Listen to “The Vowel Song” and it’s almost impossible to get the reggaeton-inspired tune out of your head. By the time the 90 seconds are up, the lyrics detailing vowels and consonants will be subconsciously embedded in your memory.
This is just one example of the “edutainment” (educational entertainment) found on YouTube Kids by MC Grammar – the 38-year-old teacher-turned-rapper who writes songs for four to 11-year-olds to teach them about the English language.
Jacob Mitchell has always found music a powerful outlet, from R&B and hip-hop to classical and traditional Greek Cypriot. Growing up in north London, he had a difficult time at school, and left with only two GCSEs. It was only when he retrained at college that he discovered melodies helped him learn. He went on to become a primary school teacher, a profession he’s now been in for ten years. “I’ve always used music to remember facts,” he says. “I started using it to revise, and I really fell in love with education again. So, when I became a teacher, I knew the power of music and wanted to utilise it.”
He first tried his musical methods on his students in 2014 through “The Grammar Song”, a rap he wrote to help them get through a tricky test. Now, six years later, he goes by the playful pseudonym MC Grammar and his content, featured on YouTube Kids, is incredibly successful, with over two million views and more than 13,000 subscribers.
Mitchell, who has three young children of his own, is an advocate for using interactive methods and digital tools to teach and motivate young people. The key to finding a healthy balance between time spent online and offline is moderation and content quality, he says – the perception that screen time is always negative is not true, as educational content or connecting with friends and loved ones can be very beneficial to a child’s development.
“You might see a family out, and the kids are looking at tablets,” he says. “But they might be doing their homework or watching educational channels like Numberblocks or Alphablocks. For me, it’s about the content’s value and whether it facilitates learning and growth.”
A great way to find a balance is to set time limits or plot out particular hours each week for screens. “As a parent, I think [screen time] has to be in moderation,” he says. “I wouldn’t let my kids be on [devices] all day long. For example, we let our kids watch content on YouTube Kids for an allotted time on Sunday mornings.”
He adds that screen time can be a bonding experience and “bring families together”; rather than giving his children tablets, Mitchell and his family watch YouTube Kids content via the TV to make it a shared experience.
As a parent and a creator, Mitchell finds YouTube Kids an intuitive platform well-tailored to children; content is filtered using a mix of automation, human review and feedback, and parents can choose content settings by age and hand-pick videos. This means his eldest daughter, Ellie, who is six, can only watch videos from specific creators curated by her parents.
“It’s a positive, safer space for my children to receive information,” he says. “As a parent, I feel like I can cook, clean or look after the baby, and I know my kids are self-learning.”
His advice for other parents would be to check what content their children are watching and guide their journey so they can explore independently, use features like choosing content settings by age, set time limits (such as 15 minutes while adults are cooking), and agree on valuable incentives. For example, he might compromise with his kids on more screen time if they agree to watch fun but educational videos like Blippi, a musical resource for ages two to six.
Online platforms can be a powerful resource for children who struggle to thrive in conventional learning environments – much like Mitchell’s own experiences with music, interactive content could be transformative for their education and future.
“I was a child who was lost,” he says. “I didn’t connect with learning and I left school without a voice, literally because my vocabulary wasn’t broad, and because I felt isolated. Music gave me a world to escape to. I love what I’m doing because I’m reaching so many children and it could change their lives like it did mine.”
How to help your child find a healthier balance online
Choose content settings by age: tailor your child’s experience in the YouTube Kids app, from picking the content they can watch to blocking certain videos.
Manage screen time: use Google Family Link to set daily limits and a device bedtime, and find out more about your child’s phone use by reading app activity reports.
Learn online skills together: your child can play their way to becoming a digital citizen through Be Internet Legends, including an interactive game called Interland.