Kids these days are growing up with unprecedented access to the internet and social media. Even the youngest children find their way online to watch videos and play games.
While the world wide web can be a downright dangerous place for little ones, there are creators like Ms. Rachel producing friendly, educational content for parents with tech-forward toddlers.
If you’ve heard your kids singing along to tunes about colors and animals, or caught yourself dancing along to these unfamiliar rhymes, you may be wondering who exactly this Ms. Rachel is.
Is she qualified to teach language to toddlers? How did her channel, with more than 2 million subscriptions, become so popular?
Rachel Griffin Accurso, known on the web as simply Ms. Rachel, got her start as a preschool teacher in New York City.
According to her biography on the Songs for Littles website, she has a masters in music education from NYU and is pursuing a second masters degree in early childhood development.
She’s now one of the internet’s most popular producers of content tailored specifically to toddlers and preschoolers.
Her team includes her husband, Aron Accurso, a Broadway composer in his own right who brings Ms. Rachel’s lessons to life with music and puppetry.
They are joined by Emmy nominated Beth Jean, who animates the recurring digital characters that appear throughout Songs for Littles videos.
Ms. Rachel also employs a team of talented songwriters who have worked in television and film before venturing into children’s web content.
Perhaps most importantly, Ms. Rachel’s team includes Frida Matute, the Founding Executive Director of a private speech therapy practice in NYC.
She received an undergraduate degree in Speech and Hearing Science and Psychology from the George Washington University before completing a Master’s degree from Northwestern University.
Before opening her speech therapy practice, Matute worked for NYU Language Medical Center’s Rusk Institute in pediatric language pathology.
Along with Ms. Rachel, Matute brings a verifiable educational background to the operation that can give parents confidence their children are being taught useful skills using legitimate methods.
The inspiration behind Songs for Littles is personal to Accurso. Her son, Thomas, was diagnosed with a speech delay shortly before her decision to start producing videos.
“His first word was at 2 years and 8 months and it was ‘mama’ and I had waited for that for so long,” Accurso tells NBC News’ Gadi Schwartz.
“As a parent you want to do anything you can to help them and it’s not our fault when our child has a speech delay. A lot of things I teach are things I wish I had known for my son.”
Desperate for a fun educational tool that could help her son, she scoured children’s television programs and videos on sites like YouTube.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was a show that really encouraged language development and worked on these important milestones and was slow-paced and a real person and very interactive?'”
Unable to find any programming that met her son’s needs, she decided to create her own out of a makeshift studio in her one-bedroom apartment.
“I kept searching for this show for him and we couldn’t find it, so I was like, maybe we can try to create it and maybe it would help more kids,” Accurso says.
The result of her effort is a channel with over two million subscribers and over one billion views.
Much of her success with toddlers and preschoolers is due to her video’s simplicity, catchy songs, and friendly imagery.
The videos frequently cut to close ups of her mouth as she pronounces words, she leaves pauses for viewer responses, and she always makes sure to encourage and praise the little students watching.
Puppets Georgie and Herbie, operated by Aron, help bring concepts like colors and counting to life alongside cute animations with peppy voices.
Parents online have sung praises for Ms. Rachel’s content. Buzzfeed writer Loryn Brantz said she was “thrilled” to find videos that were “super engaging, fun, and well done” that she doesn’t feel guilty about putting in front of her child.
Another mother told Evie Magazine, “When I cut out Cocomelon and put on Ms. Rachel, he started bursting out with words. He’s not even two yet, so of course these aren’t clear words, but to me as a mother, I knew what he was trying to say. He started saying ‘oh, oh, knock, knock, mumma, dadda.’”
While shows like Cocomelon are catchy and hyperstimulate children’s short attention spans, they don’t prompt speech development like Ms. Rachel’s videos.
Scientists say that young children learn a significant part of their language skills by observing lip movements, which are just as important as being able to hear speech. That makes the close ups in Songs for Littles a significant improvement on Saturday morning cartoons.
All of Ms. Rachel’s care and attention to detail have certainly paid off. Her net worth is reportedly over $10 million dollars and estimates suggest her channel brings in from $20,000 to as much as $400,000 per video based on ad revenue from her enormous view counts.