Podcasts are widely regarded as a fantastic way to broaden your worldview and make you feel smarter in about 30 minutes or less. And while Stuff You Should Know, My Favorite Murder, Freakonomics, and other top-rated podcasts are undeniably outstanding programs, they’re not exactly geared toward younger listeners. For those curious kids with big questions and even bigger imaginations, here are 12 phenomenal and fun podcast picks.
1. Young Ben Franklin
Gen-Z Media’s Young Ben Franklin is a historical fiction podcast that imagines the life of a very curious, somewhat mischievous 13-year-old Ben Franklin. The full-cast audio production consists of 10 episodes—each between 12 and 20 minutes long—and follows Franklin and his friends as they decipher a mysterious letter, seek treasure, and go head-to-head with the detestable British governor of Massachusetts. The podcast captures the colonial spirit of Franklin’s time and shows kids that maybe they have more in common with our nation’s most revered historical figures than they previously realized.
2. Wow in the World
The enthusiasm of hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz makes NPR’s Wow in the World one of the most upbeat (and highest-rated) programs on the kid podcast scene right now. Thomas and Raz take topics like facial mimicry, 3D printing, and solar eclipses, and explain them in simple yet wildly entertaining ways that might make you reminisce fondly about the days of Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus. Episode titles include “Scaredy Sharks and the Science of Fear," “Why Horses Can’t Wear Flip-Flops,” and “BANG! Where’d this universe come from?!”
3. The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd
This podcast premiered in 2004 and continued for eight seasons, gaining a wide fan base of both children and adults in part for its irresistible old-timey radio vibe. The protagonist is the “World’s Most Brilliant Scientist,” Dr. Floyd, who tries to thwart his arch nemesis, Dr. Steve. There's a backdrop of actual historical events, with guest appearances from actual historical figures like Johann Pachelbel, Lewis and Clark, and the Wright brothers. It’s especially perfect for short commutes to and from school, since each episode is around five minutes long.
4. Story Pirates
Story Pirates encourages kids to indulge in telling the tallest tales they can imagine. It started out as a small show performed in a Harlem school auditorium, and has since expanded into a hit radio show, live tour, and hilarious, star-studded podcast presented by Gimlet Media. Each episode takes a different bizarre story written by kids and brings it to life with catchy songs, goofy voices, and some of Hollywood’s hottest entertainers. Episode titles include “Ladybug Tickle Day,” “How the Grizzly Bear Turned Into a Polar Bear,” and “How to Make a Basketball Plant,” and past guest stars have included Dax Shepard, Claire Danes, and John Oliver.
5. Brains On!
American Public Media’s Brains On! is technically a science podcast for kids, but it’ll basically appeal to anyone who’s ever had a thought at all—scientific or otherwise. It’s co-hosted by a kid scientist and Molly Bloom, who delve into questions that will make listeners think “I’ve always wondered about that!” or “I’ve literally never thought about that before!” Both are thrilling feelings to have, in our opinion. Topics range from the goofy (“How to Cook for an Alien”) to the environmentally relevant (“The Future of Fuel, and the Problem with Exhaust”).
6. Smash Boom Best
After Brains On! became a smashing success, American Public Media conceived Smash Boom Best, a podcast that pits two sort-of related things against each other and debates which one is better (or worse). Featuring quotes from kids and experts alike, the podcast is a great way for kids to think about their opinions and then explore how listening to others’ opinions—and learning some facts—can reinforce what they think or make them change their minds. How does pizza measure up against tacos? Are unicorns or dragons more impressive? Smash Boom Best has some interesting answers.
7. But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids
Vermont Public Radio’s But Why is a giant celebration of that pesky question kids can’t help but ask their parents again, and again, and again, no matter how random or existential or granular the question ends up getting. It’s similar to Brains On! in that it explores brainy, thought-provoking topics, but each episode of But Why tackles a really specific question, submitted by a kid. Some are fairly straightforward, like “Why Do Geese Fly in the Shape of a V?” while others veer into ethical territory: “Is It Ever OK to Break a Rule?” They even tackle “How Are Babies Made?” in a sensitive, honest way geared toward their youngest listeners.
8. What If World
What If World is also all about kid-generated questions, but it’s much less scientific. With the help of Abacus P. Grumbler, Randall Radbot, and Whendiana Joan, host Mr. Eric spins stories based on kids’ wildest, wackiest, not always grammatically correct (but always endearing) what-if questions. Episodes include “What if eagles wear glasses and eated too much meat?” and “What if when cows mooed, they shot bow and arrows out of their noses?” The podcast abounds with made-up words and whimsical worlds, and it’s very, very adorable to hear the audio footage of the children asking their questions.
9. The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a serial mystery podcast that describes itself as “Goonies meets Spy Kids meets Stranger Things.” Geared toward kids between the ages of 8 and 12 and performed by kids, too, it follows the story of a few schoolchildren trying to track down their two missing friends. The riveting storyline adds a “What happens next?” element that will keep kids from asking “Are we there yet?” during car rides.
10. Pants on Fire
These days, you’re never too young to start learning how to sift through fake news to find the truth. Pants on Fire makes it—dare we say it?—fun for kids. Formatted like a game show, the podcast introduces a topic, a grade-school-aged contestant, and two “experts” who present everything they know about said topic. The catch? One so-called expert is actually a total liar, and none of their information is true. The contestant then has to weigh all of the clues and decide which adult was the liar. The subjects (like pizza, pianos, libraries, and cats) are general, so contestants usually have some prior knowledge to help them decide who’s lying. Also, since it’s not a live game show, you can pause it however often you want to give young listeners the chance to weigh in with their own guesses about which "facts" are fake.
11. The Past and the Curious
On The Past and the Curious, host Mick Sullivan devotes himself to finding the little-known details about well-known people and events from history, and telling them in an always engaging, sometimes musical manner that gives children (and adults) a much more robust, interesting understanding of the past. Everyone knows Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, but did you know that a detective named Kate Warne stopped an early assassination attempt while Lincoln was en route to his inauguration? Everyone knows the “Happy Birthday” song, but do you know about Patty and Margaret Hill, who wrote it? The Past and the Curious covers those stories, and many, many more.