One of the unanticipated problems with streaming music is that it has made it harder for kids to choose what they want to listen to and when. My daughter, for example, doesn't want her five year old streaming from a phone or tablet, because she doesn't like the creativity drain and collateral behavior issues she associates with their use. And then there is the concern that tablets might be listening, recording, and even serving as gateways for undersirables from out on the web.
But, I have fond memories of the record player my grandpa gave me, and the empowerment I felt from being able to make music "happen" on demand. How could I give my grandson a way to develop his own musical tastes?
My first solution was to give him a small boom-box with a cd player built in. The problem, of course, is that CDs (and CD-burners) are fast becoming historical relics. Also, most boom boxes are not really designed with kids safety and dexterity in mind. In fact, many seem downright unsuitable and/or unsafe for unsupervised play.
Enter the Yoto Player
($99, plus $10 for the starter media pack of six cards), a 21st century solution. At first glance, the cube-like Yoto looks to be another Bluetooth speaker contender, joining the ranks of the countless others we've tested over the years. And, yes, Yoto can function as a Bluetooth speaker, but that only scratches the surface of what it can do.
Yoto, you see, is not a speaker, but an audio platform designed for pre-literate kids. There is a certain amount of built-in free media: Yoto Radio, for example, is a kid-oriented free internet radio station that can be activated by just turning on the player and pressing the right hand button two times.
But the real magic comes from a media library sold separately that comes on digital cards. Slide one into the slot and you hear the associated tunes.
Yoto goes beyond music, there are also cards for books, and podcasts
. There are selections by Kipling, Lewis Carrol, and Roald Dahl, among others. The prices range from $5.99 for single stories up to $24.99 and up for larger collections. As with any platform, the media costs need to be taken into consideration when thinking about investing. Likewise, the breadth of the media collection is somewhat limited at this point. Of course, the fact that you can make your own playlists gives the device expanded versatility.
There are also "Make Your Own" cards that you can use to record stories or music playlists, or even tune-in an internet radio station. The player comes with one (reusable) card, but you can purchase packs of additional ones.
The device controls are easy to use and the design is attractive and friendly. There is no "screen" in the sense of a tablet, but the front of Yoto does have a display that functions as a clock and also allows for customization. There is also a built-in nightlight. The battery is rechargeable via a magnetic dock. There is no microphone, so privacy concerns are seriously reduced.
Our five-year-old tester loved listening to the stories, and took particularl pleasure in being able to control the technology without having to ask his mom or dad for help.