International Children's Arts Network has increased listenership in the past year with content geared toward youth.

COURTESY PHOTO - ICAN youth reporters Emma Clark (16, Catlin Gabel School) and Raquel Armendariz (15, Franklin High School) and intern Melissa Hood, left, interviewed 'Can You Hear It?' author William Lach.Other than to provide entertainment for children and teenagers and their adult companions, All Classical Portland had an ulterior motive when it launched the International Children's Arts Network: to create an alternative to YouTube, movies, TV shows and video games — all the "screen" stuff.

"I wanted this to be more of an audio program, because we all saw how screens are playing a large part in lives and I wanted this to be an outlet," said Suzanne Nance, president and CEO of All Classical Portland and ICAN. "And, we have to meet children and humans where they are. The idea is to hit play, download an activity, use good old crayons and listen."

Yes, there's a coloring program on ICAN. And, there's a program called "Screenshot" that addresses movies, TV shows and video games, because "we know kids are going to watch television and play video games, but our hope is, while they're doing those activities, there are other alternatives. It'll never be a one-and-nothing thing," said Sarah Zwinklis, ICAN's program manager, on-air host and producer.

The network, which includes some live programming and streaming at and locally on All Classical Portland's HD-2 channel, turned 2 years old April 15. Nance said it's believed to be the only network of its kind — programming for kids, as well as parents, grandparents, guardians, nannies and the like. It's now available for streaming 24 hours per day, with programming after 7 p.m. including soothing nature sounds and lullabies, or things not meant to keep kids awake.

"The most unique thing about ICAN is, it was designed with children's voices at the forefront," Nance said. "My background was with PBS affiliate stations that had outstanding children's programming, but it was driven by adults.

"At the outset we had children come in; I remember the early days when young people would be bouncing in and out, recording adventure stories or sharing pieces of music and speaking in their native language. Those days were so exciting; I knew we were creating some new and different."

COURTESY PHOTO - Students Raquel Armendariz and Olivia Dever interview DJ Lance Rock of 'Yo Gabba Gabba!'
All the content is locally produced through the All Classical Portland studio in Southeast Portland, and, these days, via the Internet because of the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions and safety guidelines, which curtailed in-person programming development. Zwinklis has been interviewing kids via video conference call in recent months for network content.

The network has reached audiences in 80 countries — All Classical Portland streaming reaches more than 100 — and it draws about 1,700 unique listeners per month. Web traffic increased by 83% in the second year. Obviously Nance and Zwinklis want to see more people gravitate to ICAN, but those are promising numbers so far.

"When we launched it, we envisioned an international audience," Nance said. "The goal was to provide a window out from the Pacific Northwest to the world and a window back in. And to elevate local artists and communities.

"We knew All Classical Portland had an amazing international reach. We thought our children's network should be just as far-reaching."

Parents can sit down with their children and listen. Parents can turn it on and have their children listen. Even educators have used ICAN as a teaching tool — perhaps, in the future, the network could be affiliated with schools. Nance calls it "an audio playground."

Said Zwinklis: " We're certainly hitting the audience I was hoping to hit. We have families of all types, not just mom and dad, but grandparents and caretakers and nannies and teachers."

COURTESY PHOTO - A child works on coloring while listening to International Children's Arts Network.Programming has been designed to keep kids interested, said Zwinklis, who added that popularity of podcasts indicates that people can be entertained by audio only. It's programmed like radio but streamed over the Internet.

Instagram and TikTok accounts helped get the attention of kids. The website has been tested with children, and it includes interactive/download devices.

"A lot of adults have said, 'Don't tell anybody, but it's become my favorite station,'" Nance said, "even though it's designed for kids."

Zwinklis worked with Portland-metro area kids in the pre-pandemic times on interviews and content.

She has been creative to fill time, obviously, and literally went out and recorded a babbling brook, ocean waves hitting the beach, rain on the roof, waterfalls and wind blowing through trees and more in nature for background sound to go with lullabies in the nighttime and early morning hours. Remember, it's programming for countries around the world and not just kids and adults in the Pacific time zone.

Zwinklis was recruited and hired for ICAN, and Nance called her "one of the most creative human beings on Earth."

"Screenshot" at 3 p.m. each day has been one of the more popular programs. It's an entry point to other discoveries on the channel, Nance said.

"International Dance Hour" includes music from around the world and singing in native languages, as well as stories. It airs at 9 a.m.

The "Mindful Moments" program, 7 a.m., speaks to kids about the importance of being patient and breathing through difficult moments they might encounter during the day.

At 2 p.m., it's "Colorful Composition," which gives inspiration for expressive art, creating, drawing, watercolor, etc. At 5 p.m., it's "Storytime," and Zwinklis worked with children's book authors on an "Audio Book Tour."

And, of course, the nature sounds and lullabies during night and morning hours. Classical music also has been integrated in programming.

In the future, ICAN will include a program that merges science and art, called "sARTience."

Zwinklis said she has worked with students from several schools, including a preschool. In-person interaction and programming with kids would resume when safety guidelines and precaution allow it.

Overall, ICAN seeks to enhance the social and emotional literacy and cultural fluency of young listeners around the world, through joyful content

"Studies show that brain development during a child's first five years is faster than at any other time in life," Zwinklis said.

"Our 24-hour, commercial-free programming delivers educational content to supplement and support our young listeners' development, especially when in-person learning experiences remain limited."

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