In 2004, the first podcasting service set up shop. By June of 2013, Apple had hit one billion podcast subscribers and podcasts were becoming commonplace in classrooms. Paul Harris, an educational expert at Harvard, says podcasts are usually written off as viable options for children because most people assume kids need a visual component to engage them. However, more and more parents are discovering they are mentally stimulating ways to occupy their kids down in waiting rooms, during long trips and before bedtime. Is your child missing out on important (and enjoyable) learning opportunities? We've scoured the internet for the highest-ranking programs that entertain and educate.
Here are 15 podcasts your kids will love that you will love them listening to.
CPR's Classics for Kids introduces its audience to classical music in six minute segments. The episodes are brief enough to hold a young listener's attention but are packed with facts and musical excerpts presented in an entertaining way. In the Halloween segment, host Naomi Lewin dons a Transylvanian accent reminiscent of Count Dracula as she tells listeners of trolls and dead marionettes marching. Classical composers get four or five episodes dedicated to them so kids can learn about their lives, music and lasting musical influence without getting overwhelmed by information. Because the show delivers information so effectively, many music teachers have incorporated it into their classrooms.
Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child describes itself as "indie rock for indie kids" but reviews constantly highlight it's appeal to parents. "If Barney makes you cringe, Spare the Rock Spoil the Child is for you," one mom advises. The trick is a rocking selection of the best kid's songs mixed in with family-friendly adult songs. Bill Child hand-picks the selections and promises his audience a collection that is "Kidz-Bop- and condescension- free." Listeners could hear music from They Might Be Giants and Dan Zanes alongside tracks by Elvis Costello and Earth, Wind and Fire. Good music isn't all the show has to offer; there are also book reviews and artist interviews. Throw in a couple of kid co-hosts and you've got a show that's sure to please the whole family!
Tumble is a science podcast show where kids can learn lessons from a biologist in "The Tale of the Bacteria Farmer with Sarah Richardson" or a scientist who studies fear in "The Laboratory of the Haunted House with Margee Kerr". The show uses storytelling to teach its audience about real experiments and scientific principles. The content is explained in a way that kids as young as five can grasp, but interesting enough to engross much older children. The show is co-hosted and produced by Lindsay Patterson, a scientific journalist who was inspired to bring science to the masses after her first interview with a scientist, which made realize she had never really understood science until then. Music teacher Marshall Escamilla co-hosts alongside Patterson and creates the music for the show.
12. Sparkle Stories
With over 900 episodes, Sparkle Stories provides stories, nature projects, recipes and crafts. The show is designed to delight the youngest audience and are recommended for children age three and up. Parents don't have to fear any scary elements that might come back to haunt tiny listeners. These stories don't rely on villains for their plots. One parent describes what others can expect from the podcasts by saying, "[Y]ou get loving, imaginative story weaving perfect for inquisitive, open, young minds. They teach love, respect, kindness and wonder." "Sparkle Stories" isn't a free service, but the company does offer a free ten day subscription for anyone who is interested in trying out their content.
If your child has ever wondered why the sky is blue or who invented words, then you'll definitely want to check out But Why. It covers a wide variety of those random questions children love to ask and, all too often, parents don't know the answers to. The topics are more than just kid-approved; they're created by kids! Listeners record their questions and submit them to be played later during an episode. Allowing kids to guide the show really appeals to its target audience. Kids enjoy hearing what other kids have been wondering about and the prospect of having their own questions featured excites them and inspires them to come up with questions about the world around them.
10. 411 Teen
Dr. Liz Hollifield hosts 411 Teen out of Tallahasee, Florida, and describes it as a "program created with teen input for a teen audience." Some podcasts are centered on local subjects, like one where high school students interview the area's school superintendent candidates, but most of them deal with topics a nationwide audience can relate to. Segments allow listeners to hear directly from teenagers about their feelings on important topics and also include interviews with experts. "411 Teen" tackles tough issues like bullying, drug use and growing up without a father.
The show also provides tips for success with episodes dedicated to writing an effective resume and applying for financial aid. Teens find themselves interested in topics they might otherwise ignore when they hear their peers debating different viewpoints. It's an effective way to get kids thinking about their own opinions on controversial topics like gun control, bathroom legislation and xenophobia.
9. Podcast Kid
Hosted by a kid, for kids, Podcast Kid covers subjects like making friends, how to deal with bossy people (even if that bossy person is you) and nightmares. With a little help from "some other guy", seven-year-old Jenna presents important life lessons in ways that other children can understand. That "other guy" is Jenna's dad, James, who helps create the podcasts. Kids are captivated by hilarious appearances from JoJo the Clown. Jenna also discusses movies, books, shows and games that kids love. The list of podcasts on the website mixes in episodes by Jenna's brother J, The Grateful Kid, with episodes like "Grateful for Restaurants", which discusses how kids can show their thankfulness while eating out.
Short and Curly is a podcast that is best listened to as a family. Each installment probes ethical dilemmas like "Is It Ever Okay To Lie?" and "Is It Ever Okay To Fight Back Against a Bully?" It poses a perfect opportunity to discuss complex issues with children and hear what they think about them. "Should You Love Your Sibling?" is likely to arouse a reaction from feuding siblings and challenge their views at the same time. Episodes like "Should Chimps Have the Same Rights as Kids?" and "Can You Trust a Robot?" are perfect fodder for a philosophical debate. Segments are not tedious moral lectures, however; the show is lighthearted and compelling. The two adult hosts present the quandary, often in a comedic skit, and turn to young guests for their answers. Ethicist Dr. Matt Beard appears in each episode to provide different ways of looking at the question.
Astronomy Cast is tailor-made for youngsters captivated by outer space. Megastructures investigates an unusual transit signal from another star. According to the podcast host, it is most likely that this is a natural phenomenon; however, the podcast does explore the possibility set forth by Freeman Dyson and others decades ago that this could be an alien occurrence. This series teaches scientifically sound principles while piquing the listeners' interest.
Storynory is an easy favorite for children. Recommended for ages three and up, these podcasts are delivered in a soothing fashion that makes them a great choice for bedtime, or any other time you want your kids to calm down. These stories fascinate kids of all ages and many parents too. Stoynories, as they're called on the site, not only deliver new, listener-generated stories, but classic stories as well, ranging from Norse and Greek myths to fairy-tales and more.
This site puts its own twist on well-known stories by telling them from the point-of-view of a new character. For example, the speedy hare gives his version of the race between himself and the tortoise in order to dispel any myth that the tortoise won; the real winner was undoubtedly the cunning fox.
5. Youth Radio
Youth Radio is an award-winning program that trains teens and young adults in media and technology and airs their stories on public radio stations nationwide. The program has reached an audience of 30 million listeners. The website has a searchable database, or you can choose one of ten categories to browse. Podcasts cover a plethora of topics including: disabilities, familial issues, science and issues faced by the LGBTQ community.
The Children's Hour hosted by Katie Stone ranks at the top of the list because it covers a range of topics such as influential author R.L. Stine and successful screenwriter and puppeteer Jim Henson. In addition to informing the audience of prominent artists, it also collaborates with police officers to present Safe Kids which teaches kids ways to be safe inside and outside of their homes. The most recent episodes teach kids how the Electoral College works and explores the influence of campaign songs on elections.
Story Pirates is a critically acclaimed program that works to promote literacy and encourage confident self-expression. Founded in 2004 by a group of Northwestern University graduates which included comedian Kristen Schaal, "Story Pirates" brings children's original stories to life using talented actors and comedians in live performances across the country.
The troupe employs the use of imaginative costumes, lovable puppets and songs to show kids the value of their own words. After seeing a performance with his son, John Stewart endorsed the show on "Larry King Live" and even let Kristen Schaal, Zola the Monster and Rolo the Pirate take over his set on "The Daily Show". The Pirates usually perform at locations around New York City, but in 2013 they began releasing podcasts so everyone can enjoy the young writers' creations. These podcasts could spark your own child's creativity, so don't forget to submit the finished product for possible inclusion on radio segments or podcasts.
Our next choice comes highly recommended by both kids and parents alike. With over 225,000 monthly downloads, it's a regular at the top of the iTunes and Stitcher podcast charts. MPR's Brain's On! covers everything from brain freeze to lemonade rain while completely absorbing listeners. Children (and adults) walk away from podcasts being able to explain how glass is made and why our voices sound different when they're recorded without realizing they just sat through a science class. The show boasts an impressive array of guest experts from astronauts to zoologists. Host Molly Bloom is joined by a different pair of children each episode to answer a listener's question.
To keep kids interested, the hosts never dwell on anything for more than a few minutes, change speakers regularly and include fun segments. In How Do Airplanes Fly? the audience gets to listen to Gloria Goldfinch explain how her feathers benefit her, an excerpt from an original broadcast about the Wright Brothers and guess an aviation related mystery sound. Bloom says the secret to the show's success is having kids interview the experts; this ensures guests will explain their answers in ways that kids understand.
Another hit from MTPR, "Pea Green Boat” has been airing for over 30 years and won the top spot due to educational and humanitarian mission. It's a show for children of all ages that entertains with songs, stories, poetry and special guests. The Pea Green Boat sets sail each weekday afternoon. Once a week, the Poetry Club takes over and every Monday librarian employed by Missoula's public libraries feature books, both new and classic. This show is the home of many favored, original songs like "The Hamster Dance" and "Peanut Bitter Bears". Although disguised as fun and games, these educational episodes promote kindness and inclusion through podcasts through segments that address differences like disability and race. Through a collaboration with the China National Theater, listeners can hear a performance of "The Princess and the Pea" by children in Beijing.