In our family, nothing says summer like a road trip, and nothing says road trip quite like that small voice coming from the back seat: “Are we there yet?” As every parent knows, it starts out as a question but quickly turns into a demand.
There are limits to how long any child can stand riding in a car seat, but those limits can be extended with some good entertainment. My family has spent years living in an RV, traveling the country, so my children have put in some serious miles, most of them with surprisingly few complaints. And no, we didn't just turn on the movies and drive. My wife and I wanted the kids to see the land we were driving through, so we skipped the screen and instead turned to modern radio—aka, the podcast.
These are our top podcasts for kids. If you're a podcast listener yourself, you might be thinking that spoken audio will never entertain your kids. But the best kids' podcasts are more than just people talking, they're more like radio plays, incorporating music, sound effects, and multiple voices to tell absorbing stories your kids will love. I won't go so far as to guarantee you a peaceful drive, but before you resort to another game of I Spy or singing about 99 bottles of anything, give these podcasts a try.
Updated August 2022: We've added some new podcasts, like Anorak: The Happy Podcast for Kids, and we've noted some changes to several others. We've also updated links throughout.
This is the first podcast our kids ever listened to, and for a long time it was their favorite. Unfortunately, the number of ads (aimed at parents) at the beginning of each episode increased to the point that my kids lost interest. There are too many other options out there that don't take five minutes to get to the actual story.
Previously we got around this by subscribing to Stories Podcast through Patreon, but that's no longer an option, since Stories Podcast is now part of Amazon's Wondery Kids+ network and is only available ad-free on Apple devices, which my family doesn't own.
All that said, I am leaving this as the top pick because the stories themselves are still very well done, drawing from a variety of sources and styles. There are retellings of classics like Snow White, some folktales, and myths from around the world, as well as original stories. Episodes range from 10 to 20 minutes, with most on the longer side. Everything here is G-rated and safe for all ages.
It has a good mix of one-off episodes and long-running series, which makes it easy to find something appropriate for your child's attention span. Our kids are big fans of the folktales and some of the longer story series.
If you're listening on an Apple device and can afford the $5 a month subscription fee (which does get you access to some other podcasts as well), then Stories Podcast is a good option. If you're not an Apple user, I suggest skipping this one in favor of some of the other picks below.
The Greeking Out podcast from National Geographic Kids retells classic Greek myths in kid-friendly form. Recently there have been a couple of forays into other mythic tales, like Loki from Norse mythology, but it's mainly Greek. This quickly became a favorite in our household, though my kids were occasionally not happy that the versions told here did not precisely match the versions they knew (from, among other things, D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths (Amazon, $21)), but I like that it got them thinking about how stories change and why there might be different versions.
If your children are into mythological stories, or you want to get them into mythology, this one is highly recommended.
Who, When, Wow!
The Who, When, Wow! podcast from Tinkercast is a history-focused podcast with an emphasis on less well-known figures whose stories will (hopefully) make your children say "wow!"
My colleague Adrienne So clued me in to this one, and my kids have really enjoyed it over the past few months. It's a good mix of biographies, with everything from less well known scientists like Caroline Hershel to sports greats like Roberto Clemente to Harry Houdini. The mix is eclectic enough that there's something for everyone.
Here's another creative story podcast that focuses on folktales from around the world. Episodes of Circle Round range from 10 to 20 minutes each. Lately Circle Round has been promoting some other podcast episodes in its feed, so you might find an episode of Brains On (listed below) or other kids' podcasts alongside its own creations.
Circle Round is a bit more overt in its value-teaching than some of the others in this list. It routinely delivers some kind of message, something about kindness, generosity, or other shared American cultural values. Teaching morality is one of the main purposes of folktales, but here I find it a little heavy-handed at times.
It has pirates in the name, which is all my kids needed to hear. Story Pirates is an entertaining mix of stories and fun songs (like "The Bear That Couldn't Disco"). There are some special guest voices you might recognize in some episodes too, like Claire Danes and John Oliver.
There's a lot more here than just the podcast. If your kids want to go beyond listening, check out the website, which has links to the book series (for middle-grade kids), information on live shows, and pirate T-shirts.
Purple Rocket Podcast
Like Stories Podcast, Purple Rocket Podcast has a mix of content with quite a few long-running series, including “Grandpa's Globe,” which is about twins Sawyer and Suzie, who use their grandfather's magical globe to explore the universe. Other adventures involve everything from aliens to fairies. Mixed in with the series are occasional one-offs, some of which manage to impart little lessons for your kids. For example, “My Homework Ate Me” is a cautionary tale of procrastination.
All the episodes I've listened to feature an elaborate array of voices, ambient sounds, and music to help bring the stories to life. These are very much in the spirit of old radio plays like The Shadow.
The mix of content makes for a podcast that should satisfy even the pickiest of listeners. New episodes arrive every other week. There are also transcripts available so your kids can read along while listening to improve literacy.
Story Seeds is a relatively new podcast, and it's a bit different from the others; rather than a story, it's a meta view of how to create a story.
Each episode pairs a kid (age 6-12) with a children's book author. They meet up in person and collaborate to write original stories that start out with the kid's idea (the “seed” in the name). It's not updated as frequently as some of the rest of these, but there's over two dozen episodes available.
This Australian podcast is devoted to showcasing true stories of Australian women. From athletes to spies, Fierce Girls often promotes a unifying theme of adventurous girls with “guts and spirit.” While the stories are all appropriate for kids and not graphic, the hosts don't shy away from telling stories as they happen. In some cases, you might want to listen first to make sure a story is appropriate for your children's maturity level. That said, our 9-year-old twins love them.
Offering a mix of classic stories, like those of Beatrix Potter, and lesser-known content, Planet Storytime aims for that mix of entertainment and education Fred Rogers perfected. It releases new episodes every Thursday.
One really nice feature that sets this podcast apart is that at the end of each month, there's one long episode with an entire month's worth of content—perfect for getting an hour or so to yourself.
This science podcast is aimed at kids, though I'll be honest, I've learned plenty from it as well. Brains On is educational—just don't tell your kids that. They'll love learning how insects walk on walls, how to find their way without a compass, and even where poo and pee go when you flush the toilet.
There's a series called “Smash Boom Best” in which two things are pitted against each other, and your kid can pick their favorite. For example, Loki was recently pitted against Athena. This podcast is probably best suited for slightly older kids.
Warrior Kid Podcast
The Warrior Kid Podcast is not for everyone, but my kids really like the question-and-answer format of this podcast, which is based on the books of the same name. The author of the books and host of the show is Jocko Willink, a decorated, retired Navy SEAL officer and leadership guru. Here Willink stands in for the character of Uncle Jake in Willink's Warrior Kid book series, answering kids' questions about everything from how to avoid eating candy to what it takes to be a Navy Seal.
Willink places a worthwhile emphasis on physical activity, mental sharpness, diet (encouraging kids to develop healthy eating habits), and hard work. The latter forms the core of the message in this podcast: Work hard, train in jiujitsu, and you will eventually succeed. This one is targeting slightly older kids, probably best for ages 8 and up. One special note: Willink has another podcast, Jocko Podcast, that is most definitely not for children.
Anorak: The Happy Podcast for Kids
A production of Anorak Kids Magazine, The Happy Podcast for Kids is educational and entertaining, and it works well for the whole family, since there are plenty of stories that will entertain adults as well kids. Much of the content explores themes similar to Anorak's magazines, so if something really catches your child's interest, you can order the relevant issue as well. Themes include everything from sea life to imagination to linguistics. Guests cover a similarly wide-ranging spectrum with everything from scuba divers to ice cream makers. While this one is fine for the whole family, given the level of detail and episode length (around 30 minutes), you might have to take breaks with younger children with shorter attention spans.
Another NPR podcast, But Why aims to answer kid questions about everything from nature, politics, culture, science, even the end of the world. Your kids can submit their own questions too; instructions are on the website.
Because But Why covers a wide range of topics, I tend to help out more with it. Many episodes are best suited to slightly older kids. My kids (7 and 5) were not about to sit through an episode on what happens when a president is impeached, for example, but they did enjoy an episode on how we taste food.
One of the few podcasts on this list that was created by a kid, Aaron's World is a 50-episode audio-drama following the adventures of a boy (Aaron) and his trusty computer sidekick (INO) exploring the prehistoric world of dinosaurs. The episodes focus on single topics—e.g., iguanodon, microraptor, sharks—but over the five-year run, some fun larger story arcs emerged that create a running plot. All came from the mind of initially 6-year-old Aaron, who kept at it for five years. Highly recommended for any kid who's interested in dinosaurs.
Other Great Podcasts and Audio Shows
These days the internet is awash in podcasts, with far too many to mention in detail here. That said, here are some others your kids may like.
Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl: Long before our kids got into storytelling podcasts, they loved this weekly two-hour music show released every, ahem, Saturday. And I know what you're thinking: kids' music. But it's really not kids' music, it's just music kids will enjoy. This is also a great way to discover music your kids love that won't drive you crazy. Did you know Walkmen co-songwriter Walter Martin has a fantastic album for children? How about The Verve Pipe? Johnny Cash? All these and more I have discovered through Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl.Earth Rangers: This podcast has a biology slant but makes a good listen for any kids interested in digging in the dirt, learning about animals, or listening to tales of the ecosystems in far-off lands. There are episodes on the jungle, the Arctic, and nearly everything between. Episodes are generally about 15 minutes each and usually tackle a single animal or environment. Earth Ranger is probably best suited to kids who are a little more mature.Molly of Denali: This eight-episode podcast sets the backstory for the PBS cartoon of the same name. Each episode is about 10 minutes long, and they're sequential, telling the backstory of Molly Mabray, an Alaska native growing up with her parents, family, and friends in Alaska.Eleanor Amplified: This long-running adventure series features an intrepid reporter named Eleanor Amplified. She specializes in foiling the devious plots of villains. It's a bit pro-journalist at times, in a rah-rah kind of way that's not for everyone, but the stories are fast-paced, entertaining, and in the spirit of old-time radio shows.Live From Mount Olympus: My kids were working their way through the Percy Jackson book series when this arrived, so this Olympian-focused podcast was an instant hit. It follows the adventures of a young Perseus, who is on a quest to save his mother from an evil king. Live From Mount Olympus mostly sticks to the Greek stories as you may remember them, though there are some additional characters. Live From Mount Olympus is part of the Trax network, which hosts other kids podcasts as well.