The benefits of reading to our kids are well established. When we read to our children, they build vocabulary, language and literacy, improve attention and memory, and stimulate imagination and curiosity. Books on tape have become increasingly popular in recent years. Now young audiophiles have another option — podcasts.

A podcast is a digital media file or a series of files that is distributed over the Internet using Really Simple Syndication (RSS). Podcasts can be either in an audio (only sound) or video (sound and visual) format. You can listen to a podcast on multiple devices, including computers, mp3 players, tablets, or smartphones.

“Podcast” is a word coined by blending the words iPod and broadcast. Despite the origin of the name, Apple products are not necessary to access content.

The term podcast can refer either to the content itself or the method by which it is syndicated, also called podcasting. The author or host of a podcast is called a podcaster. Some podcasts are free; others you purchase.

Podcasting was little known to most until Serial, a suspenseful, non-fiction podcast for adults, popularized the entertainment format. Of Americans 12 and older, 44 percent say they have ever listened to a podcast, up from 40 percent last year. Podcasting’s in-car gains continue as well: a year ago, 18 percent of podcast listeners described the car as the place they most often listened to podcasts; this year, that number is 22 percent.

So what content has technology freed from the printed page for kids and families? Although only a small percent of podcast downloads are currently aimed at kids, an ever-increasing array of options is available.

Wow In The World is a science, technology, and new discoveries podcast developed by National Public Radio. If you are intrigued by hermit crab behavior, solving the problem of what to do with all those disposable water bottles, space vacations of the future, or the benefits of saying thank you, this is your download.

Your family may find Dream Big of interest. As a psychologist, I delighted in cohosts 9-year-old Eva Karpman and her mom, Olga Karpman, as they inspire us to take action to follow our dreams. These run 15 to 20 minutes, a perfect length to listen to in the car on the way to soccer practice.

Episodes of Brains On!, produced by American Public Media, have explored the science behind topics such as ants, engines, hiccups, and salty foods. This podcast is co-hosted by kid scientists and reporters from public radio.

For that long trip or at bedtime, you may want to listen to Storynory or Stories Podcast. Stories Podcast crosses the generational gap as it presents a new story each week: perhaps a time-tested fairy-tale such as Snow White, a classic such as Peter Rabbit, or an original work that delivers a thoughtful message.

For those interested in music-themed topics, Ear Snacks provides a family-friendly blend of music, science, art, and culture. The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel, a serial mystery story for middle graders, has a Peabody Award to its credit.

While you can download a podcast from its homepage, there are several apps available for both iOS and Android platforms that allow you to download and sort episodes. Dubbed “podcatchers,” these apps are available on various systems and are generally free or quite inexpensive.

Although podcasting developed for children and families is still in its infancy, this platform holds great promise to inform, entertain, and educate. I suspect it won’t be long before there is a podcast about research linking listening comprehension as a positive predictor of later academic success.

Culled from South Coast Today