In the last year, podcasts have experienced a huge growth in popularity. Many listeners got their first taste of podcasting with the debut of Serial, a show by the makers of "This American Life," which, during its first season last fall, attempted to unravel a real life murder mystery. "Serial" was also more interactive than most podcasts that came before it, featuring a landing page that included links to news articles, documents and photos, giving listeners added value and more tools to immerse themselves in the story and discuss it with other listeners.
The podcast fad has had some parents longing for the same audio magic to spark the imaginations of their kids, as an alternative to TVs and "screen time," and many are finding it in an app called Tales Untold.
Tales Untold is an audio app that essentially delivers high-quality podcasting to kids. Each story intends to capture the attention of children in a variety of ways. Some revolve around solving simple mysteries with clues, some teach lessons and others are tailored to young children ready to test their language skills. (Language acquisition and comprehension greatly benefit from audio storytelling, according to the Tales Untold team.) Along with each story (the first episodes of each are free on iTunes) comes a coloring book that parents can download and print. There is no screen time involved whatsoever, which helps lessen kids' dependency on visual stimulation for entertainment.
Currently, the Tales Untold stories are aimed at children 3 to 7 years old, though they plan to expand the offerings to older age groups in the near future. (Older children may even be inspired to start their own podcast — one father of a young podcast fan says his daughter has been hosting a podcast called The Talent Scout for two years after listening to the Barefoot Books podcast.)
Nick Vidinsky, the founder of Tales Untold, is excited about the potential benefits of audio storytelling. ”Not only does listening to stories keep kids focused and entertained, we now know that actively listening, rather than watching a video or even following along with a picture book, encourages brain development and language acquisition," he says. "It’s like listening puts them in better imaginative shape.”
Tales Untold can also help with family bonding, Vidinsky says. ”Listening to stories is at once an intimate yet shared experience. The family can listen together, but each person’s imagination makes it their own personal adventure. And with the serial nature of podcasting, the characters can develop, learn and grow along with the audience.” As far as being different from video, which many kids are more used to these days, he believes that audio is more engaging.
“Podcasts get straight to the essence of storytelling, without the tools of delivery getting in the way," Vidinsky notes. "Audio is a more engaging medium than video, picture books or even interactive apps. When we show our children a world, they are outsiders looking in. But when we encourage them to imagine a world, we draw them into their own creation.”