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YouTube - the new playdate?

By Ellie Green, Beano Brain

The last couple of years have been a peculiar time in the world of child’s play. At times kids have been stuck indoors, school playgrounds eerily empty and real-life playdates replaced with YouTube play influencer content.

Since we’ve returned to a version of ‘normal’ this year, it’s all a hazy memory, right? Well – not quite.

The power of the YouTube playdate is such that it doesn’t just represent a stand-in for when IRL play isn’t possible. It’s a world of inspiration of its own. We get it - on the surface, screens invading analogue playtime may sound like a slightly miserable state of affairs.

But peel back the layers and you’ll find some surprisingly wholesome content from the YouTube community. Whether it’s providing inspiration and play sparks, gently guiding kids towards milestones or encouraging creative exploration, we’ve moved quite some way from traditional unboxing videos. Let us introduce you to three types of YouTube playdate that we’ve recently observed within the world of doll play:

The Playalong

This is the YouTube playdate in its purest form. Whilst playing with a toy, kids will put on videos showing play with that same type of toy - typically with just the YouTuber’s hands visible, enhancing the focus on the play itself. The beauty of these videos is in the inspiration they provide, from new settings to storylines, character relationships and dialogue. Nobody does this better than the hero of the Doll Playalong, Come Play With Me, whose catalogue of Elsa and Anna material ranges from doing the chores and sitting in detention to playing the floor is lava and going to Ariel’s birthday party.

The Play x Unboxing Mashup

Of the three playdate types, this bears the closest resemblance to its unboxing origins. Typical play is given a twist as other toys, objects or trends are introduced – often with a helping of those familiar exclamations - “WOW!” – as these are unboxed, unwrapped and revealed. Though we aren’t bowled over by the fact it’s essentially subtle product placement, what we do love is that these videos say loud and proud, “There are no rules: you can mix together WHATEVER you want in your play”. Because, as CookieSwirlC shows us, the play world is your oyster once you learn to mix and match.

The Creative Inspirer

As kids age up, they seek more sophistication, realism and personalisation in their playthings – and there’s no better way to get exactly what you want than to DIY it. You might remember this from your own childhood, perhaps fashioning some trendy new legwarmers for your Barbie from old bits of fabric once her mermaid tail went out of style? Yep, we see you. For today’s kids, there’s a YouTube video (or a million of them) for that. During lockdown, TotallyRudy helped kids satisfy their appetite for making sense of the world around them via tutorials for DIY doll face masks and antibac wipes, and beyond that she’s demoed how to craft doll-size Frappuccinos, boxes of Crayola and eyeshadow palettes.

There are some advantages of IRL play that the YouTube playdate is never going to replace: peer-to-peer connection, perspective taking, conflict resolution and the joy of creating marvellous fun from pure boredom. But there’s magic to be found amongst YouTube’s growing community of creative playdate heroes and the endless inspiration they’re sprinkling throughout the toy universe. Unboxing was just the beginning.

If would like to lean into our expertise on toys, play and child development then please get in touch and use our brain. We’re here to help.


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