Survey by kids’ podcasts group sheds light on listening habits

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How many times do you listen to a single podcast episode? I listen once, repeating an episode only if a story was deeply memorable or interesting. But when I listen to a podcast with my three-year-old son, I find myself listening to the same episode over and over — at his insistent request.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, we listened to the same episode of Stories on the way there, and back. One night, we listened to his favorite episode five times in a row. I started reciting it along with the narrator.

The fact that kids love to consume their favorite media until parental exhaustion probably comes as no surprise. But how kids respond to audio has been something of a mystery, from the perspective of radio makers. Last year, I wrote about the lack of podcasts for kids in public radio and about Kids Listen, the organization I helped found to advocate for high-quality audio content for children. Today, we are releasing the initial findings from our inaugural survey.

Kids Listen surveyed 436 families that already listen to podcasts. We learned that roughly 80 percent of families surveyed said their kids listen to a single episode multiple times. Nearly 20 percent of respondents reported that their kids listen to a single episode more than 10 times.

Kids not only listen frequently, they engage deeply with the content. Nearly 75 percent of families surveyed said that after listening, kids start discussions related to the podcast they just heard. They also commonly quote or re-enact part of the episode (58 percent of respondents), tell others about what they learned from the podcast (56 percent of respondents), ask to listen to the episode again (54 percent of respondents) and request more information about what they learned (52 percent of respondents).

This high level of engagement has been borne out in feedback received by podcast creators. I recently received a handwritten letter from a mother and daughter who listen to Tumble, the science podcast for kids I produce. “I never stop asking about flatworms,” the daughter wrote, referring to her favorite episode. Her mother added, “She even pretends to play with Lindsay at home.” I am a child’s imaginary friend, and it’s amazing.

Kids Listen has grown from eight founding members to 26 member podcasts, who receive a constant flow of questions, drawings, videos and feedback from grateful parents and teachers. Our organization now includes podcasts from public radio stations, including The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified from WHYY and Vermont Public Radio’s But Why? There are sure signs that kids podcasts are gaining momentum. Recently, Brains On!, the popular science podcast from American Public Media, made the leap from a side project to a full-time gig for its three producers. Investments are coming from outside public media as well. Panoply has picked up The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel and signed a development deal with its creators for additional shows.

Certainly, there’s plenty of room for growth when it comes to podcasts for kids. As the podcast ecosystem begins to welcome younger audiences as listeners, there are many questions to answer and changes to make. Kids Listen will be releasing further results from the survey later this spring.

Lindsay Patterson is the creator, producer and co-host of Tumble, a science podcast for kids. She is also a co-founder of Kids Listen. Visit kidslisten.org to learn about membership or sign up for their newsletter to be notified of the full survey release.