Amanda Cassidy has her ear to the ground when it comes to some of the best entertaining and (shhh!) educational podcasts for children.
It’s been a long day. Answering questions about astronauts pooing in space wasn’t in this job description. I pictured motherhood as a series of adventures involving miniature Ugg boots, warm hugs and teddy bear picnics. The reality is a little more sticky, leaky and loud. (And, let’s be honest, picnics are completely overrated.) Although the hugs are a lot better than anticipated, nothing prepared me for the intricate layers of questioning my children hit me with all day, every day. Lately, I'm attempting to steer clear of screen-time, so my pal Google is off my mothering menu. Luckily, in a bid to find alternatives to TV on a rainy afternoon, I’ve discovered a whole new world of fascinating podcasts to captivate my little inmates.
I’ll admit I’m biased. 10 years in radio made me fall in love with the theatre the mind can conjure up when it comes to audio. It has a special place in my cold media heart. It is a revelation to introduce my children to the concept of talk entertainment and they seem to be embracing it – especially on long journeys and while winding down before bedtime. The beauty of podcasts is that they are mostly free, portable, they boost learning and build vocabulary. In addition, children who listen to podcasts are more likely to start conversations about what they learnt with others, and of those who listen to one podcast, 80% are more likely to listen to another.
Unfortunately, many of them are punctuated with ads and there is a very sad shortage of Irish podcasts for children. Some of the stories I’ve come across are just plain creepy and unsuitable for younger children. Others are afterthoughts – snippets from TV programmes (CBeebies) that are cumbersome to find when you are frantically trying to distract cranky four-year-olds on long car journeys. My children were a little weirded out by some of the podcasts (the majority available are US-based). In fairness, there is a lot of hysterical singing and overly dramatic voices - but that may come down to personal preference.
Most of the podcasts we settled on have exciting stories, fascinating facts and family-wide entertainment. I’m just happy to hand over the astronaut poop facts to someone slightly more qualified. I downloaded the Podbean App for my phone for ease but most are available on iTunes or for IOS.
1. Wow in the World 6/10
Once you get past the convoluted set-ups and hyperbole, this fact-finding podcast from NPR asks why things are the way that they are. One of the first ones we listened to was about why horses have hooves. Some of the episodes are genuinely funny and my 4, 6 and 8-year-olds were definitely engrossed. We awarded this podcast a 6 out of 10 and all agree it is more suitable for children aged six plus years.
2. Fun Kids Story Quest 9/10
This podcast is from Fun Kids Radio Series and was one of the ones we came back to the most. The stories are told by a straight-talking narrator without any of the bells and whistles I warned you about. The storylines are quirky about Future Ratboy or Captain Underpants. These stories are appealing because they are shorter than an audiobook and holds the children’s attention for 15-minute blocks (That’s our current squirm limit). A unanimous 9/10 but the four-year-old just copied everything her big sister said. I'd also recommend this for six pluses.
3. Sesame Street 7/10
Of course, there is a Sesame Street podcast! I really enjoyed reliving my own childhood sounds with Elmo, Cookie Monster and Big Bird. The older kids thought this podcast was a bit ‘babyish’ but the almost 4-year-old was enthralled with the sing-a-long crew. There are the usual lessons in patience, sharing and cooperation. The ABC activities grabbed their attention and I spied the older two joining in the fun in spite of themselves. This is a good one for the under 5s and we scored it 7/10.
4. The Show about Science 9/10
Six-year-old Nate hosts this adorable science podcast where he interviews adult scientists about how things work. He is a surprisingly good interviewer! We listened to the episode where he speaks to physicists about black holes and you should have seen the kid’s faces. The content of this podcast is the stuff of dreams for inquisitive little minds. Anyone with a child who starts every sentence with ‘why does…?’ should download this immediately. Suitable for five-year-olds upwards, we gave this a 9/10.
5. StoryNory 8/10
Another no-nonsense UK-based podcast where you can almost climb into the story. We have been listening to The Night Before Christmas (a lot) and were all chanting it together after our podcast-testing experience. The narrator sounds as if she is curled up by a fire as she reads some of the best-known stories like Aladdin and Alice in Wonderland. It is a world away from some of the other more colourful story-telling podcasts but we gave this one a solid 8 out of 10. Most suitable for 4-10-year-olds.
6. Little Stories for Tiny People 7/10
This is a good starter podcast as most of the stories are about 10 minutes long. There is a cute story about a high jumping frog and a story about an acorn which focuses on the importance of friendships. It was just a lovely straightforward podcast. This radio nerd loved that the narrator told the little listeners that they have to imagine the stories with their mind. A 7 out of 10 from my three fuss-pots and we'd recommend it most suitable for the under 8’s.
7. Story Pirates - No Score
I couldn’t not include this podcast but it is the one that confused my poor bland children the most. There is frenetic music, multiple characters, unusual settings that jump from place to place. This is a good example of a podcast that relies too much on ‘sound effects’. It is a nice idea – adaptions of stories written by children and formed into sketches and musical theatre by comedians and professional singers but it was a step too far, even for my hardcore, Glee-obsessed drama queen.
8. Sparkle Stories 7/10
This podcast has over 900 episodes and what is notable is that most of the stories are quite educational. In one, little Martin learns about the history behind Dia De Los Muertos – the festival that honours loved ones who are no longer living. There are nature projects, recipes and craft episodes. Happily, there are no scary characters or villains, and there is an emphasis on kindness and respect throughout the stories. We'd recommend this for children aged three and upwards. My crew gave this 7 out of 10.
9. Brains On! 9/10
This one had us hooked from the moment it asked ‘do dogs know they are dogs?’ (Spoiler alert: No, they do not.) It is another US-based audio show but this time it is suitable for the entire family. Each week a child joins the host, Molly Bloom to discuss the how and the wow when it comes to the world around us. Some of the guests are really captivating, and I found myself listening to a few episodes even after the children had been dropped off - proving there is no age limit on curiosity. I gave this a personal 9 out of 10.
10. Peace Out 10/10
Aaaaand relax. Our screen-free extravaganza was surprisingly easy and by bedtime, the children were really looking forward to this podcast which is ideal for winding down before bed. The USP of Peace Out is that, unlike the other story podcasts, it includes visualisation and breathing exercises. I found myself in a more relaxed state than usual after putting the children down, and with a bit of focused relaxation, we all slept better. Another one we all benefited from – this got a very zen 10/10.
This was our first foray into podcasts for kids so we'd love to hear about any that other parents might recommend. We are especially interested in Irish podcasts for children. Get in touch if you have any you would like to share!