Few things are as ferociously adorable as new babies are to parents. You simply cannot get enough of them. Whenever you're apart, it's a deprivation. How many times have we as parents found ourselves standing motionless beside a sleeping newborn at 3 a.m. in an unlit bedroom like the woman from Paranormal Activity?
But that glorious little window slams shut pretty quickly a few months in when you need to make a phone call that really can't be interrupted or have an adult conversation for literally one minute or you simply MUST poop in peace for once. In the ensuing years, one of your unrelenting goals as a parent on certain days will be convincing your child to engage in some "leave me alone time" or its cousins “leave ALL adults alone” time and "How can you be ‘bored’? Look at all these toys."
That’s your ticket to parenting heaven.
Now, there are tools to aid you in this effort *cough* tablets *cough*, but they sometimes demand parental compromises that can be tough to stomach: Do you *really* want your kid watching THAT much Blippi (who by the way has a fascinating origin story)? What’s the maximum number of proto-fascist Paw Patrol episodes you’re willing to stomach? Do you really want to suffer feelings of shame and horror when you once again wonder if you should have opted for the natural wood Montessori toys instead of that horrible VTech walker that has permanently burned the lyric "Welcome to Our Learning Farm” into your brain?
That’s why I recommend the Yoto Player, a small, children's book–playing audio device that even very young kids can use themselves.
The Yoto Player is a square box with friendly orange knobs that uses “book” cards that children can easily choose, insert, and play. For many titles, it displays simple pixel art that goes along with the story. The player offers a range of children’s titles aimed at ages 3 to 12 — various Marvel and Disney princess collections, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the Magic Tree House series, for example. The cards run about $8–$12 a pop, which is about as much as a board book and cheaper than a hardcover.
“I hate that thing!” –my son
The device also has a selection of kid-friendly podcasts from public radio and other sources, including Yoto’s own daily podcast on the Yoto app, which you can burn onto a blank card. Cards for Kidz Bop music, Caspar Babypants, and holiday songs are available. And it can function as a white noise machine, night-light, or alarm clock if you need it to.
Priced at $99, the Yoto Player isn’t particularly cheap (though the company does offer a $59 “mini” version with fewer features). And yes, there are audiobooks on CDs and Spotify and YouTube. But CD players are too delicate for a 3-year-old, and playing content on Spotify may mean abdicating control of your phone or some other screened device you’d rather keep. And don’t get me started on YouTube.
The cheaper $59 Yoto Mini has almost as many features.
But that’s all beside the point, really. Because wouldn’t you pay almost anything for even a remote chance of getting sweet, sweet time to yourself while your child does something vaguely educational?
To be clear, there is some risk involved here. It’s not a guaranteed hit. My 5-year-old son, who loves books, had little interest in the Yoto Player after he got tired of messing around with the device's knobs and playing the “crackling fire” sound effect card. In fact, as I was looking at the Yoto for this review, he yelled, “I hate that thing!”
But when some friends visited us recently, their 3-year-old daughter spotted the Yoto and a Frozen card and happily walked off with them. A few moments later, we found her quietly listening to Elsa stories in another room. She did this for a deliciously long time. It was the dream. Meanwhile, her first-grade brother, who can now read on his own, had little interest.
So why am I recommending this even if there’s a decent chance your kid won’t like it? Because what if they do? A kid who can happily entertain themselves with their own little book-reading gadget that they themself can use and doesn’t require a long-suffering parent to do the Elephant and Piggie voices for the 50th time? My god, that’s your ticket to parenting heaven. If it actually works out for you and your kid, you can thank me later.
(Yoto loaned us a device for a limited evaluation period. BuzzFeed News does not publish paid reviews.)