How to Effectively Use YouTube in Inquiry-based Homeschooling

Building Inquiry - Using Technology to Enhance Block Play - An Everyday Story

How to Effectively Use YouTube in Inquiry-based Homeschooling - An Everyday StoryYouTube is an incredibly valuable resource; but finding the good stuff – and not getting sucked into a vortex of videos, can be tricky.

As much as possible I try to give Jack (6 yrs) and Sarah (4 yrs) real life experiences; a trip to the creek to study tadpoles, a walk around the neighbourhood to look at different styles of homes, a visit to a sub-station to investigate how electricity travels to our homes, but quite often there are experiences I can’t provide for them here – this is what YouTube does so well.

I know YouTube has a lot of video lessons from teachers on every subject under the sun, but I think the most effective way to use YouTube is not for the lessons, but rather for the shorter – 5 to 10 minute – segments which pique an interest or inspire further exploration.

I’ve learnt though that looking for a video when a question pops up can become a frustrating experience; especially when your child is eager to watch a video on a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis and all you can find are videos which are too complicated or not age appropriate.

An Everyday Story
Jack dissecting a heart

How to Use YouTube Effectively for Inquiry-based Learning

So what can we do? Well you need to be prepared with a handful of videos which you know are suitable, not too long and will leave some questions unanswered for your child to explore further; for that you are going to need a YouTube account. 

Step 1:

In order to do this you will need a Google account (gmail). From there you’ll be able to create a YouTube account. Here’s mine. (Here’s a quick tutorial on setting up a YouTube account)

Step 2:

Once you’ve got a YouTube account, you will need to create a channel, this is where you will be able to save videos to watch later. Just like with television, if you don’t create a channel, you’ll have no where to put the videos. (Here’s a quick tutorial on creating a channel for your YouTube account)

Step 3:

Now you can create your playlists. This is where you can save all your related videos. Each time Jack & Sarah start a new inquiry, I create a new playlist. That way I have a selection of videos on hand which I have pre-watched and vetted for suitability.

Here’s a few examples: Learning About Honeybees, The Human Body and Architecture.

How to Create a Playlist: Once you have found a suitable video, underneath the video (below the red subscribe button) you’ll see +Add To. Click that and scroll down to Create New Playlist. Your video will be added to your new playlist.

These playlists will show up on your YouTube homepage in the top menu under Playlists. 


Building Inquiry - Using Technology to Enhance Block Play - An Everyday StoryAs an inquiry is unfolding, I like to spend a few minutes at night – or maybe an hour on the weekend – finding appropriate videos to add to the playlist. I like to look for videos which are:

  • short – less than 15 minutes
  • engaging – I look for ones without too much talking, preferring ones which are more visually engaging
  • leave room for wonder – I also like to find videos which don’t necessarily answer all their questions, but rather leave room for Jack & Sarah to ask more questions. So I might show a video of a skyscraper being built in lapsed time but not one explaining how a building is constructed. I would like for them to find this out for themselves. Once they have hypothesised and tested their own theories, then we might look at how a building is made.


Set yourself up a YouTube account and get started making some playlists; it’s simple and a really great way to curate collections of interesting videos. Then next time your child asks what does Big Ben sounds like when it chimes?, or how does a volcano erupt?, you’ll have a some inspiring and engaging videos ready to go.



31 Replies to “How to Effectively Use YouTube in Inquiry-based Homeschooling”

  1. THANK YOU for this post – I didn’t know about creating a channel/playlist and I don’t want to waste time (or worse) by googling as my kids watch so I’ve largely steered clear of YouTube. But the other day my daughter asked why other languages include sounds that aren’t in our own I was saying how, if you’re inventing a language, any sound is up for grabs. We listened to all the sounds her baby sister was making and speculated why couldn’t we use raspberries and whistles and clicks to mean things. She thought that was silly, until I found some great Khoisan “click language” videos on YouTube.

    1. That sounds really incredible. And what an truly perceptive question – I love how YouTube pretty much has videos on everything!! Did you know of Khoisan before searching? I’ve never heard of it. I’ll have to search YouTube for a video 😉 I did see a segment recently about how visually-impaired people used clicking as a way of echolocation to ‘see’ the world around them. It was truly fascinating.

  2. Thank you Kate! I usually try to find videos with the children, but when they aren’t appropriate I skip until find one that I think is suitable. However I don’t like this method, yours is much more organized. I’ve saved videos for myself, never thought of doing that for them!

    1. I was finding also that some of that initial wonder and interest waned if it took too long to find an appropriate video. And I did the same thing too – I had videos saved for me, then one day I thought, I should be saving some for the kids too! 🙂 🙂

  3. Thankyou Kate. I never knew about youtube accounts and channels. We often watch short videos on youtube when the boys ask questions, the latest being, “how do hippopotamus clean their teeth?” Youtube is a great resource; the information you have provided will help me utilise it better.

    1. What a great question! So, how do hippopotamus clean their teeth?? 🙂

  4. cat@thatbettiething says:

    That is such a great idea. The search can be very frustrating for both the kids and I!!

    1. Very frustrating – I was finding that more often than not, the videos I was clicking on where either so dry and boring or completely not age appropriate. The playlists make is so much easier.

  5. Thank you for this post. Do you know if there’s a way to stop their suggested videos popping up? Because many times inappropriate video suggestions come up at the bottom. I’m uncomfortable with my toddler clicking on them. I just want her to see (select) from the videos I’ve pre-screened for her (she’s two years old and particularly when she’s staying at my parents’ place, she ends up having unrestricted access to YouTube which I’m totally uncomfortable with. Is there a way I can restrict the video suggestions which pop up without banning her from my parents place?)

    1. Unfortunately, as far as I know, you can’t block the Related Videos from coming up. I did see somewhere that schools could sign up for YouTube for Schools which blocked the Related Videos – that might be something to look into more. I am not sure if parents can sign up for it as well.

      I think maybe a playlist might be the best option for videos for your daughter while she is at your parents place. And I think maybe – if you feel comfortable – talking with your parents about only letting her watch the videos you have added to her playlists.

      1. The best trick for you using YouTube is to use a browser that allows you to install the Adblocker add-on. This blocks all the ads. Also, unless they have changed this in the last couple of years (I haven’t done it in a while), YouTube allows you to edit how long a video plays in your playlist. I had gathered a lot of videos in different playlists, but I hated how many videos advertised or had inappropriate or too much content for what I wanted. I was able to adjust the times in the my playlist. For example, if I didn’t want a video to start until the 2:00 minutes mark, I could adjust it to do so. If I only wanted it to play for 30 seconds, same thing. (This was time intensive, but worth it, until I had something go wrong, and all of my playlists got lost, but hopefully that was a one time glitch.) Sorry if this has already been brought up.

      2. I heard there is a new you tube for kids app, where each video on the app is already screened by an actual person for questionable content. I haven’t looked into if you can use it with playlists but it is another option.

        1. Some people won’t have a problem with this, but the issue with the new YouTube for kids, is that they are bypassing child advertising laws. On TV there are specific laws about advertising to children; on the new YouTube kids app, they are not complying with those laws, tapping into how highly susceptible children are to advertising. They make long video “programs” that really are just long advertisements. Again, I know some people don’t care about this, but if you do, here’s more info:

          1. Yes that is so true. I hadn’t heard of the Youtube for Kids but I can see what you mean. I think it is understandable to think that these videos are appropriate for children but like you said, we really do need to watch them first just to be certain.

  6. Thank you! What great suggestions for organizing video clips; I had no idea about accounts, etc. This is much more effective than the pinterest-organizing I’ve been using.

    1. The playlists make things so much easier, don’t they? I really like searching for new videos and adding them to the list – and once you have spent a little time on an inquiry, you kind of get an idea of the kinds of things the kids might ask to explore further so you can have a pretty good guess at what videos to search. Plus I love having them all there in the one place.

      There’s a Chrome plugin for your computer called YouTube Ad Blocker (or something like that) which blocks the ads at the beginning of the videos which I really like too.

      1. Oh yeah, you mentioned Adblocker already. Sorry! 🙂

      2. Oooh…that’s great to know! Must investigate…

  7. Well, shoot. Followed all your directions, set up account, channel, playlist; subscribed to your channel. Now I can’t find the page I created! Not sure how to get back there. I seem to be signed in; it recognizes my email address, but can’t find my channel? Grrrr…. Any tips?

    1. Sorry for the rant….eventually found my way back there somehow. Will bookmark!

      1. Sorry again….one more annoying question! Did you do something special to get your playlists to show up on your home page? My home page is empty, despite starting a few playlists.

        1. Ok, I promise this will be my last comment on this post! (It’s just a sign of how excited I got about this idea…). I figured out the answer to the last question I had. If anyone else can’t figure it out either, I found the answer here:

          1. Hi Lise. Sorry, I haven’t been well these last couple of days. I’m glad you worked it out though 🙂 And thanks for the link too. I’ll add it to the post.

            Soooo how many playlists have you created now?? 🙂

  8. Also, thank you for linking to your YouTube page. I love seeing what videos you are using! So helpful to me! Thank you so much!

  9. Hi, Kate,
    Sorry you haven’t been well! Hope you are feeling better now.

    I have set up 4 playlists so far…but it hasn’t yet been the weekend (lots more time then!) This is going to be so useful for me. 🙂

  10. lydia purple says:

    i really need to get some playlists sorted…

    i just wanted to add one tipp. there are third party youtube player apps that are free of all the ads and in some you can even download the videos to your device. so you can play the videos offline if you like, then it is free of suggested videos popping up.

    i basically found out about this cool features by accident, because i use a kindle fire, and the amazon app store doesn’t have the youtube app, and the google store doesn’t work on the kindle. ( stupid google-amazon market fight) so i had to get a third party player. i tried a few until i found the one i use now and bought the full version with download features etc. for 2$. best unexpected side effect was that there were no ads at all. i can link my youtube account to it to access playlists etc. but i never done that. i should though. the app i currently use is called vtube for youtube in the amazon app store. but it recently starting having a pop up message that said the app will stop working soon? and i should upgrade to the new app. i haven’t checked that out yet though… i used it without any troubles for over 2 years. i always wanted to find something similar for the ipad too, because the totally annoying and not appropiate apps are really bothering me.

  11. Kate
    That’s fantastic to know. I had no idea! And yes experience has well taught me too it’s much easier for learning to flow if you are pre-prepared.

  12. Love this post Kate!! I had never thought of creating a channel or that you could use that for sorting and storing videos! Cool idea 🙂

  13. I have lots of experience using youtube for teaching my pre-k and nursery classes and I’d like to share some of the tricks I’ve used to make the tool more appropriate and also, more efficient. But, I’d first like to note that although I gave it my best for the past six years, I had been teaching at a school that made my inquiry based teaching philosophy and strategies impossible to implement (just got a wonderful new job though!!!!). Now, regarding youtube, the commercials have become quite a problem. There is also the problem of videos you have screened and selected that become “no longer available”. If you are taking the time to review videos and develop playlists and even channels, taking the time for this extra step will be well worth it (especially if you are planning on using them again or are willing to share your work with others). The key is to download the videos you want to use, so that you may then edit them into videos tailored to suit your needs. Downloading is remarkably simple: 1) find the video you want to use on youtube and then highlight and copy the full website address; 2) open in a separate tab on your web browser; 3) paste the address into the space next to the option “or download from”; I like to have the file emailed to me for backup, so I select that option and enter my email address; 4) choose an output format – this just depends on the program you willl use to replay the video, i.e. windows media player (wmv) or Quicktime (mov); and finally 5) click convert file! Give it a few minutes and there you have it! The video is now yours to do with what you will. Which means you can edit it…. doing that is also fairly easy as well, but this post is probably long enough for now. If there’s interest, I’d be happy to post those details! Good luck!

  14. Now THAT is how I want to use screens in our life. To add to real life experiences and show things that cannot be experienced in person. The main trouble with technology is that it’s being abused. Even as an adult I’m struggling to make my screen time worthwhile, especially in winter when it’s so tempting to just browse useless sites because spending all day outside is out of the question.

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