There are so many cool educational channels on YouTube for tweens and teens, but I don’t think that a lot of parents think to open our YouTube app when we look for educational resources for our kids. But we should.
Let’s put it this way: when I ask my kids if they want to watch a show, all hands reach for tablets. I’m always saying, “hey! I mean, on the TV! Together!” But the truth is, the videos on YouTube (and similar sites) are just how kids consume media these days. So why not blend entertainment and education when it comes to video watching?
I find when I can guide my girls (gently) from their favorite parody music videos and Minecraft tutorials to a few of these educational channels, then I can definitely justify their summer screen time a little more.
And if you watch as a family, even better. Use your Roku or smart TV to watch them right on the big screen, or go old skool (circa 2009) and huddle around the tablet together.
1. CrashCourse YouTube Channel
My kids are totally in love with Hank and John Green’s CrashCourse YouTube channel which just keeps getting better with new hosts, and new videos. In fact the videos are still being updated weekly, if not daily, so there’s always something new to have fun learning about, from film history (kids who loved Hugo should definitely see the video about George Meliés) to Mythology (above) to an Intro to Philosophy.
Just last week, I watched the fact-packed educational videos about the female reproductive system with my own fourth grader, and while it lead to about 3 hours of other questions (when they say CrashCourse they mean it!), it was a great discussion.
2. TedEd YouTube Channel
My older daughter had heard something the term money laundering on the news recently, and she asked what it meant. TedEd to the rescue, with their video on how does money laundering work?
While you can find so many incredibly engaging topics here, from the history of tea to why do we itch to physics lessons expressed by asking what if superhero powers were real? — if you need a place to start, try the wildly popular Questions No One Knows the Answers To (above).
It not only seeks to address the question, How many universes are there? but explains why it’s fantastic to keep asking questions of all kinds, and searching for all kinds of answers. Maybe right even on YouTube.
3. Steve Spangler’s Sick Science YouTube Channel
We first shared Steve Spangler’s Sick Science YouTube Channel a few years back, and it’s still going strong as one of our kids’ favorite educational video channels. I mean, what kid could resist clean, easy-to-follow tutorials for making DIY fake blood, making a bubble inside of a bubble, or making a sugar rainbow (at very top)?
It’s not updated all that frequently, but even older videos will captivate science-loving kids and provide endless science activities and experiments to last you every rainy weekend for years. Just prepare to have lots of paper towels on hand for this one!
4. ASAP Science YouTube Channel
Check out ASAP Science and you’ll instantly see why Toronto’s Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown are such a hit with teens and young adults. (The Science Love Song, above, doesn’t have nearly 5 million views for nothing.)
The issues addressed by the team are incredibly relevant and up-to-date — like, do fidget spinners really work? — and the hosts are unafraid to take on topics that may make some parents squirm. In other words, if you’re not comfortable answering whether masturbation is good for you, or all things sex and drugs, they’ll happily do it for you.
In fact, better your kids get real science-based answers than whatever they might be hearing from friends in the school cafeteria.
5. THINKR YouTube Channel
There are so many cool playlists in this channel created by production co and content creators @radical media. Start with Prodigies, a captivating collection of 50 short documentaries about brilliant kids like 15-year-old engineering whiz Kelvin Doe, above, who is impressing even the geniuses at MIT.
For literary lovers, the BOOKD playlist offers compelling discussions about, well, books. It’s like an online book club, only with celebrities and other cool people virtually sitting around the living room with you. And before you teen or tween dismisses it, know that topics range from Lincoln to Weird Al to John Hodgman’s apocalyptic survival tips. We even spot our friend Gretchen Rubin from The Happiness Project in there.
Just be aware there are also discussions about 50 Shades of Grey. Use your judgment; you know your own kids best.
6. Smithsonian YouTube Channel
Visit Smithsonian on YouTube and it’s everything you’d expect: broad, smart, engaging and thorough. Kids will love being able to drill down by all kinds of topics like art and design, science and technology, history and culture; and even super specific interests like the Latino presence at the Smithsonian museums.
My daughter and I watched Letters from Camp together, which is a poignant, difficult 2-minute documentary by Chris Chi featuring Muslim-American and Japanese-American children reading letters written by young children from America’s WWII incarceration camps.
Oof. You’ll need tissues for this one. And for the inevitable discussions that will follow.
7. Big Think YouTube Channel
Big Think isn’t specifically an educational YouTube channel for teens and tweens but if they’re curious about the world, media, art, philosophy, current events, language, or science — in other words, big thinkers — they’ll love browsing here.
The Bill Nye playlist has 85 videos and growing, each featuring his version of AMA, as he answers science questions of all kinds (above) from regular people. Or sort by most recent and find really topical videos like Neil DeGrasse Tyson taking on the war on science and its intersection with politics in America. It’s not just scienc though; Katherine Mahar of the Wikimedia Foundation has a compelling video about how Wikipedia works, and the importance of truth and how it differs from knowledge.
For fans of the arts, the YouTube Curated by…channel by MoCA TV offers up all kinds of artists (Shepard Fairey!), academics and curators who share their own favorite videos that inspire them. Just know that will send you down a YouTube-watching rabbit hole big time.
8. Coma Niddy YouTube Channel
For kids who learn best when education is presented in musical form (see also: Hamilton), check out rapper Coma Niddy who raps about a range of educational topics, though they’re mostly science related. A few favorite topics include the Internet of Things, Pluto’s devolution from planet to dwarf planet, and Black Scientists who Changed the Game, shown here.
His lyrics are pretty awesome and the videos are colorful and engaging without feeling overproduced by PBS Digital Studios. So who knows; he just might get your kids excited to explore a particular topic further.
9. Khan Academy YouTube Channel
Of course I couldn’t offer up a list of educational YouTube channels without including Khan Academy. I’ve sung their praises for years, from their apps for preschoolers, to their vast library of free educational videos for students of all ages, which is only growing.
If your kids aren’t interested in learning how to multiply fractions or brush up on SAT writing, that’s cool. Khan Academy has recently beefed up their world history channel with cool topics like Shoguns, Samurais and the Japanese Middle Ages, or The Knights Templar. While it’s not as exciting as some of the other channels from a production standpoint, it’s a great stop for kids who really really want to learn.