You turn your back for five seconds (five seconds!) while your toddler is locked into the most adorable animated rendition of Wheels on the Bus on YouTube. The next thing you know, the family iPad is spewing ungodly sounds and images while your sweet little girl is now transfixed by the gyrating hips of one Justin Bieber. No parent should have to watch their kids go through this (shudder!), but it’s a scenario we all risk when we let our children sit unattended with the world’s most popular video streaming service.
Well, as of today moms and dads can rest easier as Google launches its new YouTube Kids service in Canada. The free app, available exclusively for iOS and Android devices via Google Play and the App Store, is a brighter, simpler and more playful-looking version of its parent, offering meticulously filtered kid-safe content.
“There was a lot of demand from families—from parents especially—who were saying, ‘Hey, we would love a safer version of YouTube,’” says Angela Lin, YouTube’s head of Kids and Learning for North America. “We’re always looking for ways to improve the YouTube experience, and creating family-friendly experiences is no exception.”
And the app definitely delivers. Aimed at kids two to eight years old, its features are stripped down and simplified, and the tiles are bigger and easier to navigate, making the experience a breeze for young minds and little hands. Kids can browse channels and playlists in four different categories—Shows, Music, Learning and Explore—with Sesame Street, Thomas the Tank Engine and Baby Einstein among the popular titles on offer. Nat Geo Kids is there too, as is programming from Super Simple Songs and Treehouse Direct. For viewing options, content can be played directly on smartphones and tablets, but like standard YouTube, YouTube Kids can also be beamed to your TV for family viewing through Google Chromecast, Apple TV or your game console.
While there are ads on YouTube Kids (to keep the app and content free), even they’re reviewed for kid-appropriateness, are clearly labelled and don’t link to external e-comm sites.
For parents who can’t shake that image of the Biebs, you’re in luck. YouTube Kids has a bunch of parental controls so you can hand off your device without worry. Search settings can be configured to allow kids to browse topics freely, or the search function can be disabled altogether so kids can only access content that’s presented to them. There’s also a handy timer function that can be set to a maximum of 120 minutes. When time’s up, the app closes the session.
Since its US launch earlier this year, YouTube Kids has been downloaded more than 10 million times, affirming the demand for content that’s educational, engaging and fun for kids. “Educational videos actually get double the views that pet and animal videos get on YouTube,” Lin says. “Kids are coming to YouTube Kids to learn about the world around them—everything from ‘Why is the sky blue?’ to ‘What are seasons?’ to ‘How do you build a volcano?’ This really was designed for little ones in mind.”