By: Frannie Ucciferri
Tired of listening to music in the car? Want to teach your kids instead of having them passively learn? Seven great podcasts for kids preschool and beyond.
Your kid’s new favorite magazine might just be … a podcast? That’s right, Goofus and Gallant from Highlights magazine are going high-tech, and they’re not alone. They’re joining rebel girls, talking cats and dogs, and even pirate comedians on this list of some of the best podcasts you and your little kids might not be listening to yet.
From toothbrushing tips to fabulous folktales, these fresh podcasts prove without a doubt that audio shows have come into their own. With creative offerings featuring lively narration, original songs, and occasional big-name guest stars, even the youngest listeners can get in on the action. Now road trips and activities that used to be a chore can be transformed into fun, educational experiences for the whole family.
If you’re a podcast newbie, check out 20 Podcasts for Kids, which offers tips for how to listen plus more recommendations for all ages. Otherwise open up your favorite audio app and dive into these age-appropriate picks for preschoolers and little kids.
How to Listen
It can be daunting for a first-timer to enter the world of podcasts, but digital tools have made it easier than ever to start listening. Podcasts are available to stream online or with a “podcatcher,” an app you can download specifically for podcasts. Here are some popular options for listening:
- Podcasts. The original podcast app (only available for Apple iOS). FREE!
- Stitcher Radio for Podcasts. “Stitch” together custom podcast playlists with this mobile app
- Pocket Casts. A mobile app with a sleek, easy-to-use interface
- SoundCloud. An online audio-streaming platform for podcasts as well as music (also an app)
- Podbay.fm. Streaming platform specifically for podcasts (app available for Android, but iOS coming soon)
- NPR One. Download content and stream via Bluetooth in your car. Many of the podcasts below are from NPR content
Once you have your favorite app or website, search its library by topic and start exploring everything from science to sports to movies and more. And don’t forget to subscribe! Subscribing lets the app push new episodes directly to your device as soon as they’re available, so you’ll always have the latest update at your fingertips.
Pros and Cons of Podcasts for Kids
On the plus side, podcasts:
- Boost learning. With engaging hosts and compelling stories, podcasts can be great tools to teach kids about science, history, ethics, and more. Listening to stories helps kids build vocabulary, improve reading skills, and even become more empathetic.
- Reduce screen time. With podcasts, families can enjoy the same level of engagement, entertainment, and education as screen-based activities without worrying about staring at a screen.
- Go anywhere. Podcasts are completely portable. You can listen in the car, on the bus, or in a classroom or even while doing chores around the house.
- Cost nothing. Podcasts don’t have subscription or download fees, so anyone with internet access can listen and download for free. Most podcatcher apps are free, too.
- Get two thumbs up from kids! Podcasts are designed to hook kids with music, jokes, compelling stories, and more. Some are designed in a serial format with cliffhangers at the end to get kids to tune back in.
On the downside, podcasts:
- Play lots of ads. Many podcasts run several minutes of ads at the beginning or end. Because they’re often read by the podcast host, the ads can feel like a hard sell.
- Can be confusing. Many podcasts update regularly, so you can jump right in and start listening. Others are styled like radio or TV shows, so the most recent episode is actually the end of a season. Check whether something is serialized or long-form before listening to the most recent update.
- Vary in age-appropriateness. The iTunes Store labels podcasts “Explicit” or “Clean,” but even a “Clean” label doesn’t guarantee kid-friendly content. When in doubt, listen first before sharing with your kids.
Chompers is a bite-sized, twice-daily podcast meant to encourage kids to brush their teeth for the full dentist-recommended two minutes. Each morning and night, kids can enjoy short quizzes, fun facts, stories, riddles, and jokes, all with gentle reminders to get the front, back, and tops of their teeth. There are even morning cliffhangers to encourage you to come back for your nighttime brush.
Circle Round is an engaging, gentle storytime podcast aimed at kids. In every episode, narrator Rebecca Sheir tells a lesser-known folktale or story from around the world, helped by a rotating voice cast of talented stage-and-screen actors. The stories are captivating and compelling and nearly always accompanied by a positive message or moral.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Rebels of all genders will be enthralled by this podcast, based on the best-selling book by the same name, with inspiring biographies of historical women read by inspiring modern women. These true stories are fascinating bits of history told simply enough that kids will be able to follow them. It’s hard not to feel empowered after listening to a few episodes.
The minds behind the kids’ podcast Wow in the World have transformed the popular magazine Highlights into a high-energy audio series. Classic favorites from the magazine like “Goofus and Gallant,” “Ask Arizona,” and “Hidden Pictures” (or, in this case, “The Hidden Sounds Game”) are reimagined as variety show segments, cheerfully guided along by hosts Tim and Juanita.
Little Stories for Tiny People
The whimsical, soothing stories on this podcast are perfect for preschoolers, but “big people” will appreciate them, too. Host Rhea Pechter’s melodic voice and the recurring cast of animal friends will delight young kids. And the clever, well-crafted stories touch on age-appropriate messages and topics.
Nothing can really match a kid’s original story in terms of absurd comedy. And that’s what’s at the heart of this wacky, wild, imaginative podcast. In each episode, the Story Pirates crew — a group of talented improvisers pretending to be pirates — read short stories written and submitted by kids, then reenact them with hilarious results. There are even original songs, famous guest stars, and interviews with the young authors about how it feels to have their work adapted.
This Podcast Has Fleas
With a hilarious concept and a fantastic voice cast, This Podcast Has Fleas is a delight for all ages. The premise is that two family pets — an exuberant dog named Waffles and a cool cat named Jones — have dueling podcasts where they talk about what’s going on in the house from their (obviously superior) perspectives. Dog people and cat people will be howling with laughter.
About the author
As associate managing editor, Frannie Ucciferri makes sure each of Common Sense Media’s more than 30,000 reviews
and 700 curated lists
is as complete and comprehensive as possible. Frannie is a graduate of UC Berkeley, where she earned a degree in cognitive science and taught a class on her favorite TV show ever, Arrested Development
. Her passion for reading and writing is paralleled only by her love of Bay Area sports, especially baseball. When she isn’t playing with her dogs or trying out San Francisco restaurants, you can probably find her watching Pixar movies
, Parks and Rec
, or one of her favorite girl power movies
and TV shows
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsensemedia.org
Today’s interview is with Carolyn Saper and Alice Letvin of ReadAskChat. Visit their website.
Thank you for participating our interview. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Carolyn: Alice and I have been colleagues for the last 35 years. Early in my career I taught first and second grade (and a little kindergarten) before joining the Great Books Foundation, where I met Alice. Eventually I became the editorial director. After leaving Great Books, I joined the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute as the senior editor of curriculum and assessment. I was one of the authors of its STEP Literacy Assessment. One of my most pleasurable recent activities—in addition to ReadAskChat, of course!—was to serve on the national advisory committee of the American Writers Museum—another startup education venture. My AB in English literature and MST in K–9 curriculum and instruction are both from the University of Chicago.
Alice: As a child and throughout my life, reading and sharing literature with others has been my passion. After earning my PhD in Comparative Literature from Washington University in St. Louis, I joined the editorial staff at the Great Books Foundation, later serving as president for ten years. While there, we created and implemented nationwide an exemplary interpretive reading, writing, and discussion program to extend the benefits of literature-based, open-ended inquiry to the regular classroom,. Subsequently, as editorial director of the Cricket Magazine Group, I led the publication of its series of world-class literary and science magazines for toddlers through teens, including the beloved Cricket magazine, which has inspired so many young writers, artists, and thinkers. Collaborating with Carolyn on ReadAskChat is the culmination of all that we have learned about engaging both children and adults in the pleasures of imagination and sharing ideas with each other.
Art for “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (c) 2017 by John Sandford for ReadAskChat.
How did the idea for your app come about?
Carolyn: The inspiration for ReadAskChat comes from personal experience. My husband and I are adoptive parents, and when our daughter Jiji came home at 9 months, she was clinically failure to thrive. She couldn’t hold her little head up or babble, or reach for shiny objects—things that 9-month-olds should be doing. But after only one month of reading picture books, singing songs, playing and snuggling, and “chatting” about anything and everything, Jiji was a fully caught up and happy 10-month-old. (And now she’s about to graduate from college with a degree in philosophy.) For years, Alice and I have shared a love of reading and discussing books, so when the stars aligned and we were both ready to pursue a new project, we put our experience of making inspiring literature accessible to children and developed ReadAskChat. Jiji’s cognitive and emotional blossoming as a baby was never far from our memory. We both marveled that the simple act of creating a routine of sharing wonderful stories with a very young child seemed so immediately impactful, with lasting effects. We believe in the potential of ReadAskChat to enable all families to have a similarly joyful and brain-building learning experience with their own babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
How do you suggest parents help limit kids screen time?
Carolyn: Our child grew up in the digital age, so I recognize that parents can find this challenging. But my husband and I grew up in the age of TV, and our parents simply established TV-viewing limits early—which became the accepted family value. In our home, we simply removed devices from our daughter’s room at a set time of day, and said—“light’s out.” But I’m convinced that because we also established a norm of reading and conversation (starting before our daughter was even capable of conversation!) that we set a pattern of live—not virtual—deep communication that continues to this day.
Alice: I want to make the point that we don’t consider engaging with ReadAskChat as traditional “screen time.” ReadAskChat is a digital library and is meant to be used by children and parents together. It’s actually the very opposite of a “babysitting app” that parents hand off to their kids, which would constitute passive “screen time.” ReadAskChat is anything but passive. Our aim is to replicate the picture-book experience in which parents read with their children. We guide parents in a method of interactive reading that involves reading, rereading, asking text-specific questions, and engaging in back-and-forth exchanges. While our selections are short (because our audiences are so young), they are content rich, with illustrations that can support close observation and reward extended conversation.
Reading comes in many forms – digital, physical, storytelling and more. Which of these ways is the best for kids to learn?
Alice: Very young children—the ReadAskChat audience—only learn language from other people. So reading with children, rather than turning on an audiobook or video—is the best way to build reading readiness. But the difference between a digital book and a physical book shouldn’t make any difference. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised its guidelines for recommended screen time with the caveat that digital experiences should be parent-mediated. What’s important is that parents and children read together—sharing ideas, having fun, being silly, taking turns making up stories about characters, and generally having a warm, enjoyable time with each other. There’s more and more research evidence supporting the importance of social-emotional learning. We tell parents: Watch your child’s reactions. Build on what your child says or seems curious about. Talking about richly drawn fictional characters—of the kind we include in ReadAskChat—helps your child practice reading the emotions of others—to understand what is going on under the surface. This is also an important thinking and comprehension skill. Stories teach empathy and the ability to relate to others. This is key because getting along with others is the single most important school readiness skill, according to most kindergarten teachers.
Carolyn: Our background is in print publishing, so we are occasionally asked why we created a digital library. Our primary reason is that we wanted to increase access to high-quality children’s books to families who for many reasons (including income level) may not have high-quality children’s books in their homes. But smartphone and tablet technology now makes it possible for almost all families to have easy access to an app like ReadAskChat. The technology also makes it possible for us to embed suggestions for how to engage with each story at three developmental levels—babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard someone say, “I know I’m supposed to read and talk with my little kid about books, but I have no idea how to do that!” ReadAskChat is particularly designed for those parents.
Art for “Naughty or Nice” (c) 2012 by Jon Goodell. Text (c) 2017 by ReadAskChat.
Tell me more about how parents can help their kids learn?
Carolyn: The research is pretty clear that the single most important learning activity that parents can do with their children is reading and talking about books together. What we would add is that whatever parents do, it should be joyful. This is why we took great care in making sure that the stories and illustrations in ReadAskChat appeal to both child and adult. (Alice and I still laugh at the frogs in Naughty or Nice? and at the hilarious observations of the Animal Tails narrator.) Our long experience has shown us time and time again that when the parent is having fun, the child will too. And we fervently believe that learning should always be fun!
From “Animal Tails,” an African American folk rhyme. (c) 2017 by ReadAskChat.
Can you give an example of how parents can integrate ReadAskChat into their daily routines?
Alice: Children appreciate consistency and routines, so reading and chatting together every night at bedtime is a wonderful opportunity for bonding with your child. Such early shared experiences set the pattern for enjoying reading over a lifetime, and are often our most treasured memories of childhood. I’ll never forget hearing the magical “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” for the first time, as my mother read it to me. But ReadAskChat is also designed to be integrated into busy schedules. While sitting in a waiting room or riding a bus, a parent can make best use of the time by pulling out the ReadAskChat library on her smartphone and engaging her child in conversation inspired by our short but content-rich selections. In addition, the ReadAskChat MORE! activities encourage parents to “keep the conversation going” through hands-on exploration—looking for animal footprints, for example, or by applying story concepts, such as indoor fun, to their own lives. After reading and chatting about “Kitchen Drums,” for example, we suggest parents give their child pots, pans, and spoons to make loud and soft “music” like the children in the story.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Carolyn: Our original vision for ReadAskChat was based on a social justice mission. Our own families have so benefited from a culture of reading and exploration of ideas that we wanted more families to share in those benefits. We have grave inequities in our country, and access to good children’s books is one that we thought we could address. So we actively seek out organizations that focus on early learning, literacy, and/or parenting education and work with them to implement ReadAskChat with their constituencies. We recently developed a robust set of training materials and offer those to organizations. Our app also gives families the option to read all the conversation starters in Spanish because talking about the stories is what we’re all about. The stories remain in English because our mission is to foster school readiness, which in the U.S. means having some exposure to English.
Alice: Carolyn and I share the conviction that all children should be given the opportunity to realize their full potential as lifelong learners and empathic human beings. To achieve this result, ReadAskChat focuses on the first four years of life, when 80 percent of brain development occurs. Because parents play the first and most critical role in their children’s education, we aim to engage parents early on. Rather than dreary skills drills, the distinctive contribution of ReadAskChat is its emphasis on open-ended, imaginative, and joyful exploration of ideas. If parents and children are having fun, both will be learning about each other and the world around them.
Thank you so much for talking with us today and sharing a bit about your company. We really appreciated the chance to get to know you!
Kids learn best through play and explaining what they are seeing and doing. Recently, every time I turn on the television news or tune in to the local radio, I am prompted things that I know I do not want my child to see or things that I might consider to be scary for them. Research has shown that children learn best through play — and playing out situations via role play can help them to better process and understand them. With the recent Hurricane Harvey here in the United States – there has been a lot of news on the television and radio that is overwhelming. As such, I started thinking about some of my favorite apps that would help kids in these situations. Helping children process traumatic events they seen in the news such as the recent Hurricane Harvey and other frightening news, can be overwhelming. Many children learn better with play therapy. Below are a few apps that involve role play, social stories and more to help them process difficult situations as well as explore new situations. Below is a list of some of my favorites.
Kids learn differently than adults. Introducing a new situation can be hard. One of the biggest things I struggle with as a parent is helping my kids understand a new situation. Helping my kids prepare for new experiences can be overwhelming as. One of my favorite thing about the MyPlayhome apps is that there are no rules – kids can play and role play while narrating what they are doing. I love to see all the different games that my toddler comes up with or see my son talking about an upcoming doctors appointment using MyPlayhome Hospital. Using Social Stories like Kid in the Storybook maker can help kids better understand a new situation. Dr. Panda has a series of role play apps including firefighters, daycare, school bus and more. .
Shimon Young is a genius. Shimon is the developer of the universal My PlayHome app and has managed to find a way to keep my iToddler (2.5) entertained for more than just a few minutes. Not an easy task. My PlayHome brings the dollhouse into the digital age by offering an entire virtual home, complete with an adorable family of five that kids can explore and interact with. Also available on the iPhone (Pocket PlayHome!), this app features beautiful hand-drawn illustrations and realistic sounds associated with each interaction. My PlayHome also has a simple user interface very easy for little fingers to control. This app caters for 2-8 year olds which is appropriate as it’s simple enough for the younger users to play with yet detailed enough to keep the older kids entertained too.” Quite a comprehensive app but still very easy to use by its intended audience. One of the best kids apps I have come across on the App Store!” This continues to be a top pick of The iMums for kids of all ages. Read the full review.
When iMum Amanda reviewed the original My PlayHome back in 2011 she described it’s creator Shimon Young as a genius, and I have to agree. After being installed on our iPads for 2 1/2 years my kids still play with My PlayHome regularly, and there are very few apps that retain their appeal long term like that. So when I told my children there was a new My PlayHome app out, to say they were excited is a definite understatement. My PlayHome brings the dolls house into the digital age with an entire interactive house and garden to play in, and My PlayHome Stores expands the play by adding four shops to explore and shop in. The app stars the same characters as the original app – there are 3 moms, 3 dads, 3 girls, 3 boys and 3 babies from a variety of ethnicities and you can mix and match them any way you like to create the family in the app. The twist that my children really love (and that I have not seen in any other app) is when the family go shopping in the stores they can walk home with their purchases, and if you own My PlayHome they can take their purchases from the stores back to their home. Read the full review.
In the fantastic tradition of the Playhome Software Company, comes the latest My Playhome app, My Playhome Hospital. Fully integrated with the other My Playhome apps (Home, School and Store), this new app allows the player to explore all aspects of the hospital experience. When the app is opened, the child is faced with the view of the hospital and an ambulance. No settings tab, no external options, and no parental tab. The only extra button to press is the Tidy the Hospital wheel, which is a great option. It allows the player to actually erase the previous designs created and start fresh. The home page ambulance can be driven to the school, home or store; linking the other apps (one of my favorite features). An interactive app that familiarizes children with the workings and people in the hospital setting. Multiple different scenes with many opportunities to interact with the objects and characters on each page.
One of the best loved toys of all time are doll houses. It brings hours upon hours of enjoyment to boys and girls alike, and it’s only limitation is a child’s imagination. My PlayHome Software Ltd has brought this enjoyment in the most portable form possible in My PlayHome, My PlayHome Stores, and very recently, My PlayHome School. While my children and I enjoyed My PlayHome and My PlayHome Stores, My PlayHome School far exceeded our expectations. It has almost everything you could find in an elementary school: a receptionist desk, the principal’s office, a cafeteria, boys and girls restrooms, a science lab, an auditorium, a janitor’s closet, lockers, and of course, classrooms. Read the full review.
Explaining difficult situations to kids or helping them understand something new is the premise of Kid in the Storybook maker. This app allows you to take photos of an upcoming event — be it a doctors appointment, new school or even a vacation and use your own words, photos and voice to describe it to the reader. I loved using Bluebee Pals with my son when we recently did a social story about his new school.
Enuma, designs assistance and play-based learning apps to empower kids to be independent learners. they have a special interest in producing apps for children with special needs. LocoMotive Labs is located in Berkeley, California and was founded in 2012, its design team includes many of the team who produced the Injini child development suite. Kid in Story was designed to help parents and therapists easily produce their own stories for children. As children with Autism often respond well to social stories that include them, they wanted to include a way to easily add the child into the story. Read our full review.