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.

12 Amazing Facts About Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great moved to a foreign land as a teenager and became one of the most important leaders in its history. During her 34-year reign, she transformed Russia’s culture while expanding its borders. Here's what you need to know about the unlikely ruler, who is the subject of not one, but two series: HBO's Catherine the Great, which debuts on October 21, 2019, and Hulu's The Great, slated for 2020.

  1. Catherine the Great's name wasn't Catherine.

The woman who would become Catherine the Great was born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst on April 21, 1729 (Julian Calendar) in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland). She was the daughter of Christian August, a minor German prince and general in the Prussian army, and Princess Johanna Elisabeth, who had connections to the Russian royal family.

Despite being a princess herself, young Sophie wasn’t exactly a top-tier member of the European nobility. But thanks to her mother’s campaigning, she was chosen to marry Karl Peter Ulrich (later known as Tsar Peter III), heir to the Russian throne. The couple wed on August 21, 1745. Sophie converted to Russian Orthodoxy—despite her Lutheran father’s objections—and took on a new Russian name: Ekaterina, or “Catherine.” Her official title would be Empress Catherine II (Peter the Great's second wife had been Empress Catherine I).

  1. Catherine the Great's marriage to Peter the III was rocky.

Catherine and Peter were an ill-matched pair: Catherine was bright and ambitious whereas Peter, according to Britannica, was "mentally feeble." Catherine didn’t like him: “Peter III had no greater enemy than himself; all his actions bordered on insanity,” she wrote in 1789. Her memoirs portray the Tsar as a drunk, a simpleton, and somebody who “took pleasure in beating men and animals.” Whether these statements are accurate or not, Catherine and her spouse were clearly unhappy, and they both had extramarital affairs. Catherine had at least three affairs, and hinted that none of her children were her husband's.

  1. Catherine the Great overthrew Peter the III so that she could rule.

Peter III assumed the throne on January 5, 1762, and was immediately unpopular. He enraged the military by pulling out of the Seven Years’ War and making big concessions to Russia’s adversaries in the process.

Eventually, Catherine believed that Peter was going to divorce her—so she worked with her lover, Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, and her other allies to overthrow him and take the throne for herself. In July 1762, just six months after he took the throne, Peter III was deposed in a coup d'état. Eight days later, he was killed while in the custody of one of Catherine's co-conspirators.

With Peter out of the picture, Catherine became the new empress of Russia. She was formally crowned on September 22, 1762. She never married again, and took numerous lovers during her long reign.

  1. Voltaire was basically Catherine the Great's pen pal.

Catherine, a bibliophile, built up a collection of 44,000 books. Early in her reign, she began a correspondence with one of her favorite authors: The great Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. Russia fascinated Voltaire, who had written a biography of Peter the Great. Catherine would never get the chance to meet him in person, but through these letters, she and Voltaire discussed everything from disease prevention to Catherine's love of English gardens.

  1. Catherine the Great annexed Crimea.

Russian interest in the Crimean Peninsula long predates Vladimir Putin. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774, Catherine seized the landmass, thus strengthening Russia’s presence on the Black Sea. And her conquests didn’t end there. Over 200,000 square miles of new territory was added to the Russian empire during Catherine’s rule. Much of it was acquired when the once-independent nation of Poland was divided between Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Tsarina Catherine’s slice contained portions of modern-day Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine.

An illustration of Catherine the Great.
iStock.com/traveler1116
  1. Great Britain asked for Catherine the Great's help when the Revolutionary War broke out.

In 1775, the Earl of Dartmouth approached Catherine with a request for 20,000 Russian troops to help Britain put down the colonial rebellion in America. She refused. As the war continued, British diplomats kept trying to establish an alliance with Russia, hoping that the Empress would either send military aid or, failing that, pressure France into abandoning the American cause. Catherine did neither. However, out of concern for Russian shipping interests in the Atlantic (and elsewhere), she did attempt to mediate an end to the violence between Britain and its rebellious colonies in 1780.

  1. Alaska was colonized on Catherine the Great's watch.

Russian explorers had been visiting Alaska since 1741, but the empire didn’t set up its first permanent colony there until 1784, when merchant Grigory Shelikhov sailed to Kodiak Island and established the Three Saints Bay Colony. Later, in 1788, he visited Catherine in St. Petersburg and asked if she’d give his company a monopoly over the area’s lucrative fur trade. She denied his request, but thanked the explorer for “[discovering] new lands and peoples for the benefit of the state.” Russia’s colonial presence in North America would continue long after Catherine’s death—and it wasn’t limited to Alaska.

  1. Catherine the Great embraced inoculation.

Thomas Dimsdale, an English physician, built upon an existing technique for immunizing people to smallpox. The technique involved finding a carrier of the ailment, then taking a blade dipped in a very, very small amount of "the unripe, crude or watery matter" from that person's pustules and injecting it into the patient’s body. In 18th century Russia, smallpox claimed millions of lives, so Catherine was eager to see if Dimsdale’s strategy worked. At her invitation, he came to Russia and quietly inoculated the empress. The procedure was a success, and with the Tsarina’s encouragement, Dimsdale inoculated about 150 members of the nobility. Before the end of the century, approximately 2 million Russians had received smallpox inoculations.

  1. A rebel claimed to be Catherine the Great's dead husband.

Catherine’s Enlightenment-fueled beliefs didn't lead to the demise of serfdom. According to Marc Raeff in his book Catherine the Great: A Profile, "During her reign it was possible to buy and sell serfs with or without land, buy whole families or individuals, transact sales on the estate or marketplace; contemporaries termed all this ‘veritable slavery.'”

The unjust arrangement triggered 160 documented peasant uprisings in the first 10 years of Catherine’s reign. The best known of them was Pugachev’s Rebellion (1773-1775) [PDF], which was organized by Yemelyan Pugachev, a veteran of the Russo-Turkish wars. To win support, he introduced himself as Catherine’s deposed and deceased spouse, Peter III (even though Pugachev looked nothing like Peter). Pugachev and his followers enjoyed some big military victories early on, but after a crushing defeat in August 1774, their revolution fell apart. Pugachev was captured and executed in Moscow on January 10, 1775.

  1. Catherine the Great's art collection was the basis of St. Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum.

In 1764, Catherine purchased a set of 225 paintings—including works by Rembrandt and Frans Hals—from a Berlin dealer, and founded the Hermitage with those works. Catherine went on to buy or commission thousands of additional pieces for her budding museum. Today, the State Hermitage Museum has more than 3 million items in its collections.

  1. Catherine the Great was Russia's longest-serving female leader.

Thirty-four years after assuming the throne, Catherine passed away on November 6, 1796. The monarch was succeeded by her son, Tsar Paul I.

  1. Wild rumors flew after Catherine the Great's death—including that one about the horse.

A lot of rumors sprung up in the wake of Catherin's death. One said that she had died while on the toilet, while another—the most persistent tale, and a completely unfounded one—claimed that Catherine the Great was crushed to death while attempting to have sex with a stallion. Where exactly the story came from is unknown; an autopsy determined that the empress had actually died of a cerebral stroke.

10 Facts About the Beastie Boys's 'Sabotage' Video

Beastie Boys via YouTube
Beastie Boys via YouTube

With their raucous mix of rock and hip-hop, the Beastie Boys were a band everyone could love. They also made killer music videos, and their 1994 video for “Sabotage” is arguably one of the greatest in the history of the medium. Directed by Spike Jonze and inspired by ‘70s cop shows, “Sabotage” finds the Beasties in cheesy suits, wigs, and mustaches, cavorting around L.A. like a bunch of bootleg Starskys and Hutches. If you were alive in the ‘90s, you’ve seen “Sabotage” a million times, but there’s a lot you might not know about this iconic video.

1. It all began with a photo shoot.

Spike Jonze met the Beastie Boys when he photographed them for Dirt magazine in the early 1990s. The band showed up with its own concept. “For years, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz had been talking about doing a photo session as undercover cops—wearing ties and fake mustaches and sitting in a car like we were on a stakeout,” Adam “MCA” Yauch told New York Magazine. Jonze loved the idea so much he tagged along when the Beasties went wig shopping. “Then, while he was taking the pictures, he was wearing this blond wig and mustache the whole time,” Yauch said. “For no apparent reason.” So was born a friendship that begat “Sabotage.”

2. Spike Jonze filmed “Sabotage” without permits.

The Beasties weren’t big fans of high-budget music videos with tons of people on the set. So they asked Jonze to hire a couple of assistants and run the whole production out of a van. “Then we just ran around L.A. without any permits and made everything up as we went along,” MCA told New York. They’re lucky the real cops never showed up.

3. The Beastie Boys did all their own stunt driving.

After binge-watching VHS tapes of The Streets of San Francisco and other ‘70s cop shows, the Beasties knew they needed some sweet chase scenes. “We bought a car that was about to die,” Mike D told Vanity Fair. “We just drove the car ourselves. We almost killed the car a couple of times, but we definitely didn’t come close to killing ourselves.”

4. “Sabotage” inspired the opening sequence of Trainspotting.

Danny Boyle's 1996 film Trainspotting famously opens with Ewan McGregor and his buddies running through the streets of Edinburgh to the tune of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” In the DVD commentary, Boyle revealed that the scene was inspired by “Sabotage.”

5. Two cameras were harmed in the making of “Sabotage.”

“Sabotage” was supposed to be a low-budget affair—and it would’ve been, had Jonze been a little more careful with his rented cameras. He destroyed a Canon Scoopic when the Ziploc bag he used to protect the camera during an underwater shot proved less than airtight. He apparently told the rental agency the camera stopped working on its own, but he wasn’t as lucky when an Arriflex SR3 fell out of a van window. That cost $84,000, effectively tripling the cost of the video.

6. MCA crashed the stage of the MTV Video Music Awards to protest “Sabotage” being shut out.

At the 1994 MTV VMAs, “Sabotage” was nominated for five awards, including Video of the Year. In one of the great injustices of all time, it lost in all five categories. When R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” won Best Direction, MCA invaded the stage dressed as Nathanial Hörnblowér, his Swiss uncle/filmmaker alter-ego. “Since I was a small boy, I had dreamed that Spike would win this,” MCA said as a confused Michael Stipe looked on. “Now this has happened, and I want to tell everyone this is a farce, and I had the ideas for Star Wars and everything.”

7. There’s a “Sabotage” comic book you can download for free.

After MCA’s death in 2012, artist Derek Langille created a seven-page “Sabotage” comic book in tribute to the fallen musician and filmmaker. You can download it for free here.

8. There’s also a “Sabotage” novel.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Sabotage,” Oakland-based author and Beasties super-fan Jeff Gomez wrote a five-act novel inspired by the video. He spent months researching cop movies and real-life police lingo, and he watched “Sabotage” about 100 times, keeping a detailed spreadsheet of all the action unfolding onscreen. “They created a really great universe, and I just wanted to play around in it for a little bit,” Gomez told PBS.

9. There’s a “Sabotage”/Sesame Street mashup on YouTube.

In 2017, YouTuber Is This How You Go Viral, a.k.a. Adam Schleichkorn, created the video “Sesametage,” a reimagining of “Sabotage” made with edited bits of Sesame Street. It stars Big Bird as himself, The Count as Cochese, and Oscar the Grouch as Bobby, “The Rookie.” Super Grover, Telly, Cookie Monster, and Bert and Ernie also turn up in this hilarious spoof of a spoof.

10. “Sabotage” nearly became a movie—kind of.

Jonze and the Beasties had such a blast making “Sabotage” that they wrote a script for a feature film called We Can Do This. The movie, which they later abandoned, was set to feature MCA in two roles: Sir Stuart Wallace, one of his “Sabotage” characters, and Nathaniel Hörnblowér (whom he portrayed during that 1994 VMAs protest). Jonze told IndieWire the film would’ve been “ridiculous and fun,” which sounds like the understatement of the century. “There were no 1970s cops in it, but it was definitely in the same spirit,” he said.

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