Updated June 2019!
This blog post was originally published in August 2017 and updated with new content in 2019.
Yesterday, on our way home from an epic errand-running extravaganza, my kids got into a fight because my son was "looking at" his sister.
Yep. "Looking." Oh, the horror, right?
As an only child myself, I once thought that the "She's touching me!"/"He's looking at me!" chorus was merely a parenting hyperbole used to generalize sibling rivalry, and that backseat squabbles so ridiculous didn't ACTUALLY happen all that often. Turns out I was wrong.
So, assuming I'm not the only parent who deals with this lunacy (please tell me I'm not!), then I hope I can safely say that many of you look upon summer road trips with some level of trepidation. Of course, we look forward to the great memories to be made on our journey and at our destination, but after four hours on the road, three bathroom breaks, two detours, and infinite snack exchanges, most of us steel ourselves for the inevitable backseat crankiness.
Yes, thanks to today's technology, we can always fall back on iPads, movies, and video games to keep the kiddos occupied and out of trouble. But when all eyes are fixed on a screen, we miss out not only on valuable conversation opportunities but also the chance to gaze at the passing landscapes as we travel. Plus, wouldn't it be great to spend that time filling our minds and hearts with material that's more than just entertainment, but also strengthens our walk with God and grows our spiritual lives?
So, whether you've got a family road trip or two planned this summer, or you're just looking for something to make daily car rides a little more purposeful and fun, here are some great suggestions from the Veritas community for audiobooks, podcasts, dramas, and music that will provide listening enjoyment and spiritual development for everyone.
Turn-of-the-century tale of family and fortune
Rev. Joe Thacker, a friend of Veritas and Pastor at St. Mark Reformed Church in Nashville, says that this 1899 novel by English author Edith Nesbit (read by Karen Savage) is one of his family's favorites. In a similar vein to Nesbit's other children's stories of family and adventure in the late nineteenth century, the Treasure Seekers tells the story of the six Bastable children and their attempts to help their widower father by recovering the family's fortune.
Satire with life lessons for kids
Veritas teacher Katie Zappitella fondly remembers this often-funny yet deeply layered 1964 classic as being her family's favorite for listening when she was young. The book's official description reads: "This irresistibly funny tale of the conflict between New York City's pushcart peddlers and truck drivers is the best satire of war ever written for children. With captivating warmth and humor, The Pushcart War teaches young listeners invaluable lessons about the strategies, politics, and consequences of war."
Adventure and beauty
Come on, anyone familiar with Veritas Academy and Classical Christian Education had to guess that this beloved series would show up here! It's magical, adventurous, captivating, and fun yet deep. While most are probably familiar with the first published book in the Chronicles, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the other six books in the series offer the same excitement, beautiful imagery, symbolism, and adventure as the first-published classic. Before Harry Potter, there was Narnia. You can actually stream all the books for free here (each episode is broken up into two-chapter segments), or purchase them online here.
Christian worldview history curriculum that's fascinating & engaging
Actually designed as a homeschool curriculum, this audio series "is written from a Christian world view and uniquely weaves world cultures and stories of the past alongside the events of the Bible." Most parents of Veritas grammar school children can attest to how much their kids latch onto and love the historical time periods that their class focuses on each year, thanks to the immersive way in which they learn. The Yen family from Veritas has enjoyed listening to this curriculum. It's a great way to dive deeper and see history through a Biblical lens...you'll all learn something together!
Life lessons & timeless values for all ages
Keys for Kids ministries has several radio programs available for download, and depending on the age of your kids it's likely you'll find one that suits your family. The only free downloads are their devotional podcasts, which are four- to five-minute episodes that tell a short story about a child learning a valuable life lesson and the scripture or Godly teaching that applies to it (right click on each podcast title and select "Save Link As" to download it). If you're interested in something a little more riveting and involved, you may want to look into purchasing a download of one of their radio programs: the feel-good family drama Down Gilead Lane, which centers around families and friends and their small-town interactions, or the suspenseful and fun Red Rock Mysteries about two ATV-riding Colorado tweens who "unearth action-packed mystery and adventure wherever they go." More than just an audio book, these programs are rife with great sound effects and talent that puts the listener in the midst of the story.
Lizards and life-application faith stories for elementary-age kids
Terrene is an audio drama for kids from ReFrame Media, a ministry of Back to God Ministries Internation that, from a Reformed perspective, seeks to build the church and engage users' whole lives in the gospel story. From the official description: "This half-hour adventure for kids (ages 6-12) follows Lizarardo “Liz” Lacerta and his reptilian friends in the little town of Terrene. In the quest for fun, Liz and his pals often get themselves into trouble! With the help of their parents and other grown-up lizards like Grandpa Anole and Granny Gecko, they wrestle with the challenges and drama of childhood, finding real answers in the Bible. Designed to help children find their own roles in God’s big story, the program is supported by a lively website featuring audio Bible stories, episode devotions, and more."
Focus on the Family drama series for older kids & adults
Part of Focus on the Family's exceptional Radio Theatre repertoire, this series is a full dramatization that bridges the gap between film and radio. Not recommended for children under 8 years old, the official description reads: "When Louis Gilbert turned in his detective's badge to become a priest, he thought his days of solving mysteries were over. But as the vicar of a small English village church, he discovers he still needs his street smarts---and spiritual intuition---to piece together one perplexing puzzle after another!"
Action, antics, fun, and faith
Perhaps one of the best-known and longest-running family radio series, this Focus on the Family program tells the story of the people of the fictional town of Odyssey and the ice cream emporium known as "Whit's End," owned by the beloved inventor Mr. Whitaker. Episodes run the range of purely comedic to action-packed to sobering, but all incorporate Christian values and biblical references. You can download a few free episodes online if you just want a taste of Odyssey, or you can purchase a full album of past seasons to get the full story. Just like the Keys for Kids programs above, Odyssey is not just a narrative; it's a fully-acted audio experience!
Sweet stories for preschoolers with a Biblical message
In this kids radio drama, lovable woodland creatures of Wildwood experience everyday life just like our kids, and share the truth of God's Word in the midst of it all. Produced by Insight for Living, the international Bible teaching ministry of Chuck Swindoll, the program is "a perfect place for preschoolers and early elementary-school-age kids to begin their lifelong walk with God. This engaging series captures the hearts of kids through characters they love and situations they can relate to. With sound biblical teaching, a foundation of faith and truth is set." (from the Paws & Tales website)
Got a cowboy and adventure-loving tyke? They'll probably love Ranger Bill! Transport your family back in time, with this radio program produced by Moody that aired in the 1950's. Follow the adventures of the savvy and courageous Bill Jefferson, chief forest ranger near the town of Knotty Pine, and his fellow rangers and friends as they perform daring rescues and build relationships and their faith in the process. It's wholesome, it's riveting, and it always brings you back to Christ. And, you can download every episode for free online.
Theological discussions on a kid's level
Les Lanphere proves that children really can get excited about theology in this simple yet oh-so-effective format, where he and his two children go through each question of the Catechism and discuss biblical principles. It's not dry, either; Les invites his kids to ask questions and share their own thoughts and dreams, to which many young listeners will likely relate. Case in point: in the first episode, when discussing "ex nihilo" and how God created life out of nothing, Les asks his son if there was anything he would like to be able to just speak into being. His answer? Have all the ninja turtles be real and show up at his house. This is a fantastic way to not only learn the Catechism, but even just the basics of why we believe what we believe, and to help make your family's faith more real to your kids' hearts. It can also spark questions discussion among you and your kids, where you can get a glimpse into their hearts, concerns, and wonderings, as the Suereth family from Veritas has discovered with their elementary age son, who loved this program. The entire podcast series is available for free download on iTunes.
NPR program for science lovers
Yes, this is an NPR program and therefore not Biblically-based, but that can open up the opportunity for some engaging worldview discussions with kids who are fascinated by science. Michelle Suereth, who also recommended the above Reformed KidCast, says that their family has enjoyed this program that guides "curious kids and their grown-ups on a journey into the wonders of the world around them." The podcast takes listeners "inside our brains, out into space and deep into the coolest new stories in science and technology." Michelle offers a caveat though, saying "I do feel like I need to have discussions about some of the things"
Rocking out to scripture
This energetic band puts word-for-word scripture to a driving beat, wicked guitars, and catchy melodies, helping you and your family learn Bible verses in a super-fun way. You'll all be singing along and have God's word hidden in your heart and mind by the end of your trip!
Scripture songs for the whole family
Seeds Family Worship songs are catchy and truly enjoyable for all ages, helping kids and adults learn and love God's Word through music (the effectiveness of which any proponent of Classical Christian Education can attest!). Their songs are featured in the perennially popular Answers in Genesis Vacation Bible School packs, so any parents whose kids have enjoyed these summer programs (The Incredible Race (2019), Time Lab (2018), Operation Arctic (2017), etc.) would already be familiar with their music!
Silliness is the rule...but Christ still rules
Anyone who is a Lancaster local and listens to the Christian radio WJTL Saturday morning Kid's Cookie Break program is probably familiar with Slugs and Bugs, a family- and kid-friendly musical group headed by Randall Goodgame which produces laugh-out-loud songs that will have everyone from dad to the toddler cracking up. But, sprinkled in among the hysterical ditties about "Under Where?" (or, you know, underwear) and flying tractors, you'll also find some truly heart-tugging and heartwarming songs that honor the Lord and celebrate His goodness and faithfulness. Slugs and Bugs has two all-scripture albums (Sing the Bible Volumes 1 and 2), and many of the songs have an endearing humorous twist (e.g. "Give it to the Aliens," where Randy can't quite get it through his head that Deuteronomy 14:21 is not actually referring to extra-terrestrial creatures, making for some hilarious dialogue).
Do you have any other favorite podcasts, programs, or artists that you would like to share as well? Let us know in the comments section. And, in the meantime, happy trails (and harmonious backseats) to you all!