Podcasts for Kids: Overlooked Classroom Tool?

By Liana Loewus — April 05, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The 2014 debut of reporter Sarah Koenig’s Serial ushered many new listeners into the world of podcasts. Since then, more podcasting networks have sprung up and many podcasts saw their download numbers rise substantially.

So in a recent Atlantic article, Stephanie Hayes asks: Why are there still so few podcasts for kids?

“Podcasts could offer a solution to kids overdosing on dreaded ‘screentime,’ a way to entertain and educate kids without fear of burning their retinas or letting their imaginations go to ruin,” she writes.

They can also be a good tool for learning, she explains. “Numerous studies have found that children between the ages of 7 and 13 respond more creatively to radio stories than to stories shown on television,” Hayes writes. “Audio stories prompted kids to draw more novel pictures, think up more unique questions, and solve problems in a more imaginative way than did TV tales. ... When words are spoken aloud, kids can understand and engage with ideas that are two to three grade-levels higher than their reading level would normally allow.”

Some high school teachers are already using podcasts like Radiolab, This American Life, and Serial in their classrooms. It seems to me these podcasts, which tell real-life stories and explain phenomena, could satisfy the Common Core State Standards’ push for more nonfiction. And Hayes says that there are at least a couple of good science podcasts for young ones—including Brains On! and Tumble (which was created by a teacher and science reporter husband-wife team).

But overall the market is lacking. That may be because there’s little precedent—public radio hasn’t capitalized on children’s programming either—or because there’s a thought that children won’t listen.

There does appear to be a hunger for audio in the classroom, though. Teachers have been having students make their own podcasts for many years now. More teachers than ever are looking for lesson plans that include podcasts. Recently, as my colleague Mark Walsh wrote, NPR teamed up with Listen Current, a Brookline, Mass.-based curriculum provider, to offer a library of public radio segments for classroom use and to create lesson plans using audio content.

In a recent Education Week Teacher opinion piece, language arts teacher Timothy Dolan made a case for reading aloud to middle school students—one that could also apply to playing podcasts in the classroom. “Stories bind us together,” he wrote. "[T]hey allow us to share and experience a journey together that would otherwise be impossible.”

Image: iStock photo

Related stories:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.