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How an SEL podcast saved my carpool
Location of production | Year of production | Running time: 
Seattle, WA | 2023 |
Laura Wheatman Hill
Corporate author: 
Medicinal Media; Committee for Children
Europe and North America
©2023 Medicinal Media. All rights reserved; © Committee for Children



The Imagine Neighborhood Podcast


The Imagine Neighborhood™ podcast helps children and grown-ups grow their social-emotional skills, and talk about the things that matter with the people that matter most.

Has your child ever been so angry that they wanted to smoosh something? Have they ever been scared of the babysitter? Have they ever had a hard time calming down? The Imagine Neighborhood is the show for your family. 

Each episode tells a story that’s amazing, fantastical, and maybe a little bananas, while it tackles the big feelings that come with growing up. And The Imagine Neighborhood gives you and your kids fun activities to do at home, in the car, or anywhere you talk to each other. 




How an SEL podcast saved my carpool 

25 May 2023 (by Laura Wheatman Hill)


My kids’ school is 15-20 minutes from our house and there is no bus.

I drive my two kids, ages six and nine, and a neighbor, eight, to and from school three days a week and I let them rotate who picks what we listen to every ride. 

After I had to veto their picks several days in a row because they were testing the limits of what’s appropriate for all parties, even with a “radio edit” version (I’m sorry, but no Eminem for the kindergartner), I found a kid’s podcast that teaches social emotional learning (SEL) called The Imagine Neighborhood.

After the first listen, which featured characters like a vampire robot vacuum and a princess dinosaur, and a world containing dangers such as lava, pixies, and an evil hamster, my kindergartner declared, “This is the greatest podcast of all time!” We proceeded to listen to every single episode available over the next few weeks and now play a new episode the minute it drops.



Why teach social emotional learning in a podcast?

According to Committee for Children, which helps create programs to assist children in developing life skills, including The Imagine Neighborhood, SEL is “the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.” Research over time shows that kids who have access to SEL interventions have positive developments both academically and socially in the short and long term. However, teaching these skills in a classroom or at home in an academic, abstract way isn’t shown to work to help your child integrate them into their lives. 

“You need to use stories for social emotional learning because it’s how a child can see another person’s point of view,” says Dr. Cindy Hovington, a neurologist who created Curious Neuron, a community for parents who want to learn more SEL tools, and co- founder of Wondergrade, an app that supports SEL in young children. She says empathy is much easier to convey in a story rather than a lesson because of the back and forth aspect of dialogue and character. “Someone else in the story has a consequence. Through a narrative, the child will understand both sides, how a certain event or action made a character feel and how it made the other person in the story feel,” she says. When it happens to someone else, a child can see it play out without the heightened emotion of being involved, and the empathy piece is easier to identify. 

The narratives are the magic of The Imagine Neighborhood. They have tapped into the problems of little kids in such a way that addresses many common issues kids face without being too overt, which would cause many nine-year-olds to roll their eyes and beg for Daft Punk. 

Mia Doces is the vice president of the Committee for Children. Doces says they have designed this balance of story and lesson very carefully. She explains, “Every episode has wild situations, very unique characters, and humor that ranges from slapstick to cultural references to your basic fart joke — all of which keep listeners hooked to the story. But our writers make sure that no matter how crazy things appear on the surface, the story is rooted in universal human experiences and the everyday social-emotional skills we use to navigate our emotions and cope with challenges.” Some episodes that resonated with my carpool, myself included, have been about big worries, boredom, disappointment, and loss.



The parents are in on it

The host of the podcast frequently speaks directly to the parents and asks them to tell the child listeners about a time something happened to them like what is happening in the story. My carpool of sassy, smart kids usually avoids listening to what I have to say, but they actually lean in when Scotty asks me to contribute. 

Parental participation is also an intentional part of the design. Even if schools are teaching SEL skills, Doces says, “school-based SEL works best when kids are also learning these life skills at home with their families.” According to Hovington, “There is a misconception that SEL learning happens on the playground. SEL skill-building happens with the parent. Practice happens on the playground.” She says the best opportunities to learn new SEL skills are not in times of crisis or when problem solving, but on calm car rides home from school or before bed — the exact times we listen to The Imagine Neighborhood

In the future, Hovington says, “When a child comes back from school with a problem, that’s an opportunity for a parent to recreate or recall the story.” This resonates with audiences of The Imagine Neighborhood. Doces says, “We get letters from parents who tell us they refer to certain characters or use certain SEL-based catchphrases from the show as shorthand to help their kids draw parallels between something that’s happening to them in real time and a tool that a character learned on the show.”

I haven’t sent a letter (yet), but I quote the show frequently. 



SEL is good for all of us

Turns out, The Imagine Neighborhood, and the skills it teaches isn’t only for kids. SEL wasn’t taught in schools when most of us were kids and Doces says, “when adults listen along with the children, they’re also picking up the SEL techniques we’re sharing, and learning positive phrasing and other tools to empower them to have these family discussions in impactful ways.” Since the kids do have SEL in school, these stories provide a good segue for the students to become the teacher, and to tell us how they talk about their feelings. 

Parents can use the shared SEL language from curriculums and narratives like The Imagine Neighborhood as a vehicle to foster better communication in the family. Doces says parents don’t have to be masters of SEL, but “when they help children name and process their feelings, and acknowledge and support children’s positive behaviors, they’re teaching their family SEL and building a stronger, kinder future for their families.” We know positive reinforcement is successful and the message of The Imagine Neighborhood is one we can all agree on: be kind to those around you.

We were driving a third-grader home from a playdate one day and The Imagine Neighborhood was playing. I heard the friend from the backseat ask, “What is this? Because I like it!” 

Got another one!

Resource Type: 
Multimedia materials
Sustainable development / sustainability
Level of education: 
Primary education
Social and emotional learning