Kids do listen to podcasts — so what next?

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Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.29.25 PMKids make up over 20 percent of the U.S. population, yet only a handful of podcasts are produced for them. A new grassroots organization of advocates for high-quality audio content for children hopes to change that.

Kids Listen is in many ways a result of my February Current article “Kids love listening to stories. So why aren’t public media podcasts telling them any?” I wrote it as an attempt to ease the head-scratching frustration I felt with creating content for an audience that is highly valued in every medium but audio.

I can’t say that I solved the mystery of why there aren’t more podcasts for kids. But what became clear is that kids are far from passive listeners. Podcasts are a perfect medium to engage children’s natural curiosity, engagement and delight. And even better than radio, kids can replay their favorite episodes — just as they rewatch favorite movies and reread favorite books. Where radio has historically underserved children, podcasts have every reason to reach out to them.

After the article was published, I found that I was far from alone. Lots of people — producers and otherwise — reached out to share their curiosity, their own work, and their need for information. Connecting with them brought a sense of relief. Others knew the incredible rewards of making stuff that kids love, but they also understood the unique challenges in engagement, monetization and discovery. They recognized that kids are an important audience and podcasts are an important medium. In every conversation, there was a shared sense of frustration that it could be so hard to make the match.

The decisive moment came in a late-night FaceTime session with Andrew and Polly of the wonderful kids podcast Ear Snacks. In one of those rare and magical moments that frustration melds with action, we decided that it was time to band together to make this thing happen. We reached out to some of our favorite people and podcasts — Brains On, Sparkle Stories, Book Club for Kids, Story Pirates, The Show About Science, and kids audio blog Zooglobble — to join us. Our first step would be a survey to collect never-before-captured data about our existing audience and weigh our listener anecdotes against data. Kids Listen was born.

In addition to proving that kids do listen, we’re working towards building community, advocating for the growth of the medium and setting standards and ethics that will serve as best practices for development. We’re working towards the goal of a healthy ecosystem of high-quality kids podcasts. The idea is that more good listening for kids is a winning situation for everyone. We’re going to make it easier for parents and kids to find podcasts, and for kids’ podcasts to do great work.

We have a strong feeling that we’re doing something right. Since launching Kids Listen, we’ve heard from producers who are anxious to connect with others and start their own podcasts, parents who have limitless ideas about podcasts they’d love to hear, and countless others who simply want to express their excitement that we exist. We have the foundation for something great. It’s time to start building on it.

Lindsay Patterson is the creator, producer and co-host of Tumble Science Podcast for Kids. Learn more about Kids Listen and email to join.  

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