Want a screen-free activity that’ll keep your kid occupied while maybe teaching him a thing or two? Enter one of these smart and child-friendly podcasts. From stories to boost your toddler’s vocabulary to nonpartisan debriefings about what’s going on in the world, we culled the library and found the best educational podcasts that guarantee learning and entertainment in equal measure. (Because there’s only so much Daniel Tiger we can handle.)
1. Wow in the World (Ages 5+)
Kids can soak up STEM learning from the comfort of the couch or the backseat of a car with this public radio podcast that features daily challenges (Two Whats!? And a Wow!) in addition to full-length weekly episodes of about 25 minutes each. The high-quality educational content is science-driven with each episode exploring either an area of inquiry (think: how birds evolved to fly) or a scientific discovery (like the recently revealed fact that bees can do math). Thanks to the enthusiasm and upbeat energy of hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz, the listening experience is exciting enough to ensure kids of all ages will be hanging on every word—and walking away with new knowledge to boot.
2. Brains On! (Ages 10+)
Curious kids are responsible for the content of this informative roughly 30-minute podcast: Each episode takes a question submitted by an inquisitive youth and returns with an expert to weigh in on an answer. The topics are varied—ranging from, Why food is so delicious to The secret world of dust—but always engaging, and the child-led learning is delivered with a playful sense of humor that promises to keep big kids and tweens coming back for more. Bottom line: Brains On! can’t be beat when it comes to teaching kids that science is anything but boring.
3. Stories Podcast (Ages 3+)
An excellent way to help your child wind down whenever a little quiet time is in order, an instant hit at bedtime, and a reliable cure for the ‘Are we there yet?’ road trip blues—the tales told in each episode of the Stories podcast strike the right balance between soothing and thought-provoking. Pleasing voices bring both classic fairytales and original works of fiction to life with rich language. The end result? An enchanting experience that will boost vocabulary and awaken the imagination, even as your child prepares to get some shut-eye. Episodes vary in length but can be as short as 13 minutes or as long as 37 minutes.
4. What If World (All ages)
Frequent, outlandish questions that have no straightforward answer (and feel like a punishment when directed to any adult who hasn’t yet had their morning coffee) are an inescapable reality of child-rearing. We always try our best to encourage the kids in our life to expand their imaginations and explore the ideas that pique their curiosity—but it’s hard work. Good news: If you’ve been wanting to take a little break without cramping your kid’s style, What If World is the podcast you’ve been pining for (i.e., an opportunity for your child to explore crazy ‘what if’ scenarios without your participation). Host Eric O’Keefe takes on all manner of whimsical, kid-submitted questions (like, What if cats ruled the world?), turning them into absurd and silly stories that showcase the creativity of the kids who supplied the material while stimulating the imagination of young listeners. Episodes vary in length but range from 10 to 30 minutes.
5. Ear Snacks (Ages 3+)
Light-hearted, fun and full of song—preschoolers and younger kids will eat this podcast up. Andrew and Polly, the creators and hosts of Ear Snacks, are no strangers to the world of wholesome kid-friendly entertainment; the duo has lent their musical talent to many popular children’s TV shows, and it’s safe to say that even without a screen, their expertise still takes center stage. Professionals with knowledge to impart join actual kids as guest stars for a 20-minute or so listening experience that serves up diverse educational content with a side of laughter—and a soundtrack your kiddo will want to play on repeat.
6. KidNuz (Ages 6+)
We want to raise informed, engaged children and so far, the year 2020 has certainly provided us with plenty of opportunities. The only problem is that talking about current events with kids can feel just as complicated as the material itself. Fortunately, KidNuz has figured out how to introduce children to topical matters in a way that encourages age-appropriate discourse—unsurprising, since the women behind the podcast are all professional journalists and parents. Short enough to be enjoyed over a bowl of breakfast cereal, each five-minute episode of KidNuz consists of a nonpartisan debriefing on what’s going on in the world. Thought-provoking, yet quick and easy to digest—the content of this podcast will give kids the education and the confidence they need to participate in the most important conversations of the moment.
7. But Why?: A Podcast for Curious Kids (Ages 7+)
Kids have a knack for asking questions that leave the grown-ups in their life completely stumped (or reaching for their phone in order to ask Google). Well, after you’ve eaten the humble pie your little one just served up and done the research required to answer the question du jour, put on the But Why podcast to nourish her growing brain and solve all the head-scratchers that your kid definitely had in the works. This podcast answers questions that, in keeping with the complex minds of children, fall on each end of the silly-to-serious spectrum—and the programming is always educational. Episodes are around 25 minutes in length and cover topics like racial discrimination along with lighter material aimed at explaining why baby teeth fall out and spiders have eight legs. The takeaway? Fun and entertaining, this fact-filled podcast has something to offer for every area of interest.
8. Short & Curly (Ages 7+)
If you thought of ethics as a subject only studied at the college-level in pursuit of a humanities degree—well, you were mistaken. Short and Curly is a podcast that poses and then breaks down complex ethical questions with the help of famous athletes, musicians and clever peer-aged kids, of course. Social-emotional learning reigns supreme in this character building and thought-provoking series that teaches children to listen to their conscience and ask the right questions: Are you the boss of your emotions? When should you stop being friends with someone? What is discrimination and is it always bad? The topics are relevant, and the fast-paced delivery never feels didactic—turn this roughly 25-minute pick on whenever you want to encourage your kid to get excited about being a good person.
9. The Past and the Curious (Ages 7+)
Your kid might think history is the snooziest subject of them all, but that’s because they haven’t tuned into an episode of The Past and the Curious yet. This inventive podcast breathes new life into the past with an oddball arrangement of humorous historical anecdotes—you know, the kind you don’t find in a textbook—that provide maximum entertainment without ever straying into inappropriate territory. The overall effect? A listening experience that will stimulate young imaginations and inspire a love of history in children of all ages. The average episode length is around 30 minutes.
10. Tumble (Ages 5+)
Your child doesn’t have to be a mad scientist in the making to enjoy this podcast, which makes introductory level STEM education relatable and fun for kids of all ages. The expertly curated material is always mind-blowing and the interviews with passionate scientists serve to enhance the appeal of the subject matter. The tone is low-key and fairly sophisticated as far as kid stuff is concerned, but the content is so engaging your little one will likely want to binge listen (which is easily done when each episode is about 15 minutes).
11. Radiolab (Ages 13+)
Guaranteed to be more interesting than your teen’s chem class, this curiosity-led podcast dives deep into the weird and wonderful world of science. Previous episodes have investigated why we laugh, explored the line between music and language and discussed the surprising history of football. Listen to this one on your next car ride to the store with your surly teen in tow, and you’ll both learn something.