We are BIG podcast fans in our house. I listen to podcasts everyday, and my kids most nights. As well as supplementing (or replacing…) a live human being reading a story at bedtime, we play them in the car, and just this week I had the genius idea of putting them on for each kid to keep them happily in the bath for longer.
Podcasts sometimes work as Sites of Mutual Fulfilment where we’re all hanging out together. The kids listen to podcasts, I ‘supervise’ while doing my own thing next to them.
Last year I put together this short list for Patrons of some of our favourite podcasts for kids. Today I want to add a bunch more, and put them all here on Sacraparental.
At the end I’ve also got a list of what I will test out next, and what I want to see more of from podcast producers.
Best Bedtime Podcasts for Kids
Peace Out is meditation and mindfulness podcast for kids, written and presented by the calmest, kindest voice in the world, belonging to Canadian Chanel Tsang. She describes it as ‘short stories that help children calm down and relax by guiding them through visualization and breathing exercises. Perfect for parents or teachers who want to teach mindfulness and self-regulation.’
Each season follows a slightly different format and theme, but the general pattern is a 15ish-minute guided meditation on a creative theme. Pretending to be a tiger, or a space explorer, Chanel invites us to move our bodies in focused ways, takes us through breathing exercises, and along the way she shares the odd bit of emotional intelligence and wisdom, about things like body autonomy, kindness, and giving space to our feelings.
Last season she also invited kids to send in voice recordings describing their ‘safe spaces’, wherever they feel safe and calm. It’s a great little extra reinforcement of good thoughts.
Each episode involves movement, so they’re not going-to-sleep stories, but we have found them good at bedtime to sort of get the wiggles out.
Best Story Podcasts for Kids
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
This is the bestselling book come to life, with each story read by a different person from all over the world.
Most podcast eps of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls are a bit too scary for young kids – these are real life things going on in a not-so-great world. There’s a full soundscape, including gunfire and dramatic music when relevant.
I particularly appreciate that the stories are told by people who can pronounce names properly in the languages of the rebel girls, rather than just some English-speaking approximation of ‘foreign’ names.
The Two Princes
The old-fashioned serialised radio play is back, and it’s now finding a home in the podcasting format. The Two Princes is a top-shelf example, aimed at, I’d guess, 10-14-year-olds (but my kids, 4 and 7, were enthralled).
A star-studded cast tells a fairytale quest story of two warring kingdoms, and [spoiler, but a great reason to listen:] it ends with the two opposing princes falling in love.
Each episode is the next instalment of the story – or the series is basically one audiobook if you’re getting to it now that each ep has been released.
Molly of Denali
Another serial story, this time for slightly younger kids, Molly of Denali is a companion podcast released just before the main TV cartoon version launched on PBS in the States.
Molly is Athabascan, one of the original peoples of Alaska, and she and her family throw in quite a few words of their language throughout each episode. In the podcast, it’s just one story serialised over nine episodes, and in the TV show, the story expands a bit, and includes a new friend who is African American and has just relocated from Texas – so themes of understanding new cultures are well explored in both directions.
The show website has extra resources – even apps! – for fans.
Becoming Mother Nature
I’ve only heard the first episode so far, but based on that I’d recommend this for older children.
Becoming Mother Nature is a drama centred on 12-year-old Chloë, who starts out as a surly child sent away to live with her eccentric grandmother.
It turns out her grandmother is Mother Nature herself, and Chloë is next in line for the title, with a lot to learn. And now there’s a big storm coming…
There are mean kids at school and themes of parental distress/abandonment, so this isn’t one for younger listeners.
Circle Round is one of the highest quality podcasts we listen to, though my recommendation comes with two caveats.
The very talented Rebecca Sheir writes and narrates dramatised retellings of folk stories from all over the world. She recruits a diverse range of Hollywood and Broadway actors (Billy Porter! Richard Kind! Amanda Seyfried!) to bring them to life, with full soundscapes. There’s a brief, gentle framing for each one that draws out moral lessons or asks what choices listeners would make, and suggests they talk to a friend or adult about the topic.
Musician Eric Shimelonis (they’re life partners as well as podcast partners) composes music for each ep, featuring – get this – a single instrument, different each time. There are also colouring sheets for each story that you can download from their website.
Reservations: I can’t find any information on how the creators make sure this podcast is cultural appreciation, and not cultural appropriation.
I think they’re working on a Brothers Grimm kind of model, retelling stories that appear all over all sorts of countries and cultures, and working from published folktale collections. For each story Rebecca tells us where in the world it comes from, but only in one sentence. The effect for someone far from the original culture is interest, curiosity and delight, for sure.
I’m instinctively comfortable with this process when it comes to a story from, say, Ireland, Norway, or Turkmenistan. But I’d be horrified if she turned her attention to, say, Māui, without much more acknowledgement of who the stories belong to, and there definitely have been some stories from First Nations peoples so far. One story is presented as one told by ‘Aboriginal peoples of Australia’, and features the name of the great Creator, without being specific about which people use this name for the Creator. Sheir and Shimelonis don’t seem to have talked about this stuff anywhere I can find online, so this podcast won’t be for everybody. On the ‘benefit of the doubt’ side, First Nations actors star in those stories, and the casting, generally, is great, and appropriate for the cultures of the stories. I just don’t have all the information I feel like I need to wholeheartedly recommend this to everyone, despite its truly excellent production quality.
Also, like many podcasts, Circle Round is supported by advertising, before, after and/or at half-time, which I skip. Pleasingly, it’s usually exactly 30-seconds so easily skippable!
RNZ Treasure Chest
Online audio rather than a podcast exactly, but RNZ (New Zealand’s public broadcaster) has an enormous collection of stories available as audio content. It really is full of treasure!
We’ve listened to the first two of Joy Cowley’s fabulous Snake and Lizard chapter books, fully dramatised, about five times each.
There are picture books (some with video content), short stories, and serialisations. Heeeeaps there.
If you use the free RNZ app you can queue up stories in a playlist.
Best Science Podcasts for Kids
Wow in the World
A superb, high-energy science show from NPR (the American public radio network), hosted by Guy Raz (who you might recognise from the TED radio podcast) and Mindy.
They’re sort of playing themselves as characters (like Bret and Jemaine in Flight of the Conchords 🙂 ), exploring science concepts by having larger-than-life adventures.
This was my son’s absolute favourite for about a year. Have a listen, it’s really good.
This science podcast is a lot calmer, and the selling point is that it is co-hosted each time by a guest kid.
The Brains On co-hosts explore a question together, interview experts, and do some imagining with help from listener contributions. There are other regular segments with mystery sounds to guess, and a bit of supplementary material online.
Small warning: this podcast has advertising at the start and end (and maybe sometimes at half-time?). It won’t be inappropriate, adult content, but it’s good to have your skip button handy if you try to limit your kids’ exposure to ads.
In this science podcast, Lindsay and Marshall partner with kids and scientists to explore all sorts of things.
Tumble has an emphasis on what it’s really like to do real, grown-up science, right now. My favourite episode was interviews with a group of scientists who are working on bones found inside a cave. The bones are only accessible through tiny tunnels, so you have to be a small adult who isn’t claustrophobic to work there!
There’s lots of extra material on their website, too. They’re supported by pledges, so you’ll hear regular birthday wishes and thank yous to kids whose parents sponsor the podcast, and exhortations to join them, but no ads of other businesses.
Nanogirl’s Great Science Adventures
Nanogirl is specialist kids’ science communicator Dr Michelle Dickinson, famous for stage shows, and her Kitchen Science Cookbook.
With her trusty NanoBot CLAIR (Constantly-Learning Artificial Intelligence Robot), she takes children’s science questions and travels around New Zealand on her trusty (or rusty?) JetBot to find answers.
Lots of sound effects, a bit of silliness, and a focus on a group of real kids doing science to answer their real-life questions. They form hypotheses and head out to test them out, or interview experts – and CLAIR – to find answers.
When the kids are satisfied their questions have been answered, Nanogirl gives directions for a home experiment or craft listeners can perform to demonstrate the science.
Nanogirl’s Great Science Adventures is a podcast funded by New Zealand state broadcasting grants, so there’s no advertising. Thank you, New Zealand on Air!
This Australian collaboration between the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The Conversation is a similar ‘answering kids’ questions’ science podcast, aimed a bit younger, definitely accessible for pre-schoolers, and probably a bit too slow and quiet for older kids.
In ten-minute episodes, with simple, uncluttered soundscapes, kids meet scientists who answer their questions: ‘Why don’t cats wear shoes?’, ‘Why do stars twinkle?’ and, very importantly, ‘Where does our poo go when we flush it down the toilet?’
Imagine This is another state-funded podcast, so no advertising, hurrah!
Smash Boom Best
A spinoff from Brains On, this is a series of whimsical debates, like ‘pizza vs nachos’ or ‘bats vs owls’ where two adult debaters go through a series of argument challenges to make their case, which is judged by a kid. I think the point is to be a mix of persuasive rhetorical skills and science/history/knowledge.
Best for slightly older kids (10-12?) probably. My son used to get a bit concerned when the debaters get faux-snarky with each other, though he’s used to the tone now.
I find it a bit long and drawn-out myself, but I’m not the target market.
You can vote for the winner of each debate on the Smash Boom Best website, too.
Earth Ranger Emma goes on (slightly fantastical, fictional) adventures to explore endangered ecosystems and enlist the help of a new generation of conscious kids.
Earth Rangers has a really nice tone – nothing too ‘old’ or ‘edgy’, so it’s suitable for younger ones, and interesting for kids up to about 10 (I guess? I don’t have any 10-year-olds to test this on, though!).
This Canadian podcast is another high-energy, bouncy production, with lots of little slots with animal jokes, mystery sounds, quizzes, and soundbites from kids.
This adult podcast follows the cutting-edge science going on in a breeding year for the extremely endangered flightless parrots, the kākāpō of Aotearoa New Zealand.
With a mix of match-making, artificial insemination, egg-stealing, chick-feeding, and so on, scientists are working to maximise chick numbers on predator-free offshore islands.
Fabulous science journalist Alison Ballance checks in every few days to find out how many eggs have been found, chicks hatched, and what it’s like to work on the project.
The Kākāpō Files is not aimed at kids, and has a clear focus on, well, reproduction, but for science-keen children I reckon this would be a great listen.
Best Ethics Podcasts for Kids
Short and Curly
Three nice adults help kids figure out their curly ethical questions, like ‘When should I stop being friends with someone?’, ‘Is it ever okay to lie?’, and ‘Are parents hypocrites?’
The slightly gross title put me off for a while (and the first ep I listened to started with an extended bit about boogers!) so I’ve only road-tested a couple of these with my kids so far, but it’s really thoughtful content, engagingly produced, and friends recommend it highly.
Short and Curly is produced by ABC, and government-funded, so there’s no pesky advertising.
What podcasts should my kids listen to next?
I’ll update this article as a) my kids get older and b) we run out of episodes of our current faves.
Some of the next podcasts I think will be worth exploring, either for us or for you:
- But Why
- The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian
- What If
- Book Club for Kids
- Ear Snacks
- The Past and the Curious
- Dream Big
- The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
- The Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl
- Flyest Fables
- Eleanor Amplified
- Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child
- Noodle Loaf
Please tell us your favourites in the comments below – whether they’ve made my list or not.
As you can see from this list, there’s no shortage of podcasts for kids focused on science or storytelling.
I’d love more on philosophy, history, different cultures around the world, activism, and all the other things kids are into. What about a podcast that gets kids in different places around the world to introduce us to their neighbourhood? Also a few more that are explicitly designed for going to sleep, please!