When my kids were toddlers, we used to walk to the library for storytime every week. It was a great opportunity for them to hear stories read aloud by an adult who was well-rested enough to have the enthusiasm to give the characters different voices. The kids loved it, and I loved that they were exposed to a wide range of stories that we didn't have on our own bookshelves at home.
My kids are way too old for library storytime these days—they're 8-and-a-half and 7 and can read independently—but they still love hearing a great story read by someone else. Enter: the Yoto Player, an adorable little gadget that brings the magic of storytime right to your home (no parent reading required).
What is the Yoto Player?
A cute white plastic speaker cube that measures just 4 inches on each side, the Yoto Player is a screen-free digital storytelling device that kids can easily control themselves. Designed for children ages 3 to 10, it works with content cards that get inserted into the top of the player. The cards can play everything from full-length novels—we've listened to Beezus and Ramona as well as Diary of a Wimpy Kid—to short stories, kid-friendly meditations, and educational lessons.
How does the Yoto Player work?
Charge the Yoto Player by connecting the magnetic charger to the base of the device, and then plug it in to a standard outlet. For the initial set up, parents will need to download the Yoto app which will connect to the player and walk them through the rest of the process. Once the Yoto is set up, there's no need to use the app for playing with the device, but parents can opt to use the Yoto as a Bluetooth speaker by pairing it with their phone.
To turn on the Yoto, kids need to press a small power button tucked unobtrusively on one side of the player, where you'll also find a headphone jack. The orange knob on the left side of the player controls the volume, and the right knob can be used to skip chapters. The Yoto also has a nightlight on the back, as well as two radio stations that play kid-appropriate content. When the Yoto is in use, the front displays cute pixel-art images that relate to whatever book, story, or meditation is being played.
When the Yoto isn't being used to play stories, the box displays a digital clock that also shows an image of a sun and a cloud for daytime, and a moon for nighttime. Parents can program the display to use the Yoto as an "OK to wake" clock as well.
How much does the Yoto Player cost?
Without any content cards, the Yoto Player costs $99. A better deal is to opt for one of the "Packs" that include both the player and six content cards. The Classic Stories Pack has a price tag of $124.98, and includes Heidi, The Wind and The Willows, The Secret Garden, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and The Snow Queen and Other Stories.
Content cards can be purchased individually and range in price from $8.99 to $11.99, and card packs run between $17.99 and $99.99.
How safe is the Yoto Player?
The feature that really sets the Yoto Player apart from devices like tablets is that it doesn't have a built-in microphone or camera, so you don't have to worry about your child connecting with unsavory characters while they're supposed to be listening to stories. The Yoto Player does require a Wi-Fi connection for set up, and to download the cards' content the first time they're played, but once that's completed, parents can turn the Wi-Fi off in the Yoto Player app. Parents can breathe easily with the knowledge that when their kids are playing with the Yoto unattended, there's no possibility of them coming across something that's not safe for young eyes or ears.
What we liked about the Yoto Player
Kids can use it without assistance
Every overwhelmed parent will agree that anything that kids can use safely on their own is a major win. There's nothing worse than your child receiving a toy or a game that results in them screaming, "I need help!" every 10 seconds. Once the Yoto Player is set up, kids can really and truly use it independently. Even kids who are still developing small motor skills can easily insert and remove the story cards from the slot on the top of the Yoto.
It keeps kids engaged
As soon as we started using the Yoto Player, my kids wanted to listen to it all the time. They even sought it out themselves and would start listening to their books during times when they would normally be begging to play on their iPads.
Here's the best part: They literally did not want to turn it off when it was time to go to bed, leave for school, or do some other activity. Prior to the Yoto Player, the only thing I couldn't get them off of were their tablets, and since we got it they've been begging me to order more cards.
It's better than traditional audiobooks
We've been listening to audiobooks for a while—specifically the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series because it's so well narrated—but that meant the kids were listening to the books on their tablets. What that also meant is that sometimes when I would think the kids were listening to their books, they were really playing video games. With the Yoto Player they can listen to the exact same audiobooks, but without any distractions.
You can create your own content
Each Yoto Player comes with a blank content card that kids and parents can use to record their own content. My kids preferred listening to their audiobooks, but I love the idea of having a grandparent record a story or a message for a grandchild, especially if they live far away and don't see one another often.
What we didn't like about the Yoto Player
Storing the content cards is difficult
My biggest complaint about the Yoto Player is that it doesn't come with a way to store your content cards. The content cards are the same size and slimness of a traditional credit card, which means they're pretty much guaranteed to be lost by distracted kids. Our starter pack came with little cardboard sleeves with a sticker on the back that could be stuck to a surface to hold the content cards, but they didn't work very well. The pockets designed to hold the cards didn't stay together, so the cards kept falling out. Plus, who wants to encourage their kids to stick things on walls?
You can purchase a separate Audio Card Portfolio Case that holds 64 content cards, but it's almost always sold out. I wish that the Yoto Player came with a small box that was perfectly sized to hold the content cards, so that kids knew exactly where to put them once they were done listening to the stories.
Should you buy the Yoto Player?
Are you tired of your children telling you they're bored? Do you want them to spend less time on a device? Are you trying to get them interested in reading? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, you need to buy a Yoto Player right now.
It's truly one of the best "toys" that we've gotten in recent years. It's a good gadget for households with siblings both close in age and far apart—it's equally fun for both a 3-year-old and a 10-year-old—and it's the only thing we've found that can compete with the lure of a tablet loaded with YouTube kids. Sure, you'll still have to pester them to turn off the Yoto, but at least it's because they're listening to actual books instead of watching an influencer play Minecraft.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.