If one of your goals for the New Year is to cut down on your kids’ screen time, podcasts are a really great alternative with the same (arguably higher) level of educational entertainment and engagement. Podcasts have been a huge hit in our home since we first introduced them on long car rides. An avid listener myself, I was curious as to whether my then two and four-year-old would benefit from audio learning, and desperate to find something more enriching than radio. Research shows that the absence of visuals in podcasts allows kids to fill in the gaps and use their creativity. This prompts kids to ask richer questions and solve problems in more imaginative ways. I’d also read that aural learning gets kids to engage with ideas that are two to three grade-levels higher than their reading level, which sounded very impressive!
After just a few episodes of the very popular Ear Snacks and Story Pirates (where stories written by children are brought to life), it was clear that my kids were responding to what they had listened to, re-telling stories, using new words they had heard and asking lots of interesting questions related to the content. Our family now plays podcasts not only in the car, but when we are stuck waiting for something, getting ready or just having some down time at home. Being brand new to the world of podcasts for kids however, can be a little confusing, so here are some of my tips for getting your kids addicted to audio adventures.
Sample different kinds of podcasts
I was surprised to find an incredible number of high-quality kid-friendly podcasts covering everything from bedtime storytelling to science exploration, but my personal recommendations are Ear Snacks, Brains On!, Wow in the World, and Story Pirates.
Science podcasts like Tumble and The Show About Science (which is actually hosted by a six-year-old) feature interviews with real scientists and experts in the field, and can be used alongside school curriculum teaching for the subject. For older kids, the mystery series or theatre varieties such as The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel or Saturday Morning Theatre are also worth checking out. Try to listen to a few episodes of the programmes yourself, and see if the content fits with what your kids are already interested in, before choosing a few for them to try. Having two or three go-to podcasts helps kids get comfortable with the hosts and their style of sharing, which makes listening more enjoyable.
Create a varied playlist
My kids quickly discovered their (shared) favourite episodes, and would ask for them over and over again. I honestly didn’t mind this because some shows are so well produced and filled with fun facts that grown-ups can appreciate them too. The trick to getting out of repetitive-listening mode with your kids – and avoid the inevitable fights that happen with more than one child choosing what’s next – is to keep advertising new episodes to your kids. Rather easy to do with catchy titles such as “Wanted: Giant Rat for Cracking Coconuts” and “Animal farts: A mighty wind.” Learn everything from why no two snowflakes are the same, to how GPS knows where we are. (There are honestly some episodes of Wow in the World that make me feel like I’m back in school myself, and I feel like I’ve smartened up every time).
Use a podcast app like Overcast (instead of using Apple Podcasts), because you can set up playlists easily, save your favourite episodes, and select voice boost and to shorten silences for a custom listening speed, as well as the option to fast-forward through promotional ads. I also recommend getting a sturdy Bluetooth speaker kids can carry around at home, or even have with them at the table during snack time. The Philips SoundShooter has a great shock-proof silicon cover which can withstand being tossed by little hands.
Let your kids try recording
Encourage your kids to record their own audio stories or mini episodes – with a simple microphone and a programme like Clean Feed which is easy to use and saves everything directly to iTunes. Once your kids have been exposed to how sound effects, storytelling, hosting and production work through listening to podcasts, they’ll be more likely to try it out themselves! The recordings will also serve as really sweet keepsakes for when they are older, as they’ll be delighted to hear what their voices used to sound like and laugh at the types of stories they came up with.
By Michelle Chua
Michelle Chua is the author of ‘The Mindful Mum’ and Co-facilitator of the Art Discovery Tours for Kids at the ILHAM Gallery in KL.