I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time hearing my kids’ little voices from the back seat as I drive. And when they try to strike up a conversation while I’m focusing on driving, I have a hard time following it and we both get frustrated. So, I love using car time to listen to something together which is entertaining and/or educational. When my older kids were little in the late 90’s, we listened to Boomerang audio magazine (you can still purchase recordings of this), Broadway shows and kids’ music. As they moved into their tween and teen years, we shared the experience of listening to audiobooks together, which helped us connect. These days, with my youngest, we listen to a lot of podcasts. (If you’re not familiar with what a podcast is, check out my post on Podcasts 101.)
Benefits of Podcasts
- Free. There are lots of great podcasts you can listen to for free.
- Portable. Can listen to anywhere – at home while doing art or Legos, in the car on the way to school, on an airplane, or at the dentist’s office.
- Screen free distraction. We all know there are times where parents just need a few minutes to themselves to get something done. We may be in the habit of turning to screens for this, but audio is also a good option.
- Educational. Kids can learn about science, history, ethics and more.
- Learning benefits. Listening to podcasts trains them to listen closely and builds vocabulary. If they read along with a transcript while listening, it can help build their reading proficiency. Audio allows them to visualize ideas in their head, unlike videos. And:
When words are spoken aloud, kids can understand and engage with ideas that are two to three grade-levels higher than their reading level would normally allow. Aural learning is particularly helpful for students who have dyslexia, are blind, or for whom English is their second language, who might struggle with reading or find it helpful to follow a transcript while listening. source – see also http://www.readingrockets.org/article/reading-aloud-build-comprehension
- Ads. Some podcasts have no ads. Some have ads that kids can tell are ads. But many have a host reading the ad, which makes them more powerful for kids and may distract from the main point of the podcast.
- Inappropriate content. Many podcasts NOT kid appropriate. (I’ve definitely had times where I was with my son and I was listening to one of my podcasts that suddenly went somewhere not suitable for young ears!) You can consider using a specialized kids-only podcasting app to be sure everything’s appropriate.
How to Listen
You could use Stitcher, Pocket Casts, Spotify, or whatever app you prefer. Since we always listen in the car using my iPhone, I use Apple Podcasts for all of the podcasts my son listens to. However, if you want your child to be able to manage their own podcast listening on their own device, you might choose a kid-only app such as:
- Kids Listen. iOs app: or listen online at https://app.kidslisten.org/search. On the app, you can choose from these categories: Seasonal Sweeps (collections of episodes on a seasonal theme), Brand New, Dive into the World of Books, Curl up with a Story, Jump Into a [Serial] Adventure, Explore your Curiosity (mostly science shows), Meet Cool People (Interviews), Launch Your Imagination, or my favorite “Starter Episodes” where several podcasts suggest the episode they think is best for you to listen first. You can also create a “stash” of episodes you’ve downloaded to listen to. They have 30+ member podcasts, including several of those listed below. Curated by a grassroots organization of podcasters, parents, teachers, and listening advocates. It is free to download, and you get the most recent episodes for free. There’s a monthly subscription fee for those who want access to archives of older episodes.
- Leela Kids. iOS and Android. Free. You select kids age (3-5, 5-8, 8-12, 12-15) and interest (e.g. stories, music, animals, space, ocean, dinosaurs, math, science, religion, language learning, “curious”) then browse through options. For example, I searched for science for age 5 -8 and got episodes from Wow in the World, Tumble, Fun Kids Science Weekly, Sid the Science Kid, Brains On, Surgery ABCs, and Show about Science. (There were 147 episodes in the category, which is a little overwhelming to scroll through, but certainly plenty of content!) You can also subscribe to and download favorite shows. The Free app includes visual ads in the app and allows up to 3 downloads, up to 3 items in playlist, and up to 3 subscribed shows. The paid premium subscription has no ads and unlimited downloads, items, and shows.
- Pinna Children’s Audio Stories. iOS. $7.99 per month. Age 4 – 12. Audio stories, podcasts, and audio games categorized by age, genre, listening setting (travel, family time, bedtime), and more. Includes exclusive content. To search audio content by age, choose your kid’s age range from the top menu bar (4-5, 6-8, or 9-12). To choose by content type, scroll down to view selections: Featured, Pinna Originals, Activities, Popular, Audiobooks, or Genres. Genres include classics, adventure, animals, fairy tales, science, and more.
What to Listen To
Stories Podcast. Writer Daniel Hinds and narrator Amanda Weldin tell lovely, engaging stories, often with catchy little songs included. Some are original, many are based on classic fairy tales from around the world. We love listening to these on the way to school. Can range from 10 – 12 minutes, or there are some that are told over the course of multiple episodes, but we haven’t tried these yet. Best for ages 5 and up.
Sparkle Stories. Original audio stories. Some fairy tales, some cultural tales. My favorite stories are the ones featuring two kids named Martin and Sylvia. Only a few episodes are available broadly, but if you like them, you can access 875 (!) Sparkle stories on their app. OK for age 4 and up, best 6 – 8.
Story Pirates. Kids write short silly stories, and then adult actors and comedians build them into full stories and act them out, sketch comedy or musical theater style. Silly and wacky. Appeals to kids 4 and up.
Here’s some podcasts that we haven’t tried yet, but I’ve seen many recommendations for.
Little Stories for Tiny People. Around 10 minutes. Mostly whimsical tales about animals. For toddlers and preschoolers at bedtime or anytime.
Peace Out Calming stories that teach mindfulness and meditation and help children calm down at the end of the day. Episodes include breathing exercises and visualizations on feelings like jealousy, anxiety and fear. Best for preschool / early elementary.
Story Time. 10 – 15 minute original bedtime stories, told in a soothing British accent by host Rob Griffiths. Best for preschool / early elementary.
Circle Round. (NPR) Story-telling for age 3 – 10. 10 – 20 minute episodes of carefully-selected folktales from around the world. Topics such as inclusivity, kindness, persistence and generosity.
If you like stories, be sure to also check out my posts on Books Toddlers Love and Books About Inventors.
Tumble – A Science Podcast for Kids. They tell stories about science discoveries with the help of scientists. They both address interesting topics and try to get kids excited about science by interviewing scientists who share their passions. 8 – 15 minutes. Age 6 – 12
Brains On. Episodes are 25 – 35 minutes long. Each week a different kid joins host Molly Bloom and they interview scientists. Answers questions from kid listeners using science and history. Listeners also submit “mystery sounds” which are played early in the episode and described late in the episode. Age 6 – 12.
Wow in the World. (NPR) Science education show on the latest STEM news by Guy Raz from NPR and Mindy Thomas. Professionally produced, so great soundscapes. They have a schtick where Mindy suggests wild and crazy ideas and Guy is the voice of reason – I find it tiresome, but my son loves it. And the science content is excellent.
But Why. 18 – 45 minute episodes. Each episode takes on several questions submitted by kids, tied to a single theme, and answers them with the help of experts. (We haven’t tried it yet, but reviews say it’s good for kids who aren’t ready for Brains On.)
If you like science and are looking for fun science experiments and engineering projects to try with your child, check out my other site, www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.
The Past and the Curious. Comedic actors perform little-known stories from history, aiming to make them inspiring, amazing, and relevant to everyone. Ends with a quiz segment. Professional music scores and original songs.
Dream Big. 15 – 20 minutes. 8 year old host and her mom interview celebrities and award winning experts. Inspires kids to pursue their passions and make their dream a reality.
This Podcast Has Fleas. (NPR) Waffles, a dog, starts a podcast and so does her rival Jones, a cat. There’s also Benny the Gerbil and Mr. Glub the Goldfish. There’s only 6 – 8 episodes. We listened when my son was 6 and he LOVED them and wanted to listen over and over again to each. (And today at age 8, when I mentioned this podcast, he wanted to listen to them again.)
What If World. Listeners call in with questions, which Eric O’Keefe writes original stories in response to. Describes in imaginative detail answers to questions like “What if Elephants Were Alive?” We listened to the “What If I Turned into a Hamburger” episode and enjoyed it.
The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd. We’re looking forward to trying this one, where Dr. Floyd tries to fend off his evil nemesis while learning about history, geography and science. Old time radio in style.
I haven’t tested any of these, but here’s what many sites recommend:
Ear Snacks. Songs and discussions with kids and experts. Best for preschool to early elementary.
Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. “Indie music for indie kids.” Music aimed at kids (Moona Luna, Ella Jenkins, Lunch Money, Caspar Babypants, and They Might Be Giants) and kid-friendly tracks from The Ramones, Mike Doughty, Ella Fitzgerald, Brian Eno, Pizzicato Five, Fishbone, and more.
OWTK’s Kids Music Monthly. Out with the Kids playlist, including the Not-It’s, Recess Monkey, Dan Zanes, Alphabet Rockers and More.
Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl – 2 full hours of kid’s music that’s smart, funny, and interesting.