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In 2019, teacher Jacob Mitchell uploaded a video of himself rapping the children's book The Gruffalo to his daughter. It racked up millions of views and aired on television shows across the world.
He is one of the many education content creators on YouTube Kids: an app designed to help children explore age-appropriate content in a simple, safe, fun way.
Through this platform, children across the world have viewed MC Grammar’s engaging raps, which deal with everything from punctuation to conjugations.
Here, he shares his experience of being an online educator – and his thoughts on striking a healthier balance online.
When did you first start using rap to teach?
It all started back in 2014. I was preparing my class for a grammar test on subordinate conjunctions. Like any teacher, I was thinking about how to help them understand and remember it.
That’s when I had a bit of a brainwave. I knew the kids were great at memorising lyrics, so why didn’t I turn it into a song and set it to a beat? And from there it just carried on. I ended up writing raps to cover the whole grammar syllabus.
What was it like after your video achieved so many views?
It was a crazy journey to be honest. It was really amazing to see the feedback from all parents out there.
As you might expect, it’s had an impact on my career. At the time I was teaching full-time whereas now I’m more involved with broader education work, including through my YouTube channel. I’ve also just signed a record deal and a television deal, which is pretty exciting.
As a parent of young children, how do you approach internet safety?
One of the things you learn as a teacher is how comfortable a lot of children are with using the internet these days so we need to make sure they have good experiences online.
I’m a big advocate for just talking about these things openly and in as relaxed a way as possible. I’ve got three children – a four year old, a six year old and a baby – and my wife and I have already spoken to the older two about the internet.
At the same time, though, I’ve let them know they should come and talk to us if they ever come across something that doesn't seem right. It’s exactly the same conversation you have about the outside world too. Just making sure they know they can talk to us if they need to.
What kind of tools do you use to create the right balance?
Like a lot of families, we’ve found it really useful to use apps that help ensure the children are accessing the right kind of content. YouTube Kids is absolutely great for that. The content is filtered and, as a parent, you can select content settings by age.
They love shows such as Ninja Kidz and Blippi. And they also watch a lot of great educational stuff. We’ve been learning colours and vocabulary, and obviously lots of musical stuff too. They watch most of it on YouTube Kids, which means we know it’s age-appropriate.
As a parent, it’s great to be able to carry on with all of those things you need to do – like cooking the dinner – and know your children are seeing content that’s suitable for them.
How do you think the internet can help teachers?
From a teacher’s perspective, there’s something inspiring about the way you can just put your content out there. When I talk at education conferences, I always tell young teachers they should consider putting some of their lessons online.
YouTube enables teachers to share great content with parents at home. It's easy to set up a channel and have content which can only be accessed by people who have the link.
Growing up online – how to help your child find a healthier balance
Quality screen time: There's a growing body of research that shows that it isn’t necessarily the quantity of time spent online that matters – but the quality of that time. Apps such as YouTube Kids have a built-in timer that lets parents limit screen time by telling kids when it's time to stop watching.
Online Safety Skills: While most children have very positive experiences online, they need to be equipped with the right tools to become more informed and engaged online citizens. Google’s Be Internet Legends is a fun online learning programme that helps children understand the digital world and how they can make informed choices.
Talk about it together: By taking an active interest in what your child is up to online – just as you would with their offline activities – you can have authentic conversations around the topic. This helps you set better ground rules and understand what they like about the internet.