Podcasts for kids are officially booming, and that’s a blessing to both listeners and aspiring podcasters. Parents get an engaging alternative to screen time, kids get a chance to hop on the podcast train, and the field is wide open for new shows. If you’ve ever had an idea for a kids’ podcast, now is the time to make it happen.
But how do you make a great podcast for kids? And how is it different from making a great adult podcast? Those are two questions I hear over and over from hopeful yet nervous podcasters. When I started Tumble Science Podcast for Kids three years ago with my husband and a friend, there were very few models of what a podcast for kids could sound like. We made it up as we went along, relying on feedback and our own growth to determine whether we were on the right track.
There’s no secret formula for making a great podcast for kids, or even much of a roadmap. But I believe that there are a few true things that I’ve learned, that helped me, and that I hope might help you. Here they are.
1) Speak to both kids and parents
The best compliment you can get from a parent is, “My kid loves your show, and so do I.” That’s how you know you’ve nailed it.
Make something that parents will not just tolerate, but love and recommend. Kids Listen, an advocacy group for kids podcasts I helped start, found that half of kids who listen to podcasts listen with others. It’s a family activity. So it’s important to think of parents as your initial audience. In their first listen, they’re evaluating whether the content is appropriate, and if their kids will like it. But they’re also listening for themselves.
We write Tumble with the idea of an 8-year-old listener. We break down science concepts so that an 8 year old can understand. But we don’t hesitate to include jokes cultural references that only their parents will get — provided that they’re actually funny. We make music that we actually enjoy listening to. The best thing is when both kids and parents want to listen more, and learn more, after the episode is over.
Think of it like “Shrek” for podcasts. When you acknowledge parents as listeners, you’ll make it more likely that your podcast will become a family favorite.
One more thing: Apply this principle to your podcast art, as well. Before you get to parents’ ears, you have to make it past their eyes.
2) Don’t condescend
This is my biggest piece of advice. Kids have a finely toned condescension detector from years of media that has “dumbed down” concepts so kids can understand them. And they don’t like it. Kids are smart. Obviously. They can tell whether you respect their intelligence and interests, or if you’re questioning what they can understand.
How to avoid condescension? It’s a process of finding your voice, and relating to your audience. A good place to start is identifying your interest in the subject or story — as an adult — and speak from that place, not just what you think kids might understand of what you know. Even if your audience is as young as three years old, they’ll appreciate being addressed as full, growing people.
3) Translate your excitement to kids — authentically
More than the information you’re conveying or the story you’re telling, kids relate to the tone you speak with. When I listen to the first episode of Tumble, I cringe at our voices. We sound very “laid back.” Although that’s true to our personalities, it’s hard to hear that we’re actually engaged with the story. We learned how to boost our energy for tracking, the same way a live performer would warm up before a show. (Try dancing along to Just Dance videos on YouTube.)
But there’s a fine line to walk between projecting your excitement, and being downright zany. You don’t need to do the audio equivalent of tap dancing to hold kids’ attention. Just make sure they know you’re really into what you’re saying, in a way that communicates they should be, too.
4) Understand when and where kids listen
Kids have longer attention spans than you think. We’ve been programmed by YouTube videos to think that media needs to be short and fast to capture attention. But Kids Listen’s survey found that 15–20 minutes is the sweet spot for episode length, and 42% of kids listened to 30+ minutes of audio in a sitting.
When you think about where kids are listening, and what they’re doing, this makes sense. We hear all the time that families are discover Tumble while preparing for a road trip, which is hours of listening. They’ll also listen on a daily commute to school and home. My three year old son loves listening while he’s playing with trains — or I’ll put some on while I’m making dinner and need a screen-free distraction. Sweet quiet time for parents, and active imagination time for kids. It’s the best of every world.
5) Provide a way to engage
In the boring adult world, “engagement” means social media clicks, time spent on websites, and the even-more exciting idea of “conversion.” When we were starting Tumble, a lot of people we talked to assumed that our audience would not be able to engage with us. They were wrong.
Every day, we get emails, drawings, recordings, and questions from kids, parents and teachers. Eventually, we starting adding calls to action at the end of each show — prompting kids to brainstorm, design, draw, and invent. In an episode where we discussed an experiment involving bats running on treadmills, we asked listeners to design a t-shirts for bats to wear while working out. (Bat wings are webbed to bat feet, so normal t-shirts wouldn’t work.) One listener came up with a genius idea for a bat body shirt that snaps underneath.
I think of “The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian” as the guru of kid audience engagement. It features a robot that eats kid art, and BeBop gets “food” from the host’s inbox every day.
So when you’re coming up with the concept of your show, give kids a way to creatively engage.
6) Focus group it!
It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting a podcast for kids or adults. You need feedback to know whether it’s good. But getting honest feedback from kids is harder than emailing your friend who has no filter. And feedback from adults (and even other podcasters) only goes so far — you need to hear from your actual audience.
You’ve got to set up a kid focus group.
A few episodes in with Tumble, I messaged a social butterfly-type mom friend who has two kids in our target age range. I asked her if she could gather some of their friends and their moms together for a “listening party.” She gathered nine kids aged 4–9 on a summer afternoon. We sat down at the kitchen table with some popsicles and listened to an episode about jungle spiders.
It was a nerve wracking experience. But the information we got from watching the kids listen, and what they did afterwards, was invaluable. The kids burst forth with their own questions about the episode. And when it was time to talk to the moms, the kids ran outside to play — but quickly returned with a question about a dead wasp they’d found outside. How did it die? What kind was it? I asked if they usually played this way. “Never,” they responded. The jungle spider had ignited their curiosity.
The Kids Listen survey confirmed this anecdotal evidence: Kids don’t just listen, they do. 74% of respondents said their kids wanted to take action after listening to a podcast: Whether it’s coming up with true crime stories explaining wasp murder, researching on their own, or engaging with a host. A focus group will help you figure out if you’re hitting the mark.
One last point
The best way to start a great podcast for kids is to start. Don’t expect to get everything perfect in the first episode. Give yourself — and your show — permission to evolve and learn with time.