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Interview with "Best of 2016" winner Tumble podcast

Earlier this week, iTunes released its list of the “Best of 2016” podcasts, and we were all buzzing to see that Tumble, one of the Kids Listen founding podcasts, was on the list. If you’re a fan of Tumble, you know it’s well-deserved. If you’ve never listened to it, you should know it’s a science show that does everything you want a science show to do: Explore fascinating topics, ask great questions, and make you laugh. It’s really great to see it get this type of recognition, so I shouted a few questions at Tumble co-host and Kids Listen board co-chair Lindsay Patterson as she walked down the red carpet.

JM: I think it was a couple months ago that your first season ended, and since then, you've joined forces with the (fantastic) Wondery network, picked up the first sponsors for your show, and now you've been chosen as Best of 2016 by iTunes. So what's left for 2017, besides world domination?

LP: World domination is your podcast’s plan! We are kicking off our second season in January. We’ve been working on these episodes for three months, and we can’t wait to share them. Our bigger plan is to create educational materials and resources for each episode. We’ve heard so much great feedback from kids, parents, and teachers about how Tumble episodes lead to discussion, curiosity, and exploration. We want to make it easy for parents and teachers to build on their child’s natural interest, and do real experiments. (Not the baking soda and vinegar kind of “experiment” - the kind where you ask a real question and find your own answer. Discovery!)

JM: We chatted about this a bit, but it's a big deal having a kids' podcast on the best of. In fact, the newish Disney cast is listed as a "Recent Debut" on the year-end wrap-up, so that sort of makes two. Do you think kids' podcasts are having a moment?

I don’t know if it’s a moment, as much as it is finally being recognized that there are podcasts for kids. As far as I can tell, this year is the first that iTunes has included podcasts for kids in its “Best Of” list. The list of independently produced podcasts for kids has multiplied in the last six months, in a way I hadn’t seen the past two years we’ve been making Tumble. To have Disney enter with “Story Central” is a big milestone. It is a major media company indicating that what we’re been on the right track all along. I predict that in 2017, we’ll see many familiar podcast makers develop podcasts for kids, and independents will build a bigger audience along with them.

JM: You recently wrote a great piece on your blog about the importance of science education, or really science literacy. How do you see your show, or podcasts in general, being able to help foster that literacy?

Science literacy is at the core of why we make Tumble. Growing up, I did not like science because I thought I was “bad” at it. I felt stupid and stopped asking questions. I never understood that science wasn’t about having the right answer. Science education in schools isn’t set up to explain how science works in the real world – that it’s an ongoing process that builds on and corrects itself. That scientists are humans, not characters in lab coats. They have many of the same questions that we do (or we’re afraid to ask in fear of looking dumb).

Tumble’s goal is to keep curiosity alive and explain how science works – for both kids and parents. A podcast is a great way to sneak passive learning into the day. By keeping our stories entertaining and fun (with lots of jokes!), listeners are learning without realizing it. Transforming a generation into science literate citizens is ambitious, but podcasting is the tool we have, and it’s a fun one.

JM: One of the things that I really love about Tumble is the "discovery" aspect of it, that it's often telling those science stories where there's still a bit of a mystery surrounding the topic. Can you give a little preview of what topics you'll be tackling in the next season?

There’s mystery in every single science topic. Nothing is completely explored or known. There’s always room to ask another question, and discover something new. Next season, we have shows lined up about outer space, fossils, scientists digging really deep holes, how to do science in your own bathroom, and more!


Jonathan Messinger is the host of The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian.

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