Covering COVID to the Capitol Insurrection, These Podcasts Help Kids Discern Fact from Fiction

10 shows for kids ages 8 to 14 cover current events and teach news literacy.  

These days, it can seem as if Americans consume news and information from completely different worlds, resulting in widespread distrust of what were once considered reliable sources. Librarians, educators, and parents have the responsibility of ensuring kids have tools for discerning credible information from disinformation. It’s a formidable challenge, as a Stanford University study reported that 96 percent of high school students couldn’t tell authentic sources from spurious ones. A recent episode of NPR’s Life Kit podcast, “What To Tell Kids When the News is Scary,” shared that 69 percent of kids thought that the news didn’t capture their experiences at all.

Journalists and kids podcast producers are addressing this void. This Kidcasts: News for Kids playlist provides an overview of how producers and creators are inspiring kids to think and talk about the news. The shows cover some of the biggest news stories from the past year, including COVID, racial justice, and the U.S. elections, and employ different audio techniques for sharing information and prompting kids to take interest in the world around them. Be sure to share these episodes for National News Literacy Week, January 25-29, 2021. The News Literacy Project also provides a range of resources to help librarians, educators, and kids discern fact from fiction—or real from rubbish, as they say on the ABC Kids Newstime podcast.

Kidcasts: News for Kids playlist
Note: All episodes are primarily for ages 8 to 14.

Ten News, “Understanding the Capitol Insurrection”
The Ten News produces “10 minutes of news and fun for the new generation of curious thinkers” twice a week with topics of interest to kids. The team includes big names in audio production, along with diverse journalistic talent, produced by Small But Mighty Media and Next Chapter Podcasts. The format makes it easy to include in a morning routine, or highlight on school library’s website. This episode discusses the Capitol insurrection. Due to the topic, the show warns that parents may want to listen along with their kids. Host Bethany Van Delpht brings a conversational tone, and the show speaks about racial injustice in ways both truthful and hopeful. A clear distinction is made between protests and insurrections, grounding the event in a personal story and interviews. Real audio excerpts, interviews, background music, and pacing combine to bring momentum and emotion to these news stories. Addressing disinformation and misinformation, this episode provides tips to help kids distinguish fact from fiction.

Newsy Jacuzzi, “Vaccine Relief, Kids for Parks, Real Magic Wands, and Space Sounds”
Co-hosts Lyndee Prickitt and Leela Sivasanker Prickitt, a mother and daughter team, produce a “whirlpool of news and information.” Mother Lyndee has a background as a radio journalist working with the BBC and Reuters. With big news stories from different subject areas, the show typically includes interviews with kids or reporters and ends with trivia-style “5 fab facts.” This episode features bite-size information about engrossing topics, a kid-friendly coronavirus vaccine explanation, an interview with a kid doing virtual activism for National Parks in America, information about real wands at the Wands & Wizard Exploratorium in London, and a new NASA data project about sounds in space.

KidNuz: News to Grow On, "1.20.2021"
This daily (M-F) show was created by four women journalists who wanted credible and reliable news for their kids. In five-minute episodes, grownups read the news of the day and “engage the next generation with news that will inform without fear and educate without opinion.” Coverage answers kids’ questions such as, “Is it safe to hug grandparents who have gotten their vaccine shots?” With straightforward answers, the short segments cover a wide range of topics. Episodes end with a news quiz based on the discussion..

But Why? Hope and Dreams for 2021 From Kids Around the World”
While But Why? doesn’t bill itself as a news show per se, but it’s excellent at providing kids with credible, reliable information about topics of interest. Host and journalist Jane Lindholm, formerly a director/ producer of NPR’s Marketplace, finds experts to field questions from kids. In this episode, more than 100 children from around the world offer New Year's resolutions for this extraordinary time. Listeners also hear from Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo, climate activist Bill McKibben, and Young People's Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye talking about some top stories of the year. 

These shows from kidcasters in Australia and the U.K. recap favorite or impactful global news stories of 2020.

ABC Kids Listen NewsTime, “Top 5 Good News of 2020” (Australia)
ABC Kids Listen aims to provide families and educators with “a safe, trusted space for children to access entertaining and educational audio content.” This is a rundown episode of five news stories with kid appeal containing good news, something that we all can all appreciate in difficult times. This episode includes news about rare animals thriving, such as leatherback turtles in Thailand who are laying more eggs since they have beaches to themselves; the restoration of Indigenous and Aboriginal names to unique places, such as a mountain range in Western Australia; NASA’s Lunar Loo Competition to help create a toilet for outer space; kids stepping up to deliver groceries in creative ways cogniznt of social distancing; and how Revibe, a music education project, travels in a camper van to bring artists such as Drake and music education to local communities.

SquizKids “Squizzie Awards 2020” (Australia)
This show covers “big news events” with “positivity and humour” most weekdays. The show is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for journalism and ideas, hosted by journalist Bryce Corbett. Most shows are about 10 minutes, and this one brings listeners the “funniest, weirdest, smelliest, sportiest, grossest, cutest and most inspiring news stories of 2020.” You can easily discern episode content from the titles; this one is “Biden’s plea for peace; Argentina’s solar eclipse; the cricket rookie’s Test debut; and BTS win big.” American kids will have plenty of questions, ranging from ‘why are they talking about summer holiday when it’s winter?’ to ‘what is cricket?’ Note: The show is currently hosting a weekly news quiz -show format for the Austalian summer holiday.

The Week Junior Show, “Our Favourite Stories from 2020” (U.K.)
This brodcast delivers weekly 20- to 30-minute episodes produced by the Fun Kids Podcast Network, an arm of U.K. children’s radio station Fun Kids. British host Bex Lindsay and friends seek to help kids make sense of the world. Here they look back at 2020 and share favorite stories. Though produced in the U.K., U.S. most of stories have universal appeal, with segments like “Favorite Facts,” where you learn “tiger’s urine smells like buttered popcorn,” tor a segment titled, “Real or Rubbish?” where listeners hear a news story and decide whether it’s real.

Science news has been ever-present recently, and science shows and journalism have stepped up. Both Tumble and Brains On! both take questions directly from kids and are produced by seasoned correspondents and reporters. NPR’s science show for kids, Wow in the World, has an entertainment value that may appeal to kids reluctant to tune in.

Tumble, “The Coronavirus Vaccine Race”
This show is hosted and produced by teacher Marshall Escamilla and science journalist Lindsay Patterson. Here they interview a science columnist for The New York Times to understand how a vaccine works and how the effective Coronavirus vaccine was developed at turbo-speed in a 10-month span. The hosts do a great job of asking the right questions in order to make complex information understandable and thought-provoking.

Brains On!, “Past, Present, and Future: Using Time to Understand the Pandemic.”
Host Molly Bloom invites curious kids to help co-host, and in this episode, Gus shares how he stays engaged with virtual school and his hobbies to keep time moving. An expert psychologist also discusses how our sense of time works. Brains On! Is made by American Public Media and supported by the National Science Foundation.

Wow in the World, “Masking for a Friend: The Science of How Wearing a Mask Helps Us and Our Neighbors”
Hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz share zany, joke-filled narratives about the topics in their episodes. Here they introduce a crate full of hamsters wearing face masks, dress up in space suits to stay safe from COVID, and do more that play well with the WITW fan base. While the mix of credible and silly information may not appeal to all, this show will draw in younger kids not yet ready to take in straight news. This episode, with a wacky take on a serious topic, introduces kids to studies showing how masks keep us safe from COVID-19 and also why we don’t really need to wear space suits. Raz, well known to podcast listeners, also hostsHow I Built This, The TED Radio Hour and Wisdom From the Top.

The episodes here are free and easily accessible anywhere you listen to podcasts. Educators seeking more audio lessons around current events may want to check out Listenwise, a paid service that brings world-class audio journalism to kids, along with lesson plans (many current events episodes are free). Those wanting to dive deeper into news literacy can tune into the 10 episodes of Is That a Fact? created by the News Literacy Project.

Note: News about the pandemic evolves rapidly. For the most up-to-date information, use trusted sources such as the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

Consultant Anne Bensfield teaches librarians how to be the gatekeepers and mentors for managing new media in their schools and communities. Librarian and Buttons & Figs podcast creator Pamela Rogers inspires creative expression from elementary school kids by reading, writing, and playing with words.

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