But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids But Why is a show led by you, kids! You ask the questions and we find the answers. It's a big interesting world out there.On But Why, we tackle topics large and small, about nature, words, even the end of the world.Have a question? Send it to us! Adults, use your smartphone's memo function or an audio app to record your kid's question (get up nice and close so we can hear). Be sure to include: your child's first name, age and town. And then email the audio file to questions@butwhykids.org.
But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids

But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids

From Vermont Public Radio

But Why is a show led by you, kids! You ask the questions and we find the answers. It's a big interesting world out there.On But Why, we tackle topics large and small, about nature, words, even the end of the world.Have a question? Send it to us! Adults, use your smartphone's memo function or an audio app to record your kid's question (get up nice and close so we can hear). Be sure to include: your child's first name, age and town. And then email the audio file to questions@butwhykids.org.

Most Recent Episodes

What's Your Idea To Clean Up The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

In 2019, we answered a question about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge mass of plastic and other trash swirling around in the Pacific Ocean. Mary James heard that episode and was so inspired, she created a device to help clean up the plastic in the ocean. In this episode of But Why, we learn about her invention, the mermicorn! Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide Listen back to Why Is There A Big Patch Of Garbage In the Pacific Ocean? Kids: we'd like to know what you think could be done about all the garbage in the ocean. Download our learning guide above to draw a picture or describe an invention you would make to help clean it all up. Mary James sent her picture of the mermicorn to the Little Inventors competition, for Canadian children. See Mary's entry here. Her invention has been chosen from among hundreds of other submissions to be turned into a prototype, a model of what the real thing might look like. There are Little Inventors competitions in the UK as well, and lots of countries and organizations sponsor design challenges for kids. See if you can find one where you live!

What Are Robots Doing On Mars?

On Thursday, February 18th, a robot called a rover is expected to land on the surface of Mars, and begin collecting information scientists hope will help us learn if life ever existed on that planet! We answer your Mars questions with Mitch Schulte, NASA program scientist for the Mars 2020 mission. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript NASA has a number of ways that you can watch the landing live on February 18th at 11:15 a.m. PST / 2:15 p.m. EST / 19:15 UTC. The rover is called Perseverance, which means not giving up, continuing to work toward a difficult goal even when challenges are placed in your way. And it is quite a challenge just to get to Mars! The rover was launched on a rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida more than 6 months ago, by NASA, the U.S. Space Agency. And it has been traveling through space ever since, on a path to Mars. And now, people all over the world are eager to watch it land on Mars and get to work. And it's not just Perseverance that is going to land on Mars. There's also a helicopter, called Ingenuity, which means cleverness, creativeness and resourcefulness all rolled into one. Ingenuity, the helicopter, is basically a drone—there's no one inside driving it around, just as there are no people onboard the rover. But ingenuity is the first helicopter to ever test-fly on another planet!

Cool Beans: How Chocolate And Coffee Get Made

How is chocolate made? Why can't we eat chocolate all the time? Why is chocolate dangerous for dogs? Why do adults like coffee? In this episode, we tour Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts to learn how chocolate goes from bean to bar. Then we visit a coffee roaster in Maine to learn about this parent-fuel that so many kids find gross! And we'll learn a little about Valentine's Day. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slides | Transcript "How is chocolate made?" - Samarah, 8, Johnson, VT "Chocolate actually comes from cocoa beans--which is no bean at all--they are seeds of the cacao trees," says Ayala Ben-Chaim of Taza Chocolate. Taza is a "bean-to-bar" chocolate maker. That means starting with raw cocoa beans and going all the way through the process to turn those beans into a chocolate bar you can buy in a store. (Some chocolatiers get chocolate that's already mostly made and they just add stuff to it and shape it.) The tree that those cocoa beans come from is called the Theobroma cacao tree, which grows in warm tropical parts of the world--within 20 degrees of the equator. Taza Chocolate sources (buys) cocoa beans from farmers in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Belize and Bolivia. It takes about five years from when it's planted for a cacao tree to produce cocoa pods. "Cocoa pods are a little bit funny to look at. They look like a gourd growing off of the tree, or like a lumpy tiny American football. The cocoa pods grow off of the branches of the tree like apples, but they also grow right off of the trunk of the tree," Ben-Chaim explains. "The next step in the process is fermentation. Fermentation is so important in chocolate making. And this is one of the things that is so surprising about chocolate making. After the beans ferment, they spend a week drying in the sun on wooden planks. At this point they look like almonds. Next, they are packaged and shipped to wherever they'll be made into chocolate. The first thing the chocolate maker will do is roast the beans at 200 degrees for about an hour, which gives them a nice toasted flavor. "We also start to separate the thin outer shell that surrounds the inner part of the cocoa bean. Our next step is to separate that shell from the inner part of the bean, called the nib. We do this by winnowing the cocoa beans, using a machine," says Ben-Chaim. "At Taza Chocolates we use a traditional Mexican milling style using a molino - or mill - to grind the cocoa beans down," Ben-Chaim says, demonstrating. "Over time, those cocoa nibs will be turned into a cocoa liquor, which is smooth and chocolaty. Imagine a chocolate waterfall. It looks beautiful, it smells chocolaty and delicious and yet it is not very tasty because we're missing a really important ingredient, and that is sugar." Sugar is added to the chocolate liquor, then the sweetened chocolate is ground again, and other ingredients are sometimes added, like spices or coffee or fruit. At this point some chocolate makers will conche the chocolate, which blends and mixes the chocolate at a high temperature over many hours, which makes it smooth and creamy. Taza doesn't conche their chocolate. The next step is tempering. Tempering the chocolate makes it glossy and brittle. Then the chocolate is poured into molds and cooled. Then it's wrapped up and ready to take home. Also in this episode: we visit 44 North Coffee to learn more about the mysterious beverage that so many adults like to drink--coffee!

Why Are Cactuses Spiky?

What makes a cactus a cactus? And what are you supposed to call a group of these plants--cacti, cactuses, or cactus?! We'll find out in today's episode, as we learn more about the cactus family with Kimberlie McCue of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. She'll answer kid questions about why cactuses are spiky and how they got those spikes, as well as why teddy bear cactuses aren't actually cuddly! Download our learning Guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript Those prickly spines that are so characteristic of the cactus family are actually modified leaves! Cactuses don't have the kind of leaves like a maple or oak tree. But they might have had leaves that were at least a little more like that way way back in the past. Over time, those leaves evolved into the spiky spines we see on cactuses today because they help the plants survive in hot, dry environments. Why are cactuses spiky? -Noah, Iowa "They can be a defense mechanism to discourage herbivores - animals that eat plants - from eating the cactus. But, also, spines create shade!" explains Kimberlie McCue. "When you're covered in spines, as the sun moves across the sky, those spines are casting shadows on the body of the cactus. They're little shade umbrellas!" All cactuses are native to desert environments, and some live in places where it never rains at all. So how do they get water to survive? Well, Kimberlie tells us that these plants grow not too far from the ocean. "Early in the morning, there will be fog that comes off the water. Those spines provide a place for the water to condense, form little droplets of water that run down the spine, to the body of the plant, down to the ground and to the roots." Cactuses are also extremely important parts of their desert environments, as they hold soil in place and provide shelter for birds and other animals. Those insects and birds in turn help pollinate the cactus flowers. Cactuses are also an important local food source for humans. Unfortunately, cactuses are in danger from people who poach (illegally take) wild plants from their environment. Kimberlie McCue says one way to help make sure cacti stay healthy and plentiful is to be careful when you buy cactus plants. Check to see where the plant seller got the cactus and make sure they're taking care to be ethical stewards of these plants before you buy.

What's A Screaming Hairy Armadillo? How Animals Get Their Names

Why are whale sharks called whale sharks? Why are guinea pigs called pigs if they're not pigs? Why are eagles called bald eagles if they're not bald? You also ask us lots of questions about why and how animals got their names. So today we're going to introduce you to the concept of taxonomy, or how animals are categorized, and we'll also talk about the difference between scientific and common names. We'll learn about the reasoning behind the names of daddy long legs, killer whales, fox snakes, German shepherds and more! Our guests are Steve and Matt Murrie, authors of The Screaming Hairy Armadillo, and 76 Other Animals With Weird Wild Names. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript There are some animals whose names don't really seem accurate-like daddy long legs...which certainly aren't all daddies! Or bald eagles that very clearly have plenty of feathers on their heads. Or guinea pigs, which aren't actually pigs! And then there are animals with awesomely silly names. Have you ever heard of the umbrella bird? How about the sparklemuffin peacock spider! Or the monkeyface prickleback, the sarcastic fringehead, and the white-bellied go-away bird! How do animals get their names? Well, there are two types of animal names: Scientific names and common names. Scientific names are used as a way to categorize all living things, so even if you don't know a lot about an animal, you can learn a lot about them by knowing their scientific name. There are eight different levels that living things get grouped into: domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. The broadest category is called the domain. There are three domains: archaea, bacteria, and eucarya. Bacteria and archaea are both categories of micro-organisms. All animals and plants belong in the eucarya domain. Below domain is kingdom. There's a kingdom for animals called Animalia and a kingdom for plants called plantae. (And a few others as well.) As you go through the classification system it gets more and more specific. So, take humans: we belong to the eucarya domain, the animalia kingdom, the chordata phylum (because we have a backbone), the mammalia class (because we're mammals), the primate order, homonidae family, homo is our genus and homo sapien is our species name. All species have two official scientific names, kind of like how you have a first name and a family name. So the species name for humans is homo sapien. The species name for a common black rat is rattus rattus. An Asian elephant is elephas maximus. Those names sound fancy, and originally the scientific names of animals were in Latin or Greek, but they don't have to be Latin or Greek anymore, they just have to sound like they are! But we don't typically call all animals by their scientific names. We often refer to them by their common names, which are kind of like nicknames! Common names can be different in different languages. Like, the scientific name for a wolf is canus lupus. That would stay the same no matter what language you're using. But in English we tend to call it a wolf; in Spanish you'd call it un lobo, and in Welsh it would be blaidd (pronounced "blythe"). Even within the same language, an animal can have lots of common names. Here in Vermont, where I live, we have an animal called a groundhog. But most people around here call it a woodchuck. And others call it a land beaver, or a whistle pig! Common names were often in use long before animals go their specific scientific names.

Hopes And Dreams For 2021 From Kids Around The World

As the new year dawns, what are you hopeful for in 2021? Even though the change of the calendar year is mostly symbolic, New Year's Day is often a time for looking back on the year that just passed and setting goals for the year ahead. We asked you to share your hopes and dreams for 2021, from the end of the COVID-19 pandemic to your own personal goals. In this episode, more than 100 kids from around the world offer New Year's resolutions. We'll also hear from Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo, climate activist Bill McKibben and Young Peoples Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript Here are just a few of the hopes and dreams you sent us: "My environmental wish for 2021 is that we can stop so much pollution. My personal wish is to learn Urdu and to convince my brother to get a cat or dog!" - Maya, Toronto, Ontario "My wish for 2021 is that the coronavirus will stop and the vaccine will come out and we can do things we haven't done this year and we can have our birthday together this year!" -Zain "I want to learn how to ride my bike by myself. - Adelaide, 6, California "What I want to happen for the new year is that I want people to start being responsible and no coronavirus. I want people to stop polluting. I want people to wear more masks. I want people to be kind to animals." - Jedi, 8, Ohio "I hope in 2021 more people think about and believe in climate change." -Evelyn, Albany, New York "Next year I would like more electric cars!" - Kyrav, 6, Geneva, Switzerland "My hope for next year is that we don't use as much plastic as we do now and that coronavirus will stop so we're able to do the things we like to do." - Tejas, Canberra, Australia "My hope for 2021 is that everyone gets health care." - Mikal, 7, Georgia My new year's resolution is for sloths to take over the world and for people to use less plastic. - Sloan, 7, Wisconsin

Why Do Things Seem Scary In The Dark?

Lots of people are afraid of the dark, including many kids who have shared that fear with us. In today's episode we explore the fear of the dark with Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, the author of the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and a picture book for young kids called The Dark. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript | Coloring Page Then we go on a night hike with Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist Steve Parren, to talk about ways to embrace the darkness. We practice our night vision by not using flashlights and we think about how our other senses can help us navigate. Steve also answers questions about how animals see in the dark and why it sometimes look like animals' eyes are glowing back at us in the darkness. This episode features coloring pages by Xiaochun Li. Download and print My Flashlight And Me, and Hiding Under The Covers. You can color as you listen!

Why Aren't Babies Just Little Adults?

Why are babies small and grownups big? Why are babies so helpless, instead of little versions of adults? Do babies know they're babies? How do babies grow? How do babies learn to talk? Kids have been sending us lots of questions about babies! This week we're learning more about the development of the human brain with Celeste Kidd, professor of psychology and primary investigator at the Kidd Lab at the University of California Berkeley. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slides | Transcript It seems like a really bad idea, right? Human babies rely on adult humans for everything, while babies of some species never meet their parents and are able to take care of themselves as soon as their born! Why is that? While researchers aren't sure on this one, Celeste Kidd says there are a lot of theories. "Because we are very intelligent, we need bigger brains to account for all the things we can do that other animals can't do. If you have a big brain and you're born via live birth – meaning you aren't born from an egg – then there's an upper limit on how big your head can be when you go through the birth canal," she explains. In other words, we need those big brains to do all the things humans do, but a human head with a fully developed brain can't fit through the birth canal. "The bigger your head needs to be ultimately, the more immature you need to be born," Celeste says. So we have to develop and grow outside of the womb. We're born with some of our brain power, but our brains keep growing long after we're born, well into our 20s. And there are some advantages to that long period of childhood. "If you require dependence on your parents for a really long time, which humans do, that creates a lot of opportunity for you to learn a lot of stuff about your culture and the other people that you're being raised with. We have a lot of knowledge that is unique to us as a species, and that's unique to us as social groups," Celeste says. The long childhood allows for a lot of cultural transmission – learning about tools, language, manners and arts. Some of these exist in other species, but the human systems are a lot more elaborate and take more time to learn!

Why Are We Still Talking About The Election?

A few weeks ago we talked about why kids can't vote and we also answered some questions about the U.S. Presidential Election. It's been two weeks since the November 3rd election, but we're still getting questions about it! We get answers from NPR political reporter Ayesha Rascoe. TRANSCRIPT Here are some of the questions we're tackling in this episode: What would happen if someone counted the votes wrong? Why is President Donald Trump going to court and why are people saying Joe Biden might not be president? What is the Electoral College and why do we still have it; why haven't we changed to a popular vote? How does the president talk to the people without being on the news? Helping us answer these questions is political reporter Ayesha Rascoe, who covers the White House for NPR. Adults, you might want to check out the NPR Politics Podcast, a daily podcast that frequently features Rascoe's reporting and expertise.

Why Do Whales Sing?

In our most recent episode, we answered questions about really big animals: whales! We covered a lot when it comes to these huge aquatic mammals but there was one big topic we didn't get to: and that's how whales communicate. We'll learn more about the sounds whales make: singing, whistles, and echolocation clicks with Amy Van Cise, a biologist at NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slides | Transcript

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