By Frannie Ucciferri, Common Sense Media
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. Why would anyone (especially kids who've grown up with YouTube and Netflix) 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. Check out these 20 awesome podcasts for kids -- including perfect bedtime stories, science exploration, cool news, and more. Plus, find out the best way to get them and use them. (We took our best guess for the target ages but include them as a guide since some of the content can be mature.)
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 (but not mobile) app that only features kid-friendly podcasts
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.
Pros and Cons of Podcasts for Kids
On the plus side, 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, compelling stories, and more. Some are designed in a serial format with cliffhangers at the end to get kids to tune back in.
On the downside, podcasts:
- Play lots of ads. Many podcasts run several minutes of ads at the beginning or end. Because they're often read by the podcast host, the ads can feel like a hard sell.
- Can be confusing. Many podcasts update regularly, so you can jump right in and start listening. Others are styled like radio or TV shows, so the most recent episode is actually the end of a season. Check whether something is serialized or long-form before listening to the most recent update.
- Vary in age-appropriateness. The iTunes Store labels podcasts "Explicit" or "Clean," but even a "Clean" label doesn't guarantee kid-friendly content. When in doubt, listen first before sharing with your kids.
Luckily we've discovered some excellent kid-friendly podcasts that you and your family will love listening to. Here are 20 of our favorites:
For the Whole Family
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
Wow in the World 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
Book Club for Kids 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 and teens
This American Life This popular NPR radio show is now also the most downloaded podcast in the country. It combines personal stories, journalism, and even stand-up comedy for an enthralling hour of content. Host Ira Glass does a masterful job of drawing in listeners and weaving together several "acts" or segments on a big, relatable theme. Teens can get easily hooked along with their parents, but keep in mind that many episodes have mature concepts and frequent swearing. Best for: Teens
Best Bedtime Podcasts
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
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
What If World 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
Stories Podcast 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 Podcasts for Road Trips
The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian 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
Eleanor Amplified 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
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel 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
Welcome to Night Vale Structured like a community radio show for the fictional desert town of Night Vale, the mysterious is ordinary and vice versa in this delightfully eerie series. Both the clever concept and the smooth voice of narrator Cecil Baldwin have helped the show develop a cult-like following. It's a bit creepy and dark for kids, but older listeners will find it perfect for a nighttime drive along a deserted highway. Best for: Teens
Best Podcasts for Science Lovers
But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids 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
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
Tumble 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
Stuff You Should Know From the people behind the award-winning website HowStuffWorks, this frequently updated podcast explains the ins and outs of everyday things from the major ("How Free Speech Works") to the mundane ("How Itching Works"). Longer episodes and occasional adult topics such as alcohol, war, and politics make this a better choice for older listeners, but hosts Josh and Chuck keep things engaging and manage to make even complex topics relatable. And with nearly 1,000 episodes in its archive, you might never run out of new things to learn. Best for: Teens
Best Podcasts for Music Fans
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
The Past & the Curious 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
Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child 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
All Songs Considered This weekly podcast from NPR covers the latest and greatest in new music with a particular focus on emerging artists and indie musicians. It covers a wide range of genres and even includes artist interviews and live performances. Some songs contain adult themes and explicit language, but teens will love discovering a new favorite that you've probably never heard of. Best for: Teens