11 Best Podcasts for Kids

Natnan Srisuwan/iStock via Getty Images
Natnan Srisuwan/iStock via Getty Images

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.

10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

Singers George Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley, of the band 'Wham!', performing on stage, July 1986
Dave Hogan/Getty Images

By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

Andrew Ridgeley (right) and George Michael (1963-2016) of Wham! performing on stage together in Sydney, Australia during the pop duo's 1985 world tour, January 1985.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in the Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.

The Origins of 12 Christmas Traditions

Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images
Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images

From expecting Santa to fill our footwear with gifts to eating cake that looks like tree bark, the holidays are filled with traditions—some of which are downright odd when you stop and think about them. Where did they come from? Wonder no more. Here are the origins of 12 Christmas traditions.

1. Hanging Stockings

While there’s no official record of why we hang socks for Santa, one of the most plausible explanations is that it's a variation on the old tradition of leaving out shoes with hay inside them on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day. Lucky children would discover that the hay they left for St. Nick’s donkey had been replaced with treats or coins when they woke up the next morning. Another story says that St. Nicholas learned of a father who was unable to pay for his three daughters' dowries, so St. Nick dropped gold balls down a chimney, which landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry. But this appears to be a modern telling—traditional versions of the story generally have the gold land at the father's feet after being thrown through a window.

Regardless of what started the tradition, people seem to have realized the need to use a decorative stocking in place of an actual sock pretty early on. In 1883, The New York Times wrote:

"In the days of the unobtrusive white stocking, no one could pretend that the stocking itself was a graceful or attractive object when hanging limp and empty from the foot of the bedstead. Now, however, since the adoption of decorated stockings ... even the empty stocking may be a thing of beauty, and its owner can display it with confidence both at the Christmas season and on purely secular occasions."

2. Caroling

Though it may seem like a centuries-old tradition, showing up at people’s houses to serenade them with seasonal tunes only dates back to the 19th century. Before that, neighbors did visit each other to impart wishes of good luck and good cheer, but not necessarily in song. Christmas carols themselves go back hundreds of years, minus the door-to-door part. The mashup of the two ideas didn’t come together until Victorian England, when caroling was part of every holiday—even May Day festivals. As Christmas became more commercialized, caroling for the occasion became more popular.

3. Using Evergreens as Christmas Trees

Rows of Christmas trees at tree farm on cold winter morning
arlutz73/iStock via Getty Images

Before Christianity was even conceived of, people used evergreen boughs to decorate their homes during the winter; the greenery reminded them that plants would return in abundance soon. As Christianity became more popular in Europe, and Germany in particular, the tradition was absorbed into it. Christians decorated evergreen trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden, calling them "Paradise Trees" around the time of Adam and Eve's name day—December 24. Gradually, the tradition was subsumed into Christmas celebrations.

The tradition spread as immigrants did, but the practice really took off when word got around that England’s Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree as a nod to her German husband’s heritage (German members of the British royal family had previously had Christmas trees, but they never caught on with the wider public). Her influence was felt worldwide, and by 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree. Today, 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

4. The Colors Red and Green

As with many other old Christmas traditions, there’s no hard-and-fast event that deemed red and green the Official Colors of Christmas™. But there are theories—the green may have derived from the evergreen tradition that dates back to before Christianity, and the red may be from holly berries. While they’re winter-hardy, just like evergreens, they also have a religious implication: The red berries have been associated with the blood of Christ.

5. Ugly Christmas Sweaters

To celebrate this joyous season, many people gleefully don hideous knitwear adorned with ribbons, sequins, bows, and lights. In the past, the trend was embraced solely by grandmas, teachers, and fashion-challenged parents, but in the last decade or so, the ugly sweater has gone mainstream. We may have Canada to blame for that: According to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book, the ugly sweater party trend can be traced to a 2001 gathering in Vancouver.

6. Leaving Milk and Cookies for Santa

Closeup image of wish list and treats for Santa Claus on table next to burning fireplace
Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images

When we plunk a few Oreos or chocolate chip cookies on a plate for St. Nick, accompanied by a cold glass of milk, we’re actually participating in a tradition that some scholars date back to ancient Norse mythology. According to legend, Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Kids would leave treats for Sleipnir, hoping that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The practice became popular again in the U.S. during the Great Depression, when parents tried to impress upon kids the importance of being grateful for anything they were lucky enough to receive for Christmas.

7. The A Christmas Story Marathon on TBS

If one of the highlights of your holiday is tuning in for 24 hours of watching Ralphie Parker nearly shoot his eye out, you’re not alone—over the course of the day, more than 50 million viewers flip to TBS. The marathon first aired on TNT in 1997, then switched to sister station TBS in 2004. This Christmas marks the 20th year for the annual movie marathon.

8. Yule Logs

Chocolate yule log cake with red currant on wooden background
etorres69/iStock via Getty Images

Throwing a yule log on the fire is another tradition that is said to predate Christianity. As part of winter solstice celebrations, Gaels and Celts burned logs decorated with holly, ivy, and pinecones to cleanse themselves of the past year and welcome the next one. They also believed the ashes would help protect against lightning strikes and evil spirits. The practice was scaled down over time, and eventually, it morphed into a more delicious tradition—cake! Parisian bakers really popularized the practice of creating yule log-shaped desserts during the 19th century, with various bakeries competing to see who could come up with the most elaborately decorated yule log.

If you prefer a wood yule log to one covered in frosting, but find yourself sans fireplace, you can always tune in to Yule Log TV.

9. Advent Calendars

Technically, Advent, a religious event that has been celebrated since the 4th century, is a four-week period that starts on the Sunday closest to the November 30 feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. Traditionally, it marked the period to prepare for Christmas as well as the Second Coming. These days, it’s mostly used as a countdown to Christmas for the religious and the non-religious alike.

The modern commercialized advent calendar, which marks the passage of December days with little doors containing candy or small gifts, are believed to have been introduced by Gerhard Lang in the early 1900s. He was inspired by a calendar that his mother made for him when he was a child that featured 24 colored pictures attached to a piece of cardboard. Today, advent calendars contain everything from candy to LEGOs.

10. Eggnog

Eggnog in two glass cups
GreenArtPhotography/iStock via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would be inspired to chug a raw egg-based drink, but historians agree that 'nog was probably inspired by a medieval drink called posset, a milky drink made with eggs, milk, and sometimes figs or sherry. These were all pricey ingredients, so the wealthy often used it for toasting.

Eggnog became a holiday drink when colonists brought it over from England, but they found a way to make it on the cheap, nixing the figs and substituting rum for sherry. And how about that weird "nog" name? No one knows for sure, but historians theorize that nog was short for noggin, which was slang for a wooden cup, or a play on the Norfolk variety of beer also called nog (which itself may be named after the cup).

11. Mistletoe

Mistletoe has been associated with fertility and vitality since ancient times, when Celtic Druids saw it as such because it blossomed even during the most frigid winters; the association stuck over the centuries.

It’s easy to see how fertility and kissing can be linked, but no one is quite sure how smooching under the shrub (actually, it’s a parasitic plant) became a common Christmas pastime. We do know the tradition was popular with English servants in the 18th century, then quickly spread to those they served. The archaic custom once allowed men to steal a kiss from any woman standing beneath; if she refused, they were doomed with bad luck.

12. Christmas Cards

Exchanging holiday greetings via mail is a surprisingly recent tradition, with the first formal card hitting shelves in 1843. Designed by an Englishman named J.C. Horsley, the cardboard greeting showed a happy group of people participating in a toast, along with the printed sentiment, "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” A thousand of them were printed that first year, and because it cost just a penny to mail a holiday hello to friends and family (the card itself was a shilling, or 12 times as much), the cards sold like hotcakes and a new custom was born. Today, Americans send around 2 billion cards every year.

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