Last year, Daniel Buelhoff was victoriously coming off of a year-long lymphoma treatment when he rediscovered some old German audio tapes from his youth. After firing up the cassette deck and realizing how much his 2-year-old daughter enjoyed listening, Buelhoff was inspired to create Storypod, an interactive podcast player for kids.
The Storypod platform includes the interactive audio player, 20 Crafties figurines, and more than 300 original and licensed bilingual stories, songs, books, and games.
To celebrate the public Kickstarter launch of Storypod, the Toy Insider caught up with Buelhoff to learn more about the project and how audio can be a healthier alternative for kids to be both educated and entertained in new and unexpected ways.
The Toy Insider: What makes Storypod different than other audio players geared toward kids?
Daniel Buelhoff: Storypod is a completely new, screen-free solution for children’s entertainment. The Storypod speaker combines an iconic cushy design with playful, exchangeable sleeves and a 360-degree audio experience. It was important to us to break new ground in terms of form, service, and design. The pentagonal design of the Storypod differs from standard smart speakers and is closely linked to the interactive elements. 360-degree sound is also an innovation in the children’s segment. Kids can gather with friends around the device and listen to an exciting story together, without being acoustically disadvantaged. Kids interact with Storypod by pressing buttons and engaging with our Crafties, RFID-equipped figurines that create a magical experience that is triggered by technology.
TI: Tell us a bit more about the Crafties — can you share more about what makes the characters eco-friendly?
DB: The knitted design aims to entice kids’ senses through a modern interpretation of a classic toy. It was important for us to process plastic only in those areas where it is absolutely necessary. We want to process as few raw fossil materials as possible, but we also didn’t want to develop a hard and sterile ‘block’ here. Thus, not only Storypod itself but also the Crafties are largely made of textile material. Most plastic toys are too cold and hard for us these days. We deliberately wanted to create an alternative here, which also helps us to create a new product DNA with high recognition value. The yarn is natural and non-acrylic.
TI: During the recent pandemic, many families have been spending more time together while others have been kept apart. How can Storypod connect families who aren’t physically present?
DB: For this particular scenario, we created the myCrafties where parents, as well as grandparents and other family members and close friends, can record their own stories and/or book-readings, so that little ones can always access them for replay. This is particularly great for bedtime stories where kids can listen to familiar voices of their family members that are not physically present.
TI: What is the most important thing that you’ve learned in the development and journey to bringing Storypod to market?
DB: When we started out with the project, we already suspected that screen exposure for young brains was not great, but we were surprised by the research we found.
JAMA Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed medical journal in the American Medical Association, found that more screen time means lower expressive language, less ability to rapidly name objects, and decreased literacy skills. They also discovered that more screen time causes physical changes to the brain — specifically, lower white matter integrity in the portion of the brain that directly impacts language and literacy skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend that kids under 18 months avoid all screen time aside from video chatting, and that kids under age 5 should be limited to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming.
This convinced us that the Storypod concept is needed in this screen-driven world. Imagination may just start with listening!
TI: What can families look forward to in the future for Storypod?
DB: On top of ever-growing access to more and more amazing original and licensed audio content, we have developed Storypod to be more than just a speaker.
We believe in its potential to be a new platform of audio-centric ‘edutainment’ paired with read-along books and additional devices such as smartpens, microphones for karaoke, voice modulation, self-recording, and much more.
Early adopters can preorder Storypod at a 50% discount versus retail by backing the project on Kickstarter through August 30. Storypod will ship to families this fall.