9 Non-Fiction Podcasts for Kids
For the budding Radiolab fan in the backseat.
The idea of podcasts for kids usually occurs to parents in one of two ways: 1) Wouldn’t it be nice to find some audio content to enrich/distract my kids? 2) I love podcasts, my kids should, too! The former often leads to narrative or story-based podcasts, which makes sense: it’s not much of a leap to think your kids would enjoy someone reading them a story.
But if the latter is true for you — if you love podcasts like Radiolab or This American Life — the good news is the thought-provoking, deep-diving non-fiction genre has exploded with content for kids. Bringing real-world experiences to young ears takes a massive amount of time and effort, but the result is a richly layered, highly entertaining batch of ideas ready to take root. Here are 9 Non-Fiction Podcasts for Kids I’d recommend to any parent interested in imparting a brain-sizzling experience to their brood:
Mash TED Radio Hour’s compelling intellectual deep dives with SIRIUS XM’s infectious pop energy and what do you get? Wow in the World, debuting this week as the #5 podcast on iTunes. NPR’s Guy Raz and Kids Place Live’s Absolutely Mindy absolutely deserve the attention of families and podcast fanatics nationwide for creating a rich audio experience to amplify a narrative of discovery and invention. Both Thomas and Raz bring decades of radio production and hosting know-how to the table, and their sensibility as thoughtful, engaged, and fun parents comes through in the way they exemplify ecstatic curiosity for their audiences.
History was one of my least favorite subjects as a child because it was presented with very little narrative; had this podcast been around 30 years ago, I bet my interest in the subject would have exploded. Created by Mick Sullivan, a musically talented museum educator from Kentucky, The Past & The Curious weaves multiple story lines from American history (Nelly Bly, The Chicago World’s Fair, The Pony Express) around a common theme, often with multiple narrators per episode. It’s warm, gentle pace may lull some listeners — but the ideas and presentation sparkle like any good back-porch yarn.
An OG of the kids podcast landscape, Brains On! is an APM production between MPR and KPCC that has been engaging families around the world in new ways to think about science since 2012. Often featuring a young guest host, each episode delves deeply into a topic (Edison, lasers, slime) just as an NPR news piece would — but with sound design and a crisp, engaging pace to keep young ears rapt.
Investigative journalism for the preschool set? Kids music duo Andrew & Polly take ordinary objects (fruit, strings, shadows, rain) and connect them with extraordinary ideas (time travel, ecosystems, installation art, political engagement). An audio collage of kids voices is a centerpiece of each episode, complemented by interviews with adult experts, an original soundtrack, and a generous helping of jokes and patter from the hosts.
You’d think a show where the host interviews scientists might be a snooze for kids, but precocious host Nate (now a 7-year-old) makes discussing evolution with professors at Harvard and radiation with the director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office come to life. Nate is the rare child interviewer who can stray from his prepared questions to respond to and truly engage with his adult subjects, and his enthusiasm for the subject matter (which he thoroughly researches on Youtube before each show) comes through loud and clear. An appearance on The Ellen Show and various other podcasts and print media make Nate one of the most infectious voices for kids podcasts out there — and grownups are likely to learn facets of science, too.
Should pugs exist? Why can’t children vote? Are kids really willing to grapple with ethical questions on the car ride to school? With goofy humor and the smooth production arm of Australia’s Broadcasting Company behind it, Short & Curly makes it fun to explore the difference between right and wrong and every cultural norm in between.
Though not strictly “investigative” in a traditional non-fiction sense of the word, Peace Out guides kids in yoga and meditation, a more internal exploration. Part of UK-based production company Bedtime.fm, this show directly engages the listener and asks them to participate with their imaginations and bodies in a calm, interactive format. Quiet time in a car or stroller ride (or if a nap just isn’t happening) can benefit from Chanel’s soft monologue and producer Rob Griffiths’ dulcet electronic soundscapes.
Multiply the sensibilities of a public radio reporter with a goofy middle-school music teacher and you’ll find yourself falling into Tumble, a wormhole of wide-eyed science discovery that will pique the interest of young and old explorers alike. Lindsay and Marshall delve into one deep scientific phenomenon each episode with eager curiosity and avuncular warmth that makes this interview-based content (about Mars, ninja viruses, shower microbes, ocean trash) super accessible to elementary age children. Families and classrooms that support Tumble through their Patreon campaign receive extra resources and materials to bring the lessons home.
Like warm maple syrup on a pancake, But Why’s folksy whistling theme song warms up it’s public radio audience to digest a new kid-driven discovery each episode: Who was the first human? How do popcorn kernels pop? Why do geese fly in a ‘V’? Through Vermont Public Radio, host Jane Lindholme finds experts to field these questions (often but not always related to science) from their young listeners.
Kids Listen is a collective of audio makers focused on creating high-quality podcasts for kids. Find out more about the organization here.