As I sat down with my 6-year-old daughter, Willow, to see what sorts of things she wanted to watch on YouTube, I had an inkling of what the subject matter was likely to be. The kid is obsessed with animals—and from prior experience, I knew that a topic so broad could turn up some… shall we say… interesting material on the world's biggest video-sharing platform. Our actual experience didn't disappoint, and it led to some thoughtful conversations, too.
1. Funny Cats
Willow wanted to start out with an old favorite. We've sat and watched "funny cat videos" on occasion for years, and it's always worth a giggle or two. Cats are hilarious simply being cats, and this video, although not one we had seen before, is basically more of the same.
Even so, I was interested to see how Willow's perspective has changed and matured over the years. More than once she voiced concern for the safety or comfort of the featured kitties—a theme that recurred over the course of our YouTube adventures.
2. Tiger Surgery
Willow then requested a tiger video, choosing which one to watch based on the video's thumbnail image. The thumbnail to this one looked cute enough, but from reading the title I was mildly concerned about what we'd see. The whole segment was minor enough, as the vets in the story were mostly debating how to sedate the animal for her exam and subsequent surgery.
Willow noticed the syringe and wondered why it was there (she recognized it because her older sister has weekly injections for juvenile arthritis), but she understood when I explained that the tiger needed to be very sleepy before the animal doctors could get close to her. Willow then suggested that if the tiger weren't sedated, she'd probably claw their faces, and I agreed.
The video ends with the tiger getting poked in the butt with the syringe, and my daughter said, "That was surprising! They poked her and she freaked out. I wonder when she's going to calm down."
3. Funny Dogs
This is another funny animal video compilation, this one featuring dogs being funny or goofy. Willow had lots of laughs with this one, but again voiced concern a few times about the welfare of the pups. Reassurance from me helped quite a bit, but I had to agree that a few of these dogs didn't look like they were having much fun.
4. High Diving Giraffes
This video was fun to watch because it looks realistic, but once the giraffes start plunging off the high dive, it becomes obvious that it the action is computer generated. The video opens with a shot of an empty hallway, and Willow speculated about what we were seeing. "Where are the giraffes?" she asked. "What if this hallway was just for giraffes? Wouldn't that be funny?"
To her surprise, it was, and once the first giraffe walked in, she said, "Wait. What? Is that just a place for giraffes?"
When the first giraffe flipped off the diving board, Willow asked, "Is this really real?" Instead of answering her directly, I asked what she thought. She answered right away that, no, it wasn't real, but it was really funny anyway. Her response indicated that she knew that giraffes can't dive off a diving board—but she wanted confirmation from me anyway.
5. Lions and a Rhino
Here's another video request I was a little unsure of. Willow wanted to watch lions, and tons of lion videos on YouTube show them attacking and eating other animals. I'm not a huge fan of these types of videos (I know it happens, of course, but that doesn't mean I enjoy watching it), but I don't want my feelings to color Willow's life experiences unduly. So I bravely pressed play on her selection, and let the video begin.
As the title indicates, a huge black rhino is stuck in mud when the video starts up. The video shows the rhino struggling, and then resting, a predicament that caused my 6-year-old kid obvious concern. "Why can't it get out?" she wondered aloud. "Is anyone going to help it? Maybe another animal?"
I told her that he was stuck in the mud and suggested that we watch the action play out. Once the lions appeared, I asked her what she thought was going to happen. She didn't answer, and we kept watching. She asked why the lions were attacking the rhino, and I told her that they were hungry and were hoping to catch a meal. "Even though the rhino is a big, dangerous animal, they're hungry; and with three lions, their chances are better, especially since he's stuck in the mud," I explained.
The video ends with the rhino escaping and trotting away, leaving my daughter none the worse for wear, although she probably understands the perils of the natural world a bit more clearly now.
6. Apes Attack
Next—yet another video with a questionable title that my daughter selected on the strength of its interesting thumbnail. There is nothing too crazy here, but Willow asked right away, "Why are they doing that? What?!"
Most of the apes in the video seem to be in zoo enclosures, even the clip that features a chimp flinging a raccoon out of the way. It led to a discussion of the fact that even though they're in a zoo, they're still wild animals and can be dangerous.
7. Ostrich Egg Cam
This was totally cute. Willow asked for an ostrich video, and immediately pointed to this one since it was clearly an egg-hatching vid. It's a long video, which gave her ample time to ask a ton of questions. She said,
"So is that how things hatch?"
"That noise is so loud. How can a baby ostrich do that?"
"I wonder what they're going to do with the egg shells."
"Why do people take care of the eggs like this?"
In the end, the caretakers had to assist the little one out of its shell, but everything turned out well. It was not only fun to watch, but a learning experience for my 6-year-old, who found out that in some circumstances, people help eggs incubate and hatch if needed.
8. Woodpecker and a Chipmunk
We have plenty of woodpeckers in our area, but Willow doesn't remember having seen one before, so we looked up woodpeckers. She liked the way the pileated woodpecker in the thumbnail looked, which is probably why this video got the nod. She didn't read the title, so when the chipmunk appeared it came as a surprise to her.
In the video, the big woodpecker hops down to examine the small mammal—and Willow asked, "What is he going to do? Peck at it, or take it up the tree?" It was fun to see how her mind worked, especially considering the slew of videos we'd already watched. She expected a confrontation! Instead, the video was light andfunny, and she loved how the chipmunk was as much concerned with stuffing his face as with avoiding trouble from the giant bird pecking at him.
9. Funny Squirrels
After the high excitement level of the other videos we watched, this one was kind of a letdown, but Willow still got a few laughs out of it. It also offered at least one educational insight: She hadn't known that squirrels can stash food in their cheeks for later.
Overall, venturing through a series of YouTube nature videos with my 6-year-old daughter was an intriguing experiment. She has become so much more mature recently! And though she looks at the world (and YouTube) with open-minded wonder, she shows genuine compassion and, above all, is eager to learn. She will also probably request a funny cat video before we head to bed tonight, so we have a tenth YouTube experience to look forward to.
Photo credit: ITU Pictures/Flickr