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9 Great YouTube Channels to Make You Smarter

Deb Amlen
June 20, 2014
Image of child raising hand
Image of child raising hand


Have you ever pondered the mysteries of the universe? Or, if you’re a parent, out of the roughly gazillion questions that your kids ask every day, have you gotten to the point where you find that you can’t competently answer them?

My own preferred method for sounding authoritative when asked a tough question by an intellectually curious child is to panic and make things up. My explanation of Why the Sky Is Blue was a gloriously epic tale involving Transformers, laser cannons, and Benjamin Moore paints, so you can see why my then-5-year-old son — who listened to my explanation with a completely straight face, god love him — might have gone online to confirm the whole thing about air molecules scattering blue light rays from the sun, rather than believe the claptrap his mother told him.

Image of two Transformers battling
Image of two Transformers battling


I’m not the only one filling a kid’s head with substandard knowledge.

For example, The Boy came home from school a while ago and explained a complex theory about dark matter to me in a way that impressed me for its clarity and depth of knowledge.

“How wonderful!” I said, when he had finished. “Did you learn this in your fully-funded, public high school, which I am paying an ungodly amount of taxes each year to maintain?”

“No,” The Boy replied, munching on his fourth snack since walking through the door. “I learned that from watching a VSauce video on YouTube. We didn’t do much in science today. But I did get to play with Mr. Potato Head. That was cool.”

Image of Mr. Potato Head
Image of Mr. Potato Head


The Mr. Potato Head thing was actually a lesson in genetics, but you see where I’m going with this, right?

Kids need access to knowledge, the kind that answers their questions and proves to them once and for all that their parents probably slept through most of their own educations. It builds character.

That’s why we’re going to list our favorite YouTube go-tos for all the questions your kids — or even you — might have about the world around us. The world-famous TED Talks aren’t listed here. Those can be a bit esoteric. We want down-to-earth, understandable answers to our questions.

Here are nine resources to get you started sounding smarter. I’m reasonably sure that the (real) answer as to why the sky is blue — minus the Transformers — is in here somewhere.

1. VSauce: Created by Michael Stevens in 2010, VSauce researches things so you don’t have to. There are additional channels — VSauce2, VSauce3, and the interesting WeSauce, which helps VSauce fans who are would-be video stars make and publish their own artistic or educational videos. Really neat things are explained on VSauce, from esoteric stuff like “Who owns the moon?” to the silly stuff, like explaining where the joke “Why did the chicken cross the road?” came from. Want to feel what it might be like to travel inside a black hole? Check out this video:

2. Smarter Every Day: Did you miss the amazeballs, colorific close-up image of the scales on a butterfly wing? Destin, the incurably curious host of Smarter Every Day, produced it, and you can be awed by it too:

3. Vlog Brothers: A hilarious exchange between The Fault In Our Stars author John Green and his brother Hank Green, who pretty much own the “edutainment” portion of the Internet these days. Vlog Brothers itself has a fairly random format, but the brothers are also responsible for bringing us, among other channels, SciShow, Crash Course, and, for those of you approaching the age of responsibility (I steadfastly avoid it), the incredibly useful “How to Adult,” a channel that purports to teach the things that school does not cover, like how to write a resume:

4. Crazy Russian Hacker: Makes me fall out of my chair laughing every time, but I learn something on the way down. This guy is so intense and has such a great accent that I can’t tell if he’s putting us on or not. Crazy Russian Hacker’s channel is primarily about science experiments, like this compilation of 10 experiments you can do at home, but he’s at his funniest, in my opinion, when he tells us what we’ve been doing wrong, like in this video on how to properly eat a cupcake, how to dip an Oreo cookie in milk without getting your fingers wet, and how to most efficiently dispense your Tic Tacs:

5. Veritasium:Hosted by Derek Muller, Veritasium bills itself as a science video channel that covers everything from “atoms to astrophysics.” The channel covers a lot of things, but here’s my favorite video, which involves creating plasma from grapes placed in a microwave. Because, come on — flaming grapes:

6. Quirkology: This has some science and experiments you can try, but mostly quirky “mind stuff” from psychologist, author and magician Richard Wiseman. Want to amaze and astound your friends? Here are 10 amazing bets that you will always win, courtesy of Mr. Wiseman:

7. Periodic Videos: All things chemistry, hosted by video journalist and chemistry professor Brady Haran, who also produces an amazing array of video channels that you can explore here. And, for those of us who like to watch things explode, there’s plenty of that:

8. CGP Grey: “Complex things explained” by the mysterious Grey, who is never seen in his own videos, but who can explain awesome things like why we have daylight saving time:

Grey and Brady Haran of Periodic Videos (see #7) recently launched a podcast called “Hello Internet,” which talks about what it’s like to disseminate information to millions of people, including what it’s like to be wrong about something on the Internet. Not that I would know.

9. Vi Hart: Math concepts explained! You were wondering when I’d get to this, weren’t you? Hart, who describes herself as a “recreational mathematician,” doodles her way around the world of mathematics, including proving to the creators of SpongeBob SquarePants that his house is a lie:

So the next time your child asks you a question you can’t answer, sit down with him and dive into the world of online edutainment. Or, if you want to preserve the myth that Mom and Dad know all for a bit longer, then say you’ll get back to him, and sneak off to watch the videos yourself.

Is there something weirdly popular on the Internet that you’d like explained? Write to Deb Amlen at buzzologyYT@yahoo.com and let her know. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@debamlen).