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YouTube isn’t just for cat videos anymore.
We use YouTube daily to improve learning during our homeschool year. In fact, it would be a lot harder for me to homeschool effectively without it. We use it on our laptop and desktop computers, mobile devices, and on our TV through Chrome-cast or using an HDMI cable. It is a free, convenient, audio-visual learning supplement at our fingertips.
Ok, yes, it is “screen time.” But I feel like it’s different when it teaches, nurtures talents and interests, and inspires action and discovery in the real world. It has the potential to have application in our daily pursuits. If used wisely, it can enhance our reality rather than only serve as an escape from it.
With little ones, you do need to preview for content. But we are usually all in the same room when we’re using it, and I haven’t had an issue with it like I originally thought I might. Sometimes we watch the videos through viewpure.com to declutter the screen and drop the comments and related videos that pop up. This can help lesson any inappropriate surprises.
Here are 13 ways we use YouTube in our homeschool:
1. Brain breaks
Right off the bat, folks. Breaks. When we first started out, I was annoyed by the number of breaks my kids wanted to take during the school day. I’ve found, however, that they can focus longer and work closer to the top of their game when I fit in frequent breaks.
They don’t have to be long, just a quick 3-5 min. movement activity to shake things up a bit. I do have times for outside breaks worked into our routine, but this is much faster than getting everybody properly clothed and shod for the yard every 30 minutes.
Sometimes they like to just choose a favorite song and dance “crazy” all over the living room (yes, my 11-year-old still loves doing this). Other times the little ones enjoy following a kid’s dance or movement video. You can find lots of these by searching for brain break playlists.
2. Playlists for cleaning
My kids are highly motivated by music. They think I’m trying to suck out their little souls if I ask them to do chores and there’s no music on. When we first started doing this, there used to be arguments over what music was played. They would spend more time arguing over the music than cleaning.
We decided to make a YouTube playlists of each kid’s favorite songs and they each get one day a week where they get to choose the music during clean up or breakfast or whatever. It’s worked great and we rarely have complaints because they each know their turn is coming up. It feels fair to them.
3. Exercise videos
Exercise videos are particularly helpful on days with inclement weather. I don’t always have it in me to get everyone outside to run off energy when it’s raining or freezing cold. With enough browsing around, you can easily find something that will work for your family. There are videos for every skill level and endless variation from yoga, to dancing, to Zumba, to kickboxing, to step aerobics. You name it.
4. Alphabet and counting songs
My littlest ones have all enjoyed learning letters and numbers through repetition of songs, a little every day. Their favorite videos are by Have Fun Teaching. They also have fun skip counting songs for learning those pesky multiplication tables.
5. Memorization songs
If you haven’t noticed already, we are a music loving family. If there is a way to include music into a subject, we do it. My kids love to challenge themselves by memorizing things, and it’s so much easier when the information is set to music. There’s something about that extra layer of sensory input that makes the information stick in their heads…like your favorite song. You can find songs on YouTube for memorizing anything from scripture, to geography, to grammar, to math facts, to the periodic table, to historical timelines. The possibilities are endless (isn’t the internet a marvel?).
6. Folk songs
Singing together every morning as a family is one of our favorite parts of the homeschool day. We sing anything from memory songs, to foreign language songs, to hymns, to nursery rhymes for the littles. Our favorite songs to learn have been traditional and folk music. They are very singable and are often given context and meaning by what we are learning about in history. It’s also fun to sing songs we have learned while riding in the car or out on walks or camping trips. We are building up quite the repertoire.
We use a lot of resources from Ambleside Online and enjoy following along with their folk song suggestions. It makes it easy for me because someone has already done the legwork of choosing the songs (some familiar and some new to me), and many users will create YouTube playlists so all I have to do is click. Done and done.
7. Composer study
This is a little gem inspired by Ambleside Online. It’s another rotation that we follow where all we do is search the YouTube playlist for the year. I like to be able to expose my kids to as much variety in the arts as I can.
We are all getting to listen to music that none of us would have chosen and learning to appreciate new things. It’s amazing how fast kids can pick up on different tones, moods, and styles of music and learn to recognize pieces from specific composers.
If try to play the music purposefully during lunch once a week and throughout the week during down times. The nice thing about having video is that sometimes you get to see an orchestra playing the instruments, which is intriguing to kids. I also love that they can see this more often than if I only relied on getting out to see local live performances. That is tricky to do often with five little ones.
8. Travel videos
I’m particularly excited about this for our geography focus in the upcoming school year. We might not be avid travelers right now (some of my kids start feeling car sick driving the 15 minutes to Wal-Mart). But we can take mini virtual field trips all around the world using travel videos on YouTube.
I’ve already previewed a ton of videos and made YouTube playlists that have videos to correspond with the various chapters in our geography book. This will add more depth than just looking at still photographs online or pictures in books. I’m hoping it will be an exciting addition to our studies this year.
9. Shakespeare plays
I do read Shakespeare retellings with my little kids and I’m just starting to get into reading original Shakespeare with my oldest daughter. And there’s really no need to get into racy or controversial details with kids. I feel that being familiar with Shakespeare is a big part of cultural literacy. There are allusions to Shakespeare’s works in anything from common sayings, to scholarly or newspaper articles, to modern novels, to movies. If you catch the references, your understanding of these things is so much deeper.
If you take the time to search and preview, you can find college performances of the plays that are family appropriate with a little guidance. We watched a version of A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream last year that my kids fell in love with.
I like that their first experiences with Shakespeare can be remembered fondly. Most people remember being bored to death in a junior high or high school class. Listening to teenagers with no prior exposure to reading Shakespeare struggle through every line of Romeo and Juliet is not the best way to go, if you ask me.
10. Picture books read aloud
YouTube has many videos of people reading high quality picture books aloud like public library story times for classroom use. Some recordings are better than others. There are even a few of various celebrities or authors reading aloud that are quite entertaining. Of course, these are not a suitable substitution for the real thing. But they can certainly supplement the books you have and serve to widen exposure to well-known stories if your library is lacking. There are also no late fees, which is always a bonus.
11. Musical instrument tutorials
YouTube is full of tutorials on how to play anything from the recorder, to the piano, to the ukulele, to the guitar and drums. Some of the videos are a little more homegrown. But that doesn’t always lessen their credibility or effectiveness. It’s like being surrounded by a million musical mentors, all for free.
I’m not saying that paying for music lessons isn’t necessary or worth it. There are times when that really is the best option. But it’s exciting that so many more people can have access to learning music through the internet. My 11-year-old daughter has basically taught herself how to play the ukulele using only YouTube tutorials. I think that’s pretty impressive.
12. Art tutorials
Our family loves art, especially my little girls. I enjoy art. But I readily admit that coming up with lessons, activities, or art demonstrations that my kids would appreciate is not a strong point of mine. So where do we turn for said guidance? YouTube.
Once again, it’s true that some kids may prefer a club or classroom environment for learning and practicing art skills. But even if you just use YouTube to supplement class time or as a hobby or boredom buster, it’s worth it. There are entire YouTube channels dedicated to art for kids.
Don’t underestimate their ability to follow along with beginner tutorials for adults either. I’m continuously amazed at how kids will rise to a challenge. There are videos on tips for how to use all sorts of mediums from water color paints, to chalk pastels, to charcoal, to pencil sketching.
13. Science experiments and demonstrations
My kids love to do science experiments. We’ve done simple things like crystal growing, baking soda volcanoes, making square bubbles, and raising and releasing butterflies. There are times, however, when you don’t have the supplies on hand or the means to effectively demonstrate a concept that would be beneficial in the moment.
We’ve watched explosions caused by chemical reactions, rocket launches, time lapse videos of things like plants growing or soil erosion, close-up encounters with wild animals or how to identify bird calls, sonic booms, egg drop competitions…the list goes on.
The internet provides so much access to free knowledge. We really appreciate being able to ask our own questions, follow rabbit trails, and dive deep into topics of interest without having to spend ridiculous amounts of money or even leave the house if we so choose.
How have you used YouTube in your homeschool?
Let’s do this thing!
Photos from Unsplash.com