10 of the best podcasts for children

Put those digital devices to good use. Marjorie Brennan selects some great listening options for younger ears.

Chances are if you have tweens or teens in the family, there was some form of digital device in their Christmas stocking.

While we hear a lot about the dangers of such devices turning kids into screen-enslaved zombies, tablets, phones and iPods can also be a portal to engaging and entertaining content that is also educational.

While audio books are going from strength to strength, one other form often overlooked by parents in this regard are podcasts. 

They are a great way of engaging children that doesn’t involve them staring at a screen, and they are also a good option for all the family on car journeys.

In terms of producing content especially for children, US media companies are well ahead of the game, which is not surprising given the significantly larger population, a strong public radio network, and broadcasters that have the finances and resources required to produce high-quality audio content.

In terms of Irish content, while not produced specifically as podcasts, programmes that are broadcast on RTE Radio’s offering for younger listeners, RTÉjr Radio, can be downloaded from the RTÉ website.

Here are ten podcasts to spark the curiosity and creativity of the younger members of your household, and grown-ups might learn something too. 

Most are recommended for ages eight upwards, but some are suitable for younger children. Even better, they’re all free.

Brains On!

This award-winning science podcast from American Public Media has more than 100 episodes to choose from, with each show enlisting a different expert to look at fascinating questions such as where do farts come from and do dogs know they are dogs? 

A recent episode exploring who would win in a showdown between an octopus and a dolphin was a big hit with smallies on a recent car journey, providing a competitive element as they each rooted for their pick — spoiler alert, the three-hearted, nine-brained, shape-shifting octopus won.

Listen here

Shakespeare Retold

Shakespeare’s verse can be daunting for younger audiences but that doesn’t mean they have to miss out on experiencing one of the world’s greatest ever storytellers. 

This collection features easily accessible versions of the Bard’s work by acclaimed children’s writers such as Andy Stanton, author of the hilarious Mr Gum series, who tackles King Lear. 

A good one to start with is Pamela Butchart’s 10-minute Macbeth. 

Read by Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films) it adds plenty of humour to ‘the Scottish play’. 

Not strictly a podcast but can be streamed from the BBC webpage.

Listen here

Story Pirates

Story Pirates began as an arts education project in a school in Harlem in 2004 when a group of improv comedians put on a sketch show inspired by children’s own stories. 

Produced by Gimlet Media, US trailblazers of the podcast format, this brings together world-class actors, comedians, improvisers and musicians who adapt stories written by children into sketch comedy and musical theatre.

Listen here

Classics for Kids

Want your children listening to less George Ezra and more George Frederick Handel? 

This weekly podcast from the public radio institution NPR is a great way to get kids interested in classical music and is tailored to shorter attention spans, featuring the music and stories of well-known composers in six-minute segments.

Listen here

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Winner of a prestigious Peabody Award in the US, this slick serialised mystery has been described as the Goonies meets Spy Kids meets Stranger Things. 

The suspenseful drama features a cast of youngsters investigating the disappearance of their friends at a school which may not be all it appears.

It had the younger listeners in our family on tenterhooks, followed by loud pleas for the next episode….

Listen here

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

This podcast features stories from the books that began as a record-breaking Kickstarter project and became a publishing phenomenon. 

Each 12-minute episode features a different character selected from the two volumes of the Rebel Girls series, transporting listeners to the control room at NASA with Margaret Hamilton during the launch of Apollo 11, or on board a ship, loading cannons with our own pirate queen, Grace O’Malley. 

Other heroines featured include mathematician Ada Lovelace; artist, Frida Kahlo and tennis star Billie Jean King. 

And don’t be put off by the title, boys will also learn a lot about determination and perseverance from these stories.

Listen here

Book Club for Kids

Encourage your tween’s reading adventures with this chatty and informative bi-weekly podcast which features other young bookworms talking about popular and favourite titles. 

Each episode also includes an extract of the week’s featured book read by a celebrity guest.

Listen here

Unspookable

There’s a lot to be said for the often subversive kick that children get from scary stories and this podcast manages to achieve the perfect child-friendly balance of chills and thrills. 

It looks at urban legends and folklore but also topics such as why we may be prone to seeing ghosts at certain times, and the human need for storytelling and connection.

My young podcast fans were particularly taken with the story of Krampus, a figure from Central European folklore who is the sinister opposite of Santa, punishing misbehaving children.

Listen here

Peace Out

If bedtime is a battleground, this podcast could help smooth the journey to cloud cuckoo land. 

It features short stories that help introduce children to the concept of mindfulness, helping them calm down and relax by guiding them through visualisation and breathing exercises.

Listen here


Short and Curly

There is no doubt that children can be mini-philosophers with an often sharply-tuned sense of what is right and wrong. 

This podcast from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation explores the concept of ethics in everyday life with a big helping of fun and humour. 

Episodes include, “Was Robin Hood right? Should you rob the rich to help the poor?” and “What’s the point of a school uniform?”— just don’t put it on first thing on a school morning.

Listen here

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