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Kidzone: Podcasts for kids

By Jane Dutton
26 October 2016   |   3:31 am
Fortunately for parents who, like me, are keen to get their kids off screen-based entertainment, there is a myriad of scintillating, accessible and, best of all, free material out there.
Jane Dutton and her twins

Jane Dutton and her twins

I am a single mother of four-year-old twin girls – opinionated, stubborn, feral and needy. And that’s just me. It’s tough. They’re tough. Tough like when they tell me to stop singing in the car because it’s hurting their ears. Tough like when they gang up on me and also tell me my drawing of Elsa the lion looks like a bear. But like every parent, long before they were even born, I had it all planned out.  During my pregnancy, I fantasized about an ipad-free home. I was going to be a mum in the best-selling author Gina Ford mould — you know, the non-bending and merciless, robust kind of let your kid cry to sleep mother. But the minute I saw their little scrunched up pink faces, I knew I was never going to be that way; without even realising it, I succumbed to every squeak, every wonky little smile and jerky uncoordinated grasp. Including towards the ipad.

Fortunately for parents who, like me, are keen to get their kids off screen-based entertainment, there is a myriad of scintillating, accessible and, best of all, free material out there. Research done at the Australian Broadcast Corporation, found that parents are increasingly looking for entertainment and quality educational programming for their children, that doesn’t involve any kind of screen. It’s good to know we are not alone. And, you might be surprised, but kids are really good at listening when their interest is piqued – we’ve all seen those story circles where even the most energetic and boisterous amongst them is sitting quietly, rapt at the narrative.

There is a plethora of podcasts out there that do a fantastic job entertaining and pushing the intellectual boundaries of children, but I’m going to focus on two that have really captured the attention of kids around the world; Tumble and Short and Curly. With one focusing on science and the other on philosophy, they’re a lot more highbrow than the traditional ‘cat sat on the mat’ for the mini brows.

‘We wanted to make a science podcast for kids that shows how science works, just to see if we could!’. Lindsay Patterson, the creator, co-host and producer of Tumble, tells me from her base in Austin, Texas.  She adds, ‘There were moments of self-doubt – is no one doing this because no one will listen? But we believed more than anything that we were in front of a huge opportunity.’ And so, Tumble was born and they were right.  It’s a massive success; it’s just been picked up as a partner show by Wondery, a buzzed-about podcast network with investment by 20th Century Fox.

As I listen, I learn too; science isn’t just a set of facts, it’s a human process. What does that mean? Well, just like children, says Lindsay, ‘scientists don’t follow a straight line from ignorance to knowledge. There are mistakes, long journeys and there are always more interesting questions to answer.’ And what I really like about this show is that it acknowledges the close relationship between children and scientists. A study at the University of California, Berkeley found that children actually learn using the same methods scientists use, that playing is a way of experimentation and gleaning data – they also form and test hypotheses in the same way.  Hard to imagine that those little playground-battled faces are housing the brains of mini scientists. Well some of them anyway….

And on my lifetime mission of cracking the rubik’s cube of mothering, I recommend Short and Curly ( Kyla Slaven, Producer of the iTunes chart-topping podcast nudges me in the right direction.  She tells me that when it comes to children developing ideas about what’s right and wrong, the trick is to learn to think philosophically.  ‘There’s no point in just being told what is right and wrong,’ she clarifies, ‘because if you haven’t thought through those deeper underpinnings of your moral positions or beliefs, then it’s harder to apply those beliefs clearly and well across different areas of our lives.’

Short and Curly is not what you think it is (although I did find myself thinking how many erroneous hits the site had received by those seeking more nefarious content) but rather a clever podcast for clever minds. The name is based on an old phrase and Kyla tells me; “Curly” implies that there are tricky ideas involved, that the ideas change and move like a rollercoaster and that there are no right answers or pre-conceived conclusions to our topics.’  To help listeners reach a conclusion, there is a ‘pause button’ which helps them listen, stop, discuss. Some of the important and ‘diabolical’ questions on the show are: Should we move to Mars? And is Dumbledore as great as he seems?
The key to success here is to make something that both children and their parents enjoy. If we don’t like the show, we won’t share it with our kids (and that’s not me getting my Gina Ford on – it’s me not wanting to be bored) It is the Pixar and Disney trick to build multi-age audiences…and it works!

But what about reaching children in hard to access places who don’t have internet and perhaps need these learning tools more than their peers in developed countries? Lindsay stumbled on a solution: ‘We got a request from the founder of a non-governmental organisation in South Africa that works with low-resource schools. He said that the students he worked with don’t have access to the internet to listen to podcasts – so he asked permission to put the show on CDs to send home. There aren’t many other materials featuring scientist stories that he can easily make accessible to his students. His hope is that the podcast will inspire kids to think of science as a career.’

If just a meagre percentage of any country’s national GDP is put into education, children can be better eased out of poverty and with that become active players in the overall economic success of the country in which they live — imagine then the impact of the much cheaper, easy to use podcast? Because if technology has raised the standard of reading and writing, imagine then what sound can do? And if you hear it and visualise it, anything can happen…

You’ve read her here, now listen to Jane Dutton’s own podcast, African! It’s quality storytelling about Africans making a difference, and provides the insider track for smart investment opportunities linked to the topic.

Click on this: You can also find Jane presenting the news on the Al Jazeera English network. Twitter @janedutton 

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