Summer is almost here and what better place to listen to podcasts than on a long car or plane trip. As a kid, I remember listening to old radio broadcasts like the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. The voice actors and sound effects would let my 10 year-old imagination run wild but not be as frightened as actually watching a horror movie. And now with a smartphone, your kid can listen to a podcast and play Two Dots or Candy Crush at the same time.
Below, I’ve listed a few of my favorite podcasts in alphabetical order including links and suggested age ranges. Parents and teachers may want to listen to these episodes beforehand, especially for younger children. You can also find these in your podcast app.
I sometimes play various clips for my students as examples of the power of story and as a way to experience oral storytelling which precedes writing and film. By middle school, many classrooms no longer listen to stories read out loud even though listening to stories improves reading and writing by bolstering vocabulary, articulation and sequencing.
So, this summer, plug in a podcast and encourage your kids to listen to a story. They will be enriched while being entertained.
- More Perfect. Ages 12 and up.
Jad Abumrad of the podcast RadioLab (also a recommended podcast) started this series based on the US Constitution and its Amendments. This series is a must-listen for high school students studying government and a terrific refresher on what makes the US Constitution and the American experiment so unique. In addition to teaching about the specific amendments, Abumrad, a creative writing and music major from Oberlin, recruited various singer-songwriters and bands to write and record songs inspired by a specific amendment. It’s like Schoolhouse Rock with an indie-pop vibe.
- Serial. Season One. Ages 13 and up.
I binge-listened to the first season where intrepid reporter Sarah Koenig investigates the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee. Did her boyfriend 17 year-old Adnan Syed kill her? What Sarah finds results in more legal wranglings over whether Syed deserves a new trial because his defense and the state’s prosecution botched things up. Season One of Serial was the first podcast to win a Peabody Award for reporting.
- Spooked. Ages 8 and up, depending on the story. Some stories are more appropriate for older kids.
Glynn Washington is the host and producer of another podcast called Snap Judgment, an edgier version of This American Life. Every Halloween, Snap Judgment devotes an episode to supernatural tales and Washington has now posted these in his separate podcast Spooked. Among my favorites is “My Special Friend.” Baywatch actress Donna D-Errico tells her childhood encounter with a lonely girl from beyond.
- This American Life. Ages 10 and up.
First aired in 1995, this radio show started the genre of narrative journalism by choosing a theme for each episode illustrated by personal stories. It also launched the careers of writer David Sedaris and humorist Mike Birbiglia. Host and producer Ira Glass has expanded This American Life into TV and film, but audio, whether via radio or podcast, still seems best suited to present these quirky, personal stories.
Bonus link: CBS Mystery Theater hosted by EG Marshall. Ages 8 and up, depending on the story. Some stories are more appropriate for older kids. For parents and teachers, this website has an index of famous short stories and novels adapted as radio plays.