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We all know parenting comes with its own unique set of daily challenges. Making sure your kids are getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, developing in all the “right” ways and not getting sick? That’s just the start.
There’s also the small task of keeping them entertained, hopefully without hours upon hours of screen time. Kids toys can fill many of those gaps, and provide opportunities for imaginative active play, sensory development and building fine motor skills as well as hand-eye coordination. All of this is crucial for healthy brain development, but sooner rather than later? In a world dominated by tech, screens and digital devices, your kids may become less interested in that mud kitchen in the backyard and more interested in the device in your hand.
Instead of giving their kids a tablet and letting them sink into a near-hypnosis watching Blippi, some parents are opting for a new product category involving screen-free audio players. These types of devices are so new that there really isn’t a good name for them yet, but companies like Toniebox and Yoto Player are giving parents an alternative to tablets and TVs when kids need a diversion.
The Rise of Child-Friendly Audio Toys
These devices are kid-friendly, easy to use and let children play music, listen to stories and take their entertainment on-the-go in small, portable devices. They come in bright colors, have large buttons and sometimes interchangeable cards kids can use to choose the music, song or story they’d like to hear.
Most importantly, they don’t have a screen.
What are the most popular products in this emerging category?
- Toniebox is an interactive play box and storytelling device featured in our best Christmas gifts of 2021 guide and has a nearly perfect review score on Amazon.
- Yoto Player, another similar product, is designed to “fill your home with inspiring audio” and “let kids lead the way” with its fun design and miniature version. It can play music, read bedtime stories and even act as an alarm clock with the touch of a large, kid-friendly button.
- Lunii, another storytelling audio device available at Pottery Barn Kids, lets children choose the object, hero, location and secondary character in the story before it unfolds, so every storytime is unique to them and their interests.
Are these toys simply screen-free alternatives aimed at helping kids return to good ol’ fashioned audio? Or, are they a reflection of enough parents’ mutual frustration with a screen-heavy world and how it’s impacting their kids? A little bit of both?
Sarah Natchez, Managing Director, North America for Yoto explains the popularity of audio players amongst parents and kids alike, and the unique needs they meet for both in a technologically-saturated world.
“In today’s world, technology is everywhere. From TVs, to smartphones, and beyond, we use technology constantly in our day-to-day lives. It’s almost unavoidable which, from a parent’s perspective, can be concerning,” Natchez told SPY.
“Excessive screen-time has been linked to potential negatives around sleep disruption, fine motor control development, the addictiveness of screens, and more,” she added. “As a result of this abundance of technology, many parents are cognizant of the amount of screen-time that their children are allowed, encouraging meaningful face-to-face interactions and creative playtime.”
She went on to say that audio players “bridge this gap” when it comes to screen-free creative playtime and technology. Kids can enjoy the immersive, innovative aspects of technology without a screen.
“Screen-free play has been shown to inspire creativity and imaginative thinking for kids by letting them visualize and interact with entertaining, enjoyable, and educational audio content. From audiobooks, podcasts, mindfulness activities, music, and more, audio players encourage imaginative thinking and help make learning more enjoyable,” said Natchez.
One thing’s for sure, nobody loves a good trendy product like parents of young children. Remember the Nugget couch saga of early pandemic days?
Toniebox Audio Player
The Toniebox from Tonies is an audio player designed for kids ages three and up. It provides a screen-free listening experience for inspiring play and stimulation of kids’ imagination, without over-stimulating flashing screens. Once the Tonies audio characters are placed on top of the box, the playback starts. Pressing the ears changes the volume, and tapping the side of the box changes the tracks. It’s got a headphone jack, tactile controls for little hands, and seven hours of battery life so they can use it at home or on-the-go.
The Yoto Player is also an audio player for kids that has a kid-friendly design with large buttons and cards that can play their favorite music and stories. It’s got a pixel display, rather than a screen, that brings light elements into the audio playing. Parents can set parameters on its usage in the Yoto app, and it comes with sleep sounds and white noise for bedtime. It’s got a 10-hour battery life and a magnetic charging dock is included.
Natchez explained that “Yoto’s audio player specifically is inspired by Montessori principles. At Yoto, we recognized the importance of providing families with technology that enhances motor development and cognitive abilities and promotes creative and independent play.”
“Yoto’s experience is built around the idea of putting children in control of playtime. By inserting content cards into the Yoto Player, children are able to unlock limitless and engaging audio content that they can interact with, and parents can trust. Additionally, listening to audiobooks is also great for improving kids’ vocabularies and can also help children develop more expressive speech patterns.”
This smaller, more portable version of the Yoto player has all the same functionality, in a more adorable package. Its mini size means an all-day battery that’s perfect for family adventures, play dates and flights. It’s controlled with physical cards, and has large, oversized buttons for adjusting the volume so your kids have all the control.
Lunii My Fabulous Story Teller
Lunii is another audio player for kids that focuses on storytime, and puts the direction of the story in the hands of your little ones. They choose an object, setting, hero and secondary character, and then listen as their unique, one-of-a-kind story unfolds. The Lunii comes with the Luniistore, a digital bookstore where parents can choose between 48 different stories for their children to enjoy, all between 3-10 minutes long. It has story albums available in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Flemish and Russian, and is recommended for children ages 3 and up.