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December 18, 2018

Sound Advice: Taking Podcasts for (Actual) Road Tests

Podcasts 1

Podcasts for families on the go and kids who want to be in the know.

Car trips to grandpas. Airplane flights. And long, cozy days. Travel and time off together can mean a lot of family time, sometimes in enclosed spaces. While we don’t always succeed, my husband and I spend a lot of time trying to sidestep screen time with our son. And our silver bullet, TV- and tablet-busting tool is another form of digital content: Podcasts.

Most podcasts best suit children who are preschool-age and beyond. Not every little one is ready to listen to long tales at the same age. And that’s okay, but from three or four to, well, adulthood, our listening skills grow and expand, and good, kid-friendly podcasts help children stretch and expand their attention spans.

Each of the selections below can provide great screen-free focus time (and sometimes, give grown-ups a little break) that build tiny minds. I shared each with my son, to get both the grown-up and the kid perspective.

UPDATED: In April 2019, we discovered a new podcast. It’s a health booster AND a game-changer. Scroll to the bottom of the list to discover this new one, which keeps my whole family smiling!

Wow In The World

A Podcast for Curious Kids and Their Grown-Ups

Wow in the World was the first NPR podcast for kids, and it’s the very best podcast, according to my son. Hosts Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas introduce science concepts in fun and accessible ways. Guy is the sensible one (think kale chips and early bedtimes) and Mindy is kooky (think made-up words and crazy inventions). Together, they take on icky and far-out topics, from cockroaches to black holes. My son delights in the energetic dialogue, and I love the way he absorbs science processes. Plus, all the giggles and wordplay make for fun car rides.

Peace Out

Relaxation and Mindfulness Stories for Kids

Need help getting your little one to calmly move from busy times to calm times? Want to build your child’s ability to manage their feelings and moods? Peace Out provides lovely stories and skill-building that make life so much easier at my house. My son appreciates that this is a child-friendly approach to mindfulness. It’s friendly, rather than preachy or pushy. And mama’s favorite part? Each episode teaches strategies for self-regulation.

Smash Boom Best

A Debate Show for Kids and Families

From the creators of Brains On! (another great science podcast), Smash Boom Best puts two items head to head in a debate. Match-ups include cats vs. dogs, tacos vs. pizza, and books vs. movies. The two adult debaters present their arguments, which are then awarded points from a kid judge. My son loves listening to their ideas, but, let’s be honest, is pretty much un-swayed by arguments for anything but his pre-existing favorites. There is a little light trash talk that adults may want to monitor.

Short & Curly

Fast-paced Fun-filled Ethics Podcast for Kids and Their Parents

Great for elementary and up, this podcast from down-under (AKA Australia) examines ethical questions that kids face every day. They chat about an issue, like friendship, lying and teasing, talk to kids about their thoughts and then talk to a PhD-holding ethicist to see what they think. My family loves that this show prompts listeners to pause the episode and talk about the issue themselves. It’s given my son the chance to talk about challenging experiences and to think hard about how to treat others.

Circle Round

Where Story Time Happens All the Time

Circle Round shares global stories in bite-sized, 10-20 minute episodes. It’s perfect for preschool through early elementary students. The diverse tales offer lessons on kindness, bravery and other important traits. One of the best things about Circle Round, for families facing long journeys, is their playlists. My son really loves moving from the international stories to our map books. I love talking about what we can learn from each story.

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Ear Snacks

A Musical Podcast for Kids About the World

Great for younger listeners, Ear Snacks features Andrew and Polly who use music to explore the world. The music is quirky and fun. They explore an impressively large range of topics this way, from farming and teeth to puzzles and sounds. My son enjoys how actual children are interviewed as the “experts” on this show. I like that it’s light-hearted and uses songs to explore the world.

Dad and Me Love History

The Fun Weekly Podcast that Answers the Big Questions in History

I am a sucker for a great family collaboration. While my family works together in the kitchen, James Anderson Letters and his history-teaching dad, Paul, work on this podcast. On Dad and Me Love History, they cover lots of history — in China, Russia, Australia and more. This podcast skews older (I’d say seven and up), but my early elementary kid loves hearing this father-son duo dig into the past together.

Classics for Kids

Here to Help You Learn About Classical Music and Have Fun Too

With short, weekly episodes, host Naomi Lewin introduces classical music to kids. Classics for Kids is fast-paced, full of intriguing facts about composers. Little listeners can discover both insight into instruments and big name composers, as well as little snippets of the tunes. My kid loves hearing about the biographies of musical greats, especially the challenges that they’ve overcome. I love that the podcast helps him to be a more astute and engaged listener to all music.

The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian

A Serialized Science-Fiction Story for Kids

Told in 15- to 20- minute episodes, Finn Caspian‘s wild space adventures please sci-fi enthusiasts old and young. This one also includes some father-son collaboration, with the writer Jonathan Messinger’s son also serving as the show’s sound editor. Through Finn’s adventures with friends, kids enjoy a great story with some essential lessons. And they also get exposed to classics of children’s literature, which often serve as the basis of story lines. My son loves anything related to space, and this series is no exception.


Make Tooth Time Easy

Recommended by a dad with more kids and more years parenting than me, Chompers has transformed one essential piece of our morning and bedtime routine: tooth brushing. After a quick intro, each episode provides two minutes of riddles, jokes, interviews or other entertaining content. Some shows provide new insights into science, some into the written word and some into fun, silly topics. While they brush, kid’s will hear reminders to move from one quadrant of their mouth to the next. Chompers makes the daily chore a little bit more fun — and the brushing a lot more focused— in my house.

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