When Reading Means Listening: Podcasts for Kids

My very brilliant and forward-thinking friend Liz has been on a podcast kick for years. Years! She's always been a big radio listener (because she's open to listening to new things and not rigid and freaked out like me). And she's technologically savvy, and a person who has raised excellent children who have since transformed into excellent adults and, well, she always seems to know what she's talking about.

One of her favorite podcasts—and the one she's been after me to listen to with my kids—is Radiolab. Probably everyone reading knows this already, but Radiolab is an NPR show that's (loosely) about science, essentially a sound-effects-filled, super-narrative hour-long series of stories centered around one theme for each hour, whether it's trash or animals or whatever. "Diana would love it," Liz promised me.

"Oh yeah, I should have her listen to it," I might mutter back lamely, instead focusing my considerable energies on…what exactly? I have no idea. It's not like there was tons getting done around here while I was not downloading Radiolab, but there you go.

Anyway, this Thanksgiving we were going to drive up to Boston. I'd just gotten an iPhone. And the night before we left, I finally got it together to download, oh, 3 podcasts.

And? They were excellent. OK? Liz, you were right. Again. Always! Diana loved them, Chestnut loved them (though the one called Lucy, about a chimp who gets raised as a human and it doesn't exactly work out, well, that one made all of us somber and upset). We casually dropped our newfound knowledge into Thanksgiving table conversation a la: "Oh, that reminds me that in ancient Egypt one of their bestselling books was actually pornography," and "Yes, it's true that when Genghis Khan was rampaging through Asia…" and suchlike.

We basically just dug it.

So do I now have a whole big list of podcasts for kids? Of course not, I have come to accept (and I hope you have too) that I will never be that type of useful blogger. But! At least I have this one! And I can tell you, if you have someone 9 or older with whom you want to travel, have great conversational fodder, and just be so engaged that you won't want to swear off the Merritt Parkway permanently, well then this is the podcast for you.

But I know you guys have your own amazing sources: do you have any to offer up? Put them in the comments.

9 thoughts on “When Reading Means Listening: Podcasts for Kids

  1. My daughter is not quite ready for this podcast yet, at 8 years old and *sensitive*, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind for next year.
    Her favorite podcast is Car Talk, which is also not entirely appropriate but she loves it. We’ve also listened to Story Nory, with mixed results. Other than that, I’ll be stalking these comments for more ideas!


  2. I also have an eight year old daughter who loves Car Talk. I found this odd, and now I’m doubly stunned. I mean *I* love it but… I like “The Story” with Dick Gordon and “Sound Opinions”. Both have had mixed reviews from the 6 and 8 year old (not Car Talk though, they especially love “Stump the Chumps”). go figure.


  3. I love “This American Life,” and although some of the stories aren’t suitable for children, host Ira Glass always provides a warning before those stories air. Before we had kids, my husband and I would load up on TAL broadcasts and listen to them while we made the 4.5 hour trip to his parents’ house.


  4. Another one not specifically for children, but that my kid really likes: “The Vinyl Cafe.” It’s often described as a Canadian version of Prairie Home Companion, which isn’t quite accurate–the host, Stuart McLean, has a very different style from Garrison Keillor–and the Vinyl Cafe is sort of more wry and self-mocking and, well, Canadian. The stories he tells are mostly about one Toronto family–Dave, who owns the world’s smallest record store and is prone to misadventure, his wife, Morley, who works at a theater and is prone to self-doubt, and their two kids, and various friends and relations.
    Aside from the Dave and Morley stories, the host reads true-life stories sent in by listeners. And muses about life and the places he visits on tour. And there’s music, too, sometimes. It’s just excellent.


  5. LOVE Radiolab (one of the hosts, Jad Abumrad, just won a genius grant). My 7-year-old loves Radiolab too, although I have to preview it for her. Her name happens to be Lucy so I thought the “Lucy” episode about the chimp would be perfect, but then there was all that business about Playgirl. Other favorite episodes around here: the one called “Laughter” for a story about an outbreak of contagious laughter in a school in Tanzania, or the live Radiolab concert featuring Reggie Watts.
    Also, our whole family loves This American Life and The Moth (with the same caveat about previewing–the Moth labels some shows as ‘explicit’ but all of them are aimed at adults). And then there’s that radio program for kids that you can buy–what is it called?


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