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
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