7 YouTube channels to keep your brain working over the holidays


By Doug Aamoth

We’re fast approaching the weird limbo zone between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when nobody knows what day it is, we’re all wearing sweatpants, and meals are replaced by daylong grazing.

Our brains turn to mush as well. The first day back after break is arguably the toughest work day of the entire calendar year.

Let’s make a pinky promise, then, to engage our minds—if ever so slightly—over break. Here’s a handful of easy-to-digest YouTube channels that do a great job of mixing education and entertainment.

Be Smart

If you’ve got any questions about science or the universe, then Be Smart probably has an answer for you.

Videos are produced by PBS and feature host Joe Hanson, who manages to strike a delicate balance between funny and informative. They generally land at around 15 minutes—not too long and not too short.

Kurzgesagt—In a Nutshell

I probably spent longer looking for the definition of kurzgesagt than I needed to, given that it’s the German phrase for “in a nutshell” and the YouTube channel is called, well, Kurzgesagt—In a Nutshell.

This account is run by a team of animators and is full of intellectually provocative videos that average around 10 minutes a pop.

Subject matter is reasonably broad, but boils down to what its creators refer to as “optimistic nihilism”—lots of space themes, some end-of-the-world disaster scenarios, stuff like that.

The School of Life

Look inward with The School of Life, a channel focused on self-understanding, connections, and personal growth.

7 YouTube channels to keep your brain working over the holidays

Videos generally clip along at a brisk few-minutes pace and tend to convey the overall message that you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, so if you’re having a crummy day, spend a little time here to feel better.


Bend your mind a bit with Vsauce, a popular YouTube channel that deftly tackles tough mental questions, deep fears, moral conundrums, and plenty of other “what ifs.”

Host Michael Stevens makes human fascination an art form, guiding you through episodes that last around 20 or 30 minutes each and will leave you wanting more.

Crash Course

If you’re looking to really dive deeply into a specific subject, check out Crash Course.

Though each video runs around 10 minutes, they’re grouped with several—sometimes dozens—of other related videos under themes such as Public Health, Black American History, and Geography.

Mental Floss

Take the fun of internet listicles but sneakily pump them full of educational goodness, and you’ve got Mental Floss.

It’s hard to pinpoint a recurring theme to these videos, except to say that if you manage to watch and retain every single one, you’ll probably be able to make a killing on Jeopardy!

New episodes drop weekly and tend to shake out at around 10 to 15 minutes.


Last but certainly not least, there’s the popular TED-Ed channel, which mostly features informative, animation-based videos that answer a variety of topical questions.

The creators do a great job of cramming a lot of interesting info into very bingable five-ish-minute videos that cover history, economics, health, ethics, science, and more.

Fast Company