Once Upon A Meadow: Exploring Harmony & Diversity in a podcast created for children

Step into the enchanting world of Willow Belden and Jeff Lockwood, where a labor of love and journey unfolded, weaving together the threads of creativity, perseverance, and dedication. At first, their vision to create a children's podcast seemed like an exciting challenge, but little did they know the intricate tapestry it would become. From composing mesmerizing music for each character to recording the whimsical voices of forest animals, their project blossomed into a symphony of talents from around the country. 

Join the Winds of Change team, Emy diGrappa, Chloe Flagg and Lucas Fralick, as we invite Willow Belden and Jeff Lockwood, two creative artists, share their insights on how to elevate your child's listening experience and provide them with valuable educational content. Discover the secret to transforming your child's podcast experience into a journey of knowledge and growth, benefiting their development in a way that is both fun and engaging.

Be eager to learn about the fascinating world of podcasting. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of the intricacies behind the scenes and the effort that goes into creating engaging content. It's time to break free from the cycle of passive listening and unlock the secrets behind your favorite podcasts.

Meet our special guests Jeff Lockwood and Willow Belden:

Our guests today are Willow Belden and Jeff Lockwood, the dynamic duo behind the captivating podcast, Once Upon A Meadow. 

Willow Belden

Willow is an award-winning journalist and creator of Out There, an internationally recognized podcast that explores big questions through intimate stories outdoors. 

Jeff Lockwood

Jeff is a writer, ecologist and professor of natural sciences and humanities at the University of Wyoming. He’s published numerous books, essays, and even operas, and he loves making up bedtime stories with animal characters.


The resources mentioned in this episode are:

  • Listen to the podcast Once upon a Meadow featuring Willow Belden and Jeff Lockwood.
  • Visit the Wyoming Humanities Council website for more information about their programs.
  • Check out Willow Belden's podcast Out There for stories about the outdoors.
  • Explore the activities and coloring pages available on the Once upon a Meadow website.
  • Share the podcast with parents, educators, or anyone interested in children's stories with social and environmental justice themes.

More Links:

Credits for Once Upon a Meadow include:

  • Trailer script, production, and narration by Willow Belden
  • Animal voices by Jeff Lockwood 
  • Music by Nadav Amir-Himmel 
  • Illustration by Gracie Canaan


Connect with Emy diGrappa and Wyoming Humanities:

Listen on Spotify, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts and many more.


Sign up for our Storytelling Podcast Newsletter!

Follow this link or use the QR code

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Welcome to Winds of Change. I am your host, Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is centered on the people, places, history and stories of Wyoming. We talk about identity, community, land and the winds of change and what it means to thrive in our state. How does someone identify with wide open spaces and big personalities in small towns?         


Listen to folks from across our state share their connection to Wyoming and home? Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities Council.         


Today we are featuring Jeff Lockwood and Willow Belden and we are joined by my co hosts Chloe and Lucas. And so we're going to be talking about their new podcast called Once upon a Meadow. And we are talking to them about the creation of their new podcast Once upon a Meadow and the fictional stories about a community of creatures who must find ways to live in harmony despite their differences. I love that part of it and then why they geared it towards four to nine year olds and what was their inspiration. So welcome, willow and Jeff.         


Thank you so much. Thank you. So excited to have you too. So excited for the world to learn more about this podcast. I think it's a brilliant idea and I can't wait.         


It's been an edge of your seat sort of situation the past several.         


Know what was your inspiration? So it's really an well, I honestly because I've interviewed both Jeff and Willow, I've interviewed you both for my what's your Why? Podcast. So I kind of know your history and your background and your love for nature and the outdoors. So I can see this why this is kind of a natural fit for you.         


So I want to hear how you both came together and what was the inspiration and idea behind starting this podcast. Well, Jeff, I'll let you start because it was so, you know, he gets maybe most of the credit or the blame or whatever. That's fair enough. The podcast happened as most creative projects happen, that is, without much planning. By coincidence, I was at an artist's residency and connected with this young, creative, funny, energetic fellow, Nadav Amir Himmel, who was from Israel and we had a grand time together.         


It was his first time in Wyoming to be sure. I think it was his first time that he had experienced winter and so we got along pretty famously and after the two weeks of each working on our separate projects, he said, boy, we should figure out something we can do together. And I thought, well now that would be interesting, what would work? And I had know a handful of children's stories that I had used for religious education in our unitary universalist fellowship here in Laramie and they focused on environmental and social justice and I thought, wow, it would be wonderful to have these set to music. When I was a kid I had a record of Peter and the Wolf Prokofiev's narrated musical and I was utterly enchanted by I think I wore out the grooves on this record back when there were records, of course.         


And so I suggested that that kind of a format would be exciting and fun. And I've got two grandkids. So I was thinking this could be something to connect generations. How exciting. And so we had this great idea, but like most great ideas by artists, we didn't have a delivery system.         


And that is we needed a talented, capable, gifted producer to make this creative idea available to the world, to make it happen. And so I knew Willow through her work and her podcast and her work at Public Radio. And so I pitched it to Willow and I'll let her tell you what enticed her to catch the ball that I threw her. Mean, it was sort of a no brainer for us. I mean, when Jeff pitched it and he had this idea of sort of these fictional stories for children that had sort of social and environmental justice themes, it seemed a natural fit.         


I've been producing a podcast called Out There, which is for grown ups, for eight years. And it's all about nature and using stories about the outdoors to help you understand your own life and the world around you and explore bigger questions. Venturing into something like this for kids seemed like a really exciting thing to do, and so I said yes. I mean, I think at the time I maybe grossly underestimated the amount of work it was going to be. It turns out producing two podcasts is more work than producing one.         


But it's been a really exciting project to work on. Well, the other thing that I should say about Willow is she doesn't do things halfway. Either they're going to be done well or they're not going to be done. And so my idea was a podcast and then she well, that's that's great, but we should have these elements for children to engage, right? Projects and activities.         


And she had this idea where we would interview kids after a story. And this was just great stuff that really takes the podcast to another level. It also required a very great deal of work, most of it on Willow's part. But it really made it from just a podcast into a full package, if you will. Yeah.         


And that was something I mean, Jeff is giving me credit for all these ideas, but actually, this was feedback that I had gotten from a lot of parents and educators and other people who produce children's podcasts who said, you can't just kids aren't like adults in that when grown ups are listening to podcasts, they're usually working out or making dinner or cleaning the house or driving or they're doing something. Kids also need things to do while they're listening to podcasts. So you need to have activities for them. And you were like, let's have coloring pages. Let's have scavenger hunts.         


Let's have things that they can do. And so this was something that hadn't I hadn't really thought about that ahead of time, but we've gotten great feedback on that from I mean, kids seem to really love the activities, so that's great. And the other piece of feedback, like Jeff had said, that I had gotten from people was if you're going to do a kids podcast, you have to have kids voices on the show. It can't just be grown ups talking at the kids. And so that's where we decided, okay, we're going to have each episode will have its core story, but then we're going to talk to a kid who's in our target age range, play them the story and have them weigh in on it and talk to them about the themes that we bring up in the stories and how does this maybe apply to their own lives and what did they learn that was really exciting to do and also really hard?         


Interviewing children is so difficult.         


It's really gratifying because sometimes they just say the most insightful things and you're just like, how did I not realize this bit of wisdom as an adult already? And other times you talk to them and you ask them these really interesting questions and you get like a one word answer. As a parent myself, thank you for the activities, because they really do drive it home. There is something about, like you said, as adults, we're always driving. For me, I'm always working.         


I always have a podcast on while I'm working. Right. It's always in the background. It's always something that I'm listening to, but they need that extra stimulation to just kind of bring them into the story a little more. And I really do think that that helps.         


But also, it makes me wonder that should maybe happen for adult podcasts, too. There are some that I would love to have activity sheets for, just putting that out there into the podcast world. All right, so maybe that'll be the next thing we do for out there. There you go. Grown up scavenger hunts or whatever there.         


You love I love the incorporation of children into the podcast itself, I think. Yeah, you're absolutely right, Willow. Like, kids want to hear other kids. They want to hear from other kids. They are talked at all day by adults.         


And so to feel like they have a peer in it, I think is really important. And even though it's very difficult, which I can only imagine how difficult it is to interview children, I think it's very beneficial to the podcast overall and the vibe, for sure. Thanks. I'm glad to hear that. It's good to get this feedback from.         


Parents because I don't have kids of my own. I love children's stories, but I don't have my own kids. So we're always excited to hear what those of you who do think. Well, I'll just piggyback on what Chloe said because, yes, I'm really curious how do you find the kids you're going to interact with and interview? Yeah, that was a process because it's really guess I'm lucky in that I am of an age that I have many friends who have children in our target age range.         


That's kind of a lucky coincidence. But at the same time we wanted to be really intentional about not just talking to people we knew and not just talking to we wanted to get kids on the show who come from all sorts of different backgrounds, all sorts of different geographic regions. We consciously made an effort not to just talk to people we knew and that was a bit of a process. Sometimes it meant reaching out to people we knew through someone else. One of the things that we did really early on in the process was and this is sort of just kind of stepping back as we were producing the stories altogether, we had decided that we wanted to have some story consultants.         


Since we were doing a show that has all these sort of social justice themes, I kind of said, well, that's great, but we're a bunch of white people.         


We need to have some other voices in here. And so we brought on as we were developing the stories, we brought on consultants to help us make the stories more inclusive and to bring in perspectives, lived experiences and perspectives that we don't have. And so having those consultants, I think we got some connections to kids we could reach out to through that and just kind of asking, putting out feelers, who knows somebody who would be good. Like we're looking for somebody who's in this geographic region and fits X, Y and Z. So yeah, it was pretty deliberate to try and get a range of voices.         


And then the final thing was even once you've found like, okay, this kid is going to be great and then, okay, well, maybe it turns out they're really shy and they don't actually want to do it and that's fine too. We had to work with that. So instead of me interviewing the kid, we had the parent interview the kid. Because the parent was just like, yeah, they're going to be too shy to talk to you, but they'll talk to me. And so then I had to sort of coach the parent on how do we record, how do we get good audio?         


What kinds of questions might you ask your kid about this story? We did some of that too and experimented with that and sometimes that produced real gems and sometimes it was a little difficult. The whole thing was a learning process though. I understand how difficult that must be because even getting adults to do interviews is difficult. Getting children must be 1000 times that because you're a stranger, they don't know you.         


They're not going to open up necessarily unless you just meet a little kid that is like blah blah, blah, blah, blah. And they're just like they'll talk to anybody and they're just that kind of a kid. But you meet a lot of kids who just are like, I don't know you, and so I wouldn't talk to you, who are you? Kind of thing. So I get that.         


And that would be another hill you have to climb, so to speak. So my next question is, okay, who is doing the voices on the podcast? So that's all Jeff? Yeah, that's all Jeff. That's all my voice.         


So fun parts of it for me, because when my kids were little, now they're all grown up, I used to tell them bedtime stories and I loved doing voices in bedtime stories. And so it was a way for me to sort of recover my early fatherhood and do some animal voices or character voices. So that was delightful. It was. And I got some coaching from Nadav, our musician composer, who gave me some information about Voicing, particularly preparing your voice, because a number of the animals speaking either very low or very high voices, and that can put a lot of stress on your vocal cords and it's hard to sustain that voice.         


So that was really useful. And then recording with Willow, she was really helpful in terms of me pasting the voices correctly. So if the voices came out well, I'll take half the credit. It was pretty fun, I have to say. I do a lot of recording, but recording like squirrels talking and beavers talking and things like that, that was pretty fun.         


And we had to come up with. These because there are moments in the stories where all the animals gasp. And so if it's a moment where they're all really taken aback by something, so then you have to figure out, well, what does it sound like if a squirrel gasps? We have had all these sort of. Fun moments where we're like, well, what.         


Would this sound like? And kind of playing around with that. Maybe we should put together a blooper reel of all these things at some point. But it was a lot of fun. The other aspect of that was the singing, right?         


So there are a number of the episodes have songs, and so I can do some voices, but I'm not a master of song. Then trying to sing in the voice of bear or in the voice of a squirrel or whatever is sort of doubly weird and a little bit hard and whatnot. But again, there was just a lot of teamwork, a lot of patience, a lot of laughter in terms of both the lyrics and Nadav writing music that was actually within my vocal range, which is all of about a half an octave. So that was a lot of fun. I think that was largely his idea, was to incorporate kind of original songs into the episodes.         


And that added another layer, I think, of creativity or playfulness but also a fair amount of work to get those voices to work together and sometimes to sing in chorus. I have no idea, technically, how Willow and Nadav made that happen. That's magic behind the scenes. Speaking of that magic behind the scenes, I just have to say emmy is our executive producer here at Wyoming Humanities Council. She's been doing podcasts for years.         


Lucas and I just hopped on this for for fun, pure fun for us, really. But Emmy does all that background work. She does all the editing, all the finding, the interviews, so many things. And for this Winds of Change podcast, there's been so many different elements, even for just these podcasts with adults interview podcasts, right? For me to try and wrap my brain around all of the pieces that go into one episode of your podcast is like it kind of blows my mind.         


It is so much work. It's so much work. But what's so cool about hearing from you both, especially in this moment, is it's fun for you. It's fun for you. And that comes through.         


We hear that when we listen to it. You can tell that. I mean, you wouldn't be doing it if it weren't, I don't think. But I want to just tell everyone that's really hard. Podcasting is really hard.         


There's so many elements that you don't think about. And then for every element you add, which these podcasts have, like 40 pieces per episode, right? It just becomes exponentially more difficult. And yet the two of you are sitting here on the zoom. I know people listening can't see you, but you have smiles on your faces as you're talking about these hardships.         


And I love that because it comes through. It really comes through in these episodes. And I really hope people go and listen. And I think even if you're not a kid, you're going to get something out of these podcasts for sure. Well, and that was a goal too, to make them fun for grown ups.         


Because we're assuming that kids are going to want to listen to these ten times over like they do with things. And so we're hoping that the grown ups will tolerate listening to us ten times over as well. But no, you bring up a good point. I mean, this was an extremely labor intensive podcast series to produce each story. So, like I mentioned before, we started with our story consultants.         


So before we even started writing stories, we would consult with them and talk about, okay, well, what direction do we want to go with this, and what elements do we want to bring in, and what things do we need to be mindful of as we put these stories together? And then Jeff would write a draft of the story, and I would edit it. We probably did, like, ten drafts of most of these story scripts before we even got to recording anything. And so that takes a while. Honestly, I don't even know what goes into composing music.         


That was all nadav. But each story has original music. Each character has their own musical motif. We would finish the script of the story and record it, and then Nadav would write music, and again, we would go through many iterations of the music. He'd come up with something.         


We would give him feedback. We'd go back and forth and back and forth. And then, of course, once the core stories were done, we found kids to interview and all that. So, yeah, it is an incredibly labor intensive show. I think it was in the works for almost three years before we actually launched it earlier this year in terms.         


Of let me go back to this comment about kids and parents and show that parents could at least tolerate listening, having played ten or eleven or twelve times in a day. One of the demographics that I just couldn't see coming, but we got some feedback was from the elderly. My mother, before she died, had dementia. And the idea of a children's story with music and sort of a simple but clear plot and whatnot, it turns out that that can also appeal to the other end of the age spectrum. And so I hadn't even thought of that.         


But then when I heard that and thought of my mother, I realized, yeah, they're short, they're playful characters. The plot is not terribly complex, does have some layering depending on, and so maybe it's something that really can span the generations. At least that would be beautiful if it did. I want to hear one of your impersonations. I want to hear it pick a squirrel.         


Or maybe the bear gasping. That was kind of cool to think about, because I'd like to hear a bear gasp, especially if I run into one. Give me one of your favorite voices that you do. I don't know, Emmy. I get really grumpy when people tell me what to do.         


I just got surprised and.         


Love it. I love it. I am just in deep appreciation for what you're doing. I'm glad Wyoming Humanities Council has given this product, this program, a grant because so well, deserving, and we want to keep on supporting you. And so are you ready for season two?         


You finished season one, right? We finished season yeah, season one wrapped up in April, and that was nine episodes. And the team is meeting next week to discuss what's next. So the short answer is, we don't know yet. Wow.         


We've got our eyes on you.         


We're ready for season two whenever it may happen. Well, that's great to hear. Yeah, I'm so excited. So I want to say thank you. Thank you for joining us.         


I also want to ask you, Willow, if you would provide me with either an episode or some clips or something. I want to follow this discussion, this conversation. I want to plug them in at the end so people can get a flavor. And then also, I want all of your links so that I can put those in your description when we post your podcast. Yeah, perfect.         


I can send all that to you, I think. What might be easiest, I guess, depending on what you want. But I could send you our trailer so that's like, I think about three minutes. So if you want something just short to put in the episode, that might be easiest. Or if you want something longer, I'm happy to send something longer, but the episodes themselves are like 20 minutes, so that might be longer.         


I don't know if you want a whole episode to go in, probably perfect. Yeah, I can do the trailer. That's fine. And then I can send people to where they need to go. Okay, great.         


Yeah, I'll send that so that they. Can follow you and start listening. I want to congratulate both of you, because I really do understand the hard work that you're doing. And, oh, my mean, I know all the stuff that Jeff does, and then I don't know, maybe Jeff wants to have a lot of gray hair, but he's always doing something new, and so it's exciting that your brain is just on all the time. And Willow.         


Same for you. I mean, with your out there podcast, I love that one, too. So I'm definitely going to add all those links and everything in your thank you. You know, whenever I consider podcast of this sort to be a kind of performing art, and I became involved some years ago in Opera. And until you actually get behind the scenes and create something like this podcast with all these different elements.         


When you just listen, it seems like it's kind of seamless and easy and flows and it's lyrical, and you just utterly fail to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that went into making something seem easy. Yes, that is so true. Yeah. Making anything look effortless is immeasurable effort, usually. And that's exactly what's happened here for you all.         


I can truly only imagine how much work this is, and hopefully it seems very gratifying for you, though, and it's very gratifying for your listeners. I know. So thank you for doing it. Thank you for putting yourselves out there and doing it and making it happen and sticking with it. Three years.         


Three years to plan this sucker. Holy moly. I don't know, I might have considered. Well, I'm pretty stubborn. That helps.         


It helps. Sometimes I'm stubborn to a point. To a yeah, but no, you're it has been really creatively.         


I think. I think Jeff even said this was one of the most creatively, fulfilling things he's done in his career. So that's saying something. But no, it was really exciting to try something new. I've been podcasting for a long time, but I was new to fiction, and so that was totally new.         


And working with a composer, I mean, again, I'm used to working with music and with sound in my stories, but having original music composed for something, this was a totally new process. And so just a lot of things that were new and interesting and I think let us all grow in exciting new directions. Awesome. Well, before we go, because it just came to my brain, where is everybody? So is Nadav in Israel or is he in Wyoming?         


Or do you work with people remotely? So he's in Israel. Jeff and I are in had. Like I said, we have had our three story consultants who were scattered across the country, so all different places. Then we worked with two people who helped out with marketing.         


They also were elsewhere, one in Ohio, one in New York. We had a whole focus group of parents who helped us, just sort of provided ideas for, well, what would your kids enjoy? What would your kids like? What should we do with this? So those were also scattered all over the country.         


We had a gal who put together all our activities for us. We had an artist who did our logo and all of the illustrations for the podcast, which also provided coloring pages. She also was on the east coast. So, yeah, the team is all over the place. And there were a lot of us, I think there were twelve or 15 of us together.         


That was also new for me, just managing a team that size, that's something that I'm used to managing a small team. But this was a lot of people. Yeah. And especially with them all being remote and just having to figure it out, that dynamic. It's clearly a labor of love in a lot of respects.         


From everyone involved, I would say yes, definitely. I said no. We're just in it for the money, obviously. All of us. Yeah, I'm in it for the money.         


Well, have a great day, everybody, and thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Take care. Thanks.         


Bye. Bye.         


Thank you for listening. I'm executive producer Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is brought to you by Wyoming Humanities Council, our co hosts and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to thinky.org, subscribe, and never miss a show.