level when it comes to time and digital devices, so this article concentrates on helping readers think about how young children process videos.
One caveat which I see right away is advertising. Ever so often the YouTube Kids app pauses for an advertisement. For that reason alone, I’d not hand over a device to a preschooler or toddler for much unsupervised play..
If you want to learn a lot more about how babies and young children learn, I recommend The Scientist in the Crib by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl, a book that explores evidence-based research and offers broad explanations about how little ones go about figuring things out.