Created by a primary school teacher and father of three, this new podcast hopes to make bedtime stories a habit again - for everyone.
Story Shed is a new podcast "for children of all ages," but most suited to 4-11 year olds. Each episode presents an original story created by primary school teacher, Jake Harris (below), as a way for parents and teachers to engage children in storytelling and sharing as they listen together. Episodes end with a Q&A with 'Little Helpers' who go over the main theme and talking points stimluated by the tale, with an emphasis on diversity and celebrating difference.
"I wanted to make stories accessible to all," says founder Jake Harris. "I have a young family and I know how hard it is to make time to read to my children every night. I think it is important that a screen is not the last thing they see before they go to bed at night, so a story podcast is a great way for them to wind down and relax. I am also a year 5 teacher and so I was looking for new an innovative way of engaging children in storytelling - and a podcast is the perfect medium to reach children growing up in 2018. Furthermore, all my stories have a heart, I am passionate about inclusivity and strive to write stories that celebrate difference whether that be gender, ethnicity or ability."
All stories are original and written by Harris, who has "tested them extensively" on the children in his own school. But the production is a family effort, too - Harris's children Leo and Bel are the 'Little Helpers' at the end of the podcast while his wife Beth, who is a graphic designer and works in marketing, designed the logo and runs the social media sites.
What's the& gap in the market?
As a parent, Harris knows that parents often struggle to fit in bedtime stories, even though they know they're important - especially in an age where children can spend their days overloaded by busy schedules and screen time.
"I think it is so important for children to read, listen, imagine, think and relax - and a book at bedtime does exactly that," he says. "Also as a father of three, it is sometimes hard to find a story that appeals to all three ages – other story podcasts tend to focus on pre-school children or slightly older. I am confident my stories can be enjoyed by a wider age range of children. Story Shed also offers the opportunity for parents/teachers and children to discuss the story, through carefully chosen questions at the end of the podcast. This is what makes us unique."
Success so far?
Harris is overwhelmed at the scale and speed of the response his homegrown project has provoked.
"We have had people listening on every continent of the world, which is fantastic," he admits. "When I started Story Shed I thought it would be a great resource for me as a teacher and something I could use at home. At no point did I think that someone in Mozambique or South Korea would be listening to my stories! I have also had contact from teachers saying that they are using it in classrooms and assemblies, as well as parents who are listening to it not only at bedtime but in the car on long journeys or in the mornings at breakfast instead of turning on the television."
With book-related podcasts very much flavour of the month, Story Shed has a tough time cutting through the noise - but Harris is also concerned about the people getting left behind by the 'audio revolution.'
"There is still a little uncertainty amongst some people about what a podcast is and how they can access it," he reports. "We work hard at Story Shed to reach our local community, schools, libraries etc. as well as on a global scale through social media, radio and press. Word of mouth and recommendations will spread the word and I am confident that we will continue to grow."
Harris has many more stories written and ready to be released; now he is hoping to build relationships with key people within the publishing and podcast community to reach as wide an audience as possible. "I have read my stories in my own school to a range of different age groups, from reception classes to year six, so I know that they engage an audience," he says. "I would love the opportunity to share my stories in other schools and settings, such as libraries, theatres and festivals.
Harris aims to increase audience numbers globally, and also look at ways to engage less natural listeners, such as children who are reluctant readers or parents who don’t have the time or confidence to read regularly to them. He would also love to see his stories illustrated, whether digitally or in print. "I have imagined how they would look many times and would love to see this realised," he says.
Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
"Don’t be scared. If you are a writer and you think your stories are good then you should go for it. It took a lot of courage to push the button on the podcast to make it live. There were a few hours of unbearable nerves at the thought of people I know (and don’t) listening to my stories. Once the positive feedback started to come in and I could see the downloads increasing, there was a sense of relief and a feeling of “I can actually do this!”. The podcast has allowed me to easily reach people in my local community, as well as on the other side of the world. With only a little financial input and a bit of technology, anything is possible."