What if something out there had your kid begging you to turn off the TV or tablet, put away the video games, and listen to a story? It seems practically impossible in today's media environment. It can be hard for kids who've grown up with YouTube and Netflix to bother with screenless entertainment. But with podcasts, "no screens" becomes "no problem." Podcasts made for, and even by, kids are popping up all over the place.
Many adults are already familiar with podcasts, thanks to popular but mature hits such as Serial and Radiolab. But thankfully, podcasters are starting to realize that kids love what they're doing as much as grown-ups. Teachers are even using them in the classroom. With exciting stories, fascinating facts, and lively sound effects to grab kids' interest, all you need for an entertaining family-listening experience are some headphones or a set of speakers.
How to listen
It can be daunting for a first-timer to enter the world of podcasts, but digital tools have made it easier than ever to start listening. Podcasts are available to stream online or with a "podcatcher," an app you can download specifically for podcasts.
Here are some popular options for listening:
- Podcasts. The original podcast app (only available for Apple iOS)
- Stitcher Radio for Podcasts. "Stitch" together custom podcast playlists with this mobile app
- Pocket Casts. A mobile app with a sleek, easy-to-use interface
- SoundCloud. An online audio-streaming platform for podcasts as well as music (also an app)Podbay.fm. Streaming platform specifically for podcasts (app available for Android, but iOS coming soon)
- Kids Listen. An online service that features kid-friendly podcasts (app available for iOS, but Android coming soon)
Once you have your favorite app or website, search its library by topic and start exploring everything from science to sports to movies and more. And don't forget to subscribe! Subscribing lets the app push new episodes directly to your device as soon as they're available, so you'll always have the latest update at your fingertips.
Top benefits of podcasts
- Boost learning. With engaging hosts and compelling stories, podcasts can be great tools to teach kids about science, history, ethics, and more. Listening to stories helps kids build vocabulary, improve reading skills, and even become more empathetic.
- Reduce screen time. With podcasts, families can enjoy the same level of engagement, entertainment, and education as screen-based activities without worrying about staring at a screen.
- Go anywhere. Podcasts are completely portable. You can listen in the car, on the bus, or in a classroom or even while doing chores around the house.
- Cost nothing. Podcasts don't have subscription or download fees, so anyone with internet access can listen and download for free. Most podcatcher apps are free, too.
- Get two thumbs up from kids! Podcasts are designed to hook kids with music, jokes and compelling stories. Some are designed in a serial format with cliffhangers at the end to get kids to tune back in.
Kid-friendly podcasts you and your family will love listening to
For the whole family
1. Dream Big
Precocious 7-year-old Eva Karpman and her mom interview celebs, award winners, and experts in a range of fields each week, with a hope of encouraging young people to find their passion and follow their dreams. The relatable mother-daughter dynamic and the big-name guests make this a fun choice for kids and their parents to listen to together. Best for: Kids of all ages
One of the newest podcasts to hit the scene, NPR's first show for kids is exactly the sort of engaging, well-produced content you would expect from the leaders in radio and audio series. Hosts Guy Roz and Mindy Thomas exude joy and curiosity while discussing the latest news in science and technology in a way that's enjoyable for kids and informative for grown-ups. Best for: Kids of all ages
This excellent biweekly podcast features middle schoolers talking about a popular middle-grade or YA book as well as sharing their favorite book recommendations. Public radio figure Kitty Felde runs the discussion, and each episode includes a passage of that week's book read by a celebrity guest. Best for: Tweens
Best for bedtime
4. Peace Out
Produced by the same people who do Story Time, this is a gentle podcast that encourages relaxation as well as mindfulness. Great for bedtime, but also any time of day when kids could use a calming activity, this podcast combines breathing exercises with whimsical visualizations for a truly peaceful experience. Best for: Preschoolers and little kids
5. Story Time
These 10 to 15 minute stories are a perfect way to lull your little one to sleep. The podcast is updated every other week, and each episode contains a kid-friendly story, read by a soothing narrator. Short and sweet, it's as comforting as listening to your favorite picture book read aloud. Best for: Preschoolers and little kids
With wacky episode titles such as "What if Legos were alive?" and "What if sharks had legs?," this series takes ridiculous "what if" questions submitted by young listeners and turns them into a new story every two weeks. Host Eric O'Keefe uses silly voices and crazy characters to capture the imaginations of young listeners with a Mad Libs-like randomness. Best for: Kids of all ages
One of the first kids' podcasts to grasp podcasts' storytelling capabilities, this podcast is still going strong with kid-friendly renditions of classic stories, fairy tales, and original works. These longer stories with a vivid vocabulary are great for bigger kids past the age for picture books but who still love a good bedtime story. Best for: Big kids
Best for road trips
This serialized podcast tells the story of an 8-year-old boy living on an interplanetary space station who explores the galaxy and solves mysteries with his friends. With no violence or edgy content and with two seasons totaling over 13 hours of content, this sci-fi adventure is perfect for long car rides. Best for: Kids and tweens
Inspired by old-timey radio shows -- complete with over-the-top sound effects -- this exciting serial podcast follows a plucky journalist who goes on adventures looking for her big scoop. Tweens will love Eleanor's wit and daring and might even pick up some great messages along the way. There's even a "Road Trip Edition" episode with the entire first season in a single audio file. Best for: Tweens
This Peabody Award-winning scripted mystery series has been called a Stranger Things for tweens. With a voice cast of actual middle schoolers, a gripping, suspenseful plot, and interactive tie-ins, this story about an 11-year-old searching for his missing friends will keep tweens hooked to the speakers for hours -- more than five, to be exact. Best for: Tweens
Best for science lovers
Kids are always asking seemingly simple questions that have surprisingly complex answers, such as "Why is the sky blue?" and "Who invented words?" This cute biweekly radio show/podcast takes on answering them. Each episode features several kid-submitted questions, usually on a single theme, and with the help of experts, it gives clear, interesting answers. Best for: Kids of all ages
12. Brains On
Similar to But Why, this is another radio show/podcast that takes kid-submitted science questions and answers them with the help of experts. What makes this one different is it tends to skew a bit older, both in its questions and answers, and it has a different kid co-host each week. The result is a fun show that's as silly as it is educational. Best for: Kids and tweens
Often compared to a kid-friendly Radiolab, this podcast not only addresses fascinating topics but also tries to foster a love of science itself by interviewing scientists about their process and discoveries. The hosts don't assume that listeners have a science background -- but even kids who think they don't like science may change their minds after listening to this podcast. Best for: Kids and tweens
Best for Music fans
14. Ear Snacks
The catchy soundtrack is the star in this delightful podcast from children's music duo Andrew & Polly (not surprising since the hosts have created songs for Wallykazam! and Sesame Studios). But this funny program also covers a range of topics by talking to actual kids as well as experts, providing thoughtful fun for young ones and their grown-ups. Best for: Preschoolers and little kids
Reminiscent of the TV show Drunk History (minus the alcohol), this amusing podcast features people telling interesting, little-known stories from history with an emphasis on fun and humor. Although it's not specifically a music podcast, each episode contains an often-silly song that's sure to get stuck in your head. There's even a quiz segment, so kids will learn something, too. Best for: Kids of all ages
Families can enjoy rock and roll without the downsides with this fun radio show/podcast. Each week there's a new playlist combining kids' music from artists such as They Might Be Giants, with kid-appropriate songs from artists that grown-ups will recognize, such as Elvis Costello, The Ramones, and John Legend. It's a perfect compromise for parents tired of cheesy kids' music. Best for: Kids of all ages
Originally posted on Common Sense Media.