Every summer when I was a kid we’d pack up the car at the end of August and head to Maryland’s Eastern Shore for week’s vacation. It was a glorious time spent jumping waves, making sand castles, and eating Maryland crabs until our lips burned only to cool them off with sweet ice cream on the boardwalk at dusk.
Bethany Beach was a three hour drive from our home and once our family of five was finally settled into the station wagon and on the road my dad, who loves the beach, would start singing. He always sang the same songs (as dads tend to do).
“Give me Rival dog food, arff arff, arff arff. Your dogs eyes will shine–coat look fine–with nourishing Rival dog food!”
What kind of song is that, you ask? It’s the jingle to a dog food commercial that played on the radio in 1944 when my dad was 8-years-old.
I called my dad recently to ask him more about the Rival dog food jingle, and children’s radio in the early 1940’s. “Radio is wonderful for the imagination,” he said, recalling that his favorite shows were Fibber McGee and Molly and The Lone Ranger. “Our imagination grew. I was glued to those shows.” I could hear the smile on his face as he remembered them. And then he sang me the Rival dog food commercial over the phone.
Yet, when I was growing up in the late 1970’s and early 80’s there weren’t any kids shows on the radio. Children’s radio programming was dead.
Well, I’ve got great news. It’s back! Podcasting has led to a wonderful resurgence of original radio programming for children and that’s so exciting. As a mom of three girls ages 6-13 I’m thrilled with these new shows and want to share them with you so you can tune in with your family.
So, here are 11 wonderful podcasts for children of all ages.
Science seems to be a popular topic for podcasts. I found a few of the science shows out there to be like a lecture (one of them is But Why), but there are some super engaging shows available, too. Here are my favorites in age group order.
Wow in the World is my 6-year-old’s favorite show. Produced by NPR and hosted by Mindy and Guy Roz, this science-focused show aimed at kids in Kindergarten through 3rd grade is entertaining, fast-paced and fun. Mindy acts as a stand-in for the kids listening. She’s silly, zany, and enthusiastic. Guy Roz is a bit skeptical of her ideas, but ready to learn and he loves kale salad. Sound effects and peppy music, plus listener voices (we’ve even called in!) help keep the segments moving. (iTunes)
Tumble is like RadioLab for kids in 1st-5th grades. Hosts Lindsay and Marshall consult scientists to get the answer to real life questions like what did dinosaurs really sound like. Kids voices help animate the show. (iTunes)
Brains On is a science show for kids in 5th-7th grades produced by Southern California Public Radio. The show is hosted by an adult and a kid so you get both voices. Nicely produced with special guests and sound effects this show breaks science concepts down into interesting and easy to digest morsels. Stories are relevant to every day life. (open in iTunes)
Story and Song Shows
There are podcasts out there that just read books aloud (Circle Round and Disney’s Story Central are two of them), but I’m more interested in true shows that present original content made for radio. Here are three.
Each episode of Little Stories for Tiny People presents an original story intended for a very young audience. Toddlers and preschoolers ages 2-4 will enjoy an animated voice telling them a story they’ve never heard. It’s great to have a thoughtful podcast just for this very young age group. (iTunes)
If you have a child who is an aspiring writer (or you want to inspire your child to write more) Story Pirates is a fabulous show. Each episode begins with a reading of a real story written by a real kid. Next, the actors and comedians who host the show put the story on as a funny, highly engaging audio play. Finally, they call the kid who wrote the story to ask them more about it. This show is an off-shoot of an in-school creative writing program and it’s truly wonderful. Best for elementary aged kids. (iTunes)
The Beanies is an Australian podcast, this time aimed at a young audience (preschool through first grade). Original stories and songs to entertain small children. (iTunes)
Radio Drama Podcasts
Like the old time kids radio shows my dad listened to in the 1940s, these serialized dramas will have kids with their ears pressed up against the little speakers on their iPhones to hear the next installment.
The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian is a serialized science fiction podcast for elementary aged kids told in 15-20 minute segments, perfect to put on in the car when you’re driving to and from after-school activities. (iTunes)
The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd is another serialized adventure story for school-aged kids told in the style of old-timey radio. The episodes tend to be quite short, about seven minutes. It’s like watching a great cartoon, but you have to imagine the action taking place. (iTunes)
From the creators of The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd, Saturday Morning Theatre presents a series of audio dramas in different genres. There are westerns, mysteries (like the one pictured here), comedies and adventure stories. Well-produced with sound effects and expert voices, these shows are highly entertaining. (iTunes)
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is an award-winning serialized mystery show for 8-12 year olds and it’s told by kids of that same age. Three pals set off to to find two missing friends. (iTunes)
One Other Show Not to Be Missed
I have one other great show to recommend that doesn’t fit into the above categories. Don’t miss this one!
Short and Curly is a show from Australia that’s focused on ethics. Kids really grapple with ethical questions and this show addresses them in both a serious and funny way. I really love Short and Curly and can’t help but think perhaps Wow In the World is modeled on it in some way. A great show! (iTunes)
Hopefully there’s a show or two in this list that will appeal to the kids in your life (and to you, too, because you’re probably going to be stuck listening to it!).
To compile this list I listened to a whole lot of children’s podcasts. Not all of them were good, but I’m super impressed with the quality and variety of what’s out there and I’m happy to share these 11 excellent ones. The age of children’s radio is back!
My daughter’s school had the Story Pirates visit, I didn’t realize they had a podcast! She’ll be excited to check it out!!
Story Pirates sounds like a really great in-school program. The podcast is wonderful. It’s one of my favorites out of all of the shows I listened to for this post.
Wow! My children are grown, but I would probably love some of these! I love to listen while I sew. Thank you!!!
Yay! That’s awesome. I hope you enjoy them.
Kristin Link says
Can’t wait to listen to some of these with Poppy. She loves listening to Criminal with me but I have to pre-screen the episode. haha
Totally. Even RadioLab is sometimes not quite appropriate for young ears. I’m glad there are so many shows made just for kids now.
Brenda Ratliff says
Thanks Abby! I was actually just thinking about books or stories for my son to listen to!
You’re missing ButWhy from this list!!! 🙁 http://www.npr.org/podcasts/474377890/but-why-a-podcast-for-curious-kids We love it so much for our 4 year old; that and Brains On! are our absolute favorites.
Ah, just saw you did mention it at the top. I suppose it is a little more of a one-sided telling, but I love that both But Why and Brains On appear to pay special attention to having female scientists on to interview, and we’ve really loved some of the But Why episodes (their recent one about how babies are made was PERFECT).
We are not big fans of Tumble… the male host repeatedly makes jokes that belittle his cohost’s hard work, or the work of the scientists they are interviewing. It’s so awkward to listen to her uncomfortable laugh every time he makes a stupid joke, and most of his commentary is very negative… I love Lindsay and I wish she’d do the podcast on her own, they have great guests, but his constant banter kills this show for us. We find excuses not to listen to it. :\ We had similar complaints about Wow in the World, but we wrote in to complain and they let us know many other parents did, as well — it’s gotten better since then.
Interesting! So I’m in the car right now and my 6-year-old asked to put on But Why so maybe I’m wrong!
Thanks for this great compilation, Abby! For original fiction I would also recommend Sparkle Stories
Awesome. Thank you.
Kelly Caiazzo says
I have now shared this with so many people, and we’re loving Wow in the World! and Tumble – it makes car rides so much better 🙂 Thanks again for the work you did to create a great compilation!
Rebecca Sheir says
Thanks for mentioning Circle Round in this wonderful piece!
As the host/producer, I want to point out that we don’t “just read books aloud.” We find lesser-known folktales from around the world and adapt them for a modern audience, as radio plays — incorporating original music, creative sound design, and top-notch actors to play our characters (Kathryn Hahn from “Bad Moms,” Jason Alexander from “Seinfeld,” Noah Schnapp from “Stranger Things,” to name a few).
We officially launched in September 2017 and hope you’ll give us a chance as we continue to grow. Thank you again!
Thank you for those clarifications Rebecca.
Thank you for this article – many of these podcasts were inspiration for us to create our own podcast: Reading Bug Adventures!
Hope you’ll check it out! We’re a small, indie children’s bookstore aiming to create interactive and immersive experiences that deliver benefits that last beyond each 30 minute episode. Reading Bug Adventures is a story podcast at its heart, with interactive, artistic and musical elements that, hopefully, engage both parents and kids. Love the creativity of ALL these shows, and thrilled that our own children have the opportunity to appreciate this resurgence of creative, original programming.