It’s no secret that my husband and I love books. From the front door of our home you can see that the entire corner of our living room is encased in bookshelves. More books can be found on the coffee table, in our bedrooms, and in stacks all around our home. First-time visitors can rarely keep from stating the obvious: “Wow, you guys must really like books.”
But raising readers has taken these two collectors of vintage tomes and turned us into fans of digital audiobooks. There’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands, turning crisp pages to see what’s hidden inside the cover. And you won’t find us trading in our library (numbering several thousand titles) for nothing but Kindles and iPods. But we’ve realized that surrounding our children with books and showcasing our own love of reading is not enough. Our goal is not just to grow bookworms, but to raise literate, well-educated communicators.
In our efforts to educate ourselves about educating our children, we’ve learned that there is more to teaching our children how to read and write than just phonics and spelling. We need to provide them with good books at their reading level, yes. But they also need to be challenged to decode stories slightly above their level. They need to hear quality literature read aloud in order for their brains to assimilate the proper patterns and syntax of our language. They need hours and hours of read-aloud time.
And since we’re short on hours, we’re long on audiobooks.
Nothing can replace family read-alouds. And storytime should still be a priority each night. But for all the other hours in the day, there are audiobooks.
“There is a second best thing when it comes to [reading aloud]. If you just don’t have the time, books on tape are very powerful. You’ve got cheaper, better opportunities now than ever before to have recorded classics, recorded books that children can listen to.”
-Andrew Pudewa in “Nurturing Competent Communicators“
Here are ten of the many reasons we love audiobooks. Have you discovered the joy of audiobooks yet? Why do you love them? I’d love it if you’d share your favorites in the comments!
(This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for buying audiobooks through these links and helping support my family’s audiobook habit! Read my full disclosure.)
1. Audiobooks give Dad and Mom a break.
I’ve never been good at reading aloud. As much as I love to read, I still stumble over some of the paragraphs and get distracted in others. And I just don’t have the vocal endurance for a one-hour read-aloud marathon before bedtime.
I’m doing my best not to neglect the memory-making opportunity that is everyone piled on and around me on the couch while I read aloud to my children. (After all, Growly isn’t yet available on audiobook!) And their daddy is faithful to read to them at bedtime as often as his work schedule allows.
But sometimes, Daddy and Mommy need a break. And when one of the children starts suggesting at dinnertime in that oh-so-sweet-and-thoughtful-voice, “Daddy, I think you should rest your voice tonight,” we know they’re ready for a break from routine, too. We’ve even been known to go listen to our own current audiobook (right now it’s Michael O’Halloran) while our children fall asleep to another audiobook story (tonight’s choice is James Herriot’s Treasury for Children)!
“Because we are a very busy family we don’t do as much reading aloud as we would like, but we have filled in with books on tape.”
-Andrew Pudewa in “Nurturing Competent Communicators“
2. Audiobooks don’t require screen time.
In this day and age, computers and devices of all kinds are such a part of our daily lives as adults that it’s all too easy to let a screen entertain our children. I’m not opposed to educational videos (we love “Signing Time“!) and the occasional movie (we’ve enjoyed introducing our children to classics like “Roman Holiday“), but we want to make those the exception rather than the rule in our home.
One of the things I love most about audioboooks is that they provide endless entertainment with no screen required. Yes, you need an electronic device of some kind to play them. But once you’ve pressed play you can close your eyes and enjoy the story, or focus your eyes and hands on another project while absorbing the audio (just like podcasts!).
3. Audiobooks inspire imagination.
Everyone has a favorite picture book or a beloved illustrator (I grew up on Eloise Wilkin). But there’s something about the book with only a few black and white illustrations that allows one to give way to the imagination. I like to think of audiobooks as the ultimate inspiration for the imagination.
Whether it’s the beloved tale of the queen of imagination herself, Anne of Green Gables, or the chronicles of the four children who took the four thrones at Cair Paravel in Narnia (we love the Radio Theatre versions of both), my children are inspired for days of play acting by the stories they hear. I love seeing how they come up with costumes and props out of the things they already have, developing their creative skills through their imagination.
“For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.”
-C.S. Lewis, “Bluspels and Flalansferes: A Semantic Nightmare”, Rehabilitations
4. Audiobooks teach dramatic reading skills.
Learning to read can be painfully slow work. Sounding out three-letter words in a phonics-based reader is a far cry from presenting dramatic interpretations or giving a speech. But listening to well-made audiobooks is one way to inspire beginning readers that there’s more to books than three-letter words.
When my children listen to E.B. White read Charlotte’s Web, they learn how to use different voices for each character in a book. When they hear unique accents for beloved characters in The Green Ember, they realize the power of dialect to paint a person’s portrait. And when they spend weeks on end listening to the British actors perform The Chronicles of Narnia Radio Theatre, my children have even been known to take on a British accent themselves!
I’d like to think that listening to books read aloud by trained readers will help inspire my children to develop their own read-aloud skills as they move past Dr. Seuss to William Shakespeare.
“When I use an audiobook, then someone’s reading aloud who is really good at it, who can do different voices and styles… Especially with the classics, older books, or books with dialect, having an actor really makes the story make more sense. Those accents add meaning and interpretation to the character.”
-Mystie Winckler in “For Parents Who Don’t Like Reading Aloud” on the Read-Aloud Revival Podcast
5. Audiobooks increase everyone’s vocabulary and build a mental dictionary of proper syntax.
I don’t always speak with proper English. And even if I did, my children aren’t always around people who use perfect grammar. So in an effort to help them form a mental dictionary of the proper arrangement of words and sentences, I’m choosing audiobooks for them to listen to that will ingrain in them correct forms of speaking.
Listening to classic literature in the form of audiobooks like The Chronicles of Narnia does more than just increase their vocabulary: audiobooks teach my children how to use their newly acquired words in sentences. (And nine times out of ten, that’s a good thing!)
“One reason we need to read to kids who read a lot is that they will skip stuff and they won’t actually build the syntax, the complete sentence patterns, they won’t stretch their vocabulary.”
-Andrew Pudewa in “Reading Aloud to Older Kids” on the Read-Aloud Revival Podcast
6. Audiobooks promote an enjoyment of classic literature.
I read a lot of books as a child. But when I look back on my reading log, I realize how many lacked substance and quality. Too many times I ignored a classic title simply because of who recommended it or because it seemed too much like school. It’s only as an adult that I’m discovering classics like Daddy-Long-Legs and Persuasion.
The beauty of audiobooks is the way they introduce my children to many classic books that are a bit above their comprehension level (let alone my reading level!). That way, when they are old enough to make reading choices on their own, they’ll have a taste for quality literature and will be glad to pass over the drivel and twaddle.
And of course, my favorite things about introducing my children to classics is that they are filled with examples of the difference between good and evil, memorable tales of true love and sacrifice. Because good old fashioned books like What Katy Did instill morals and virtues through the most powerful medium of all: story.
“Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”
-C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books”, God in the Dock
7. Audiobooks make history memorable.
I studied the obligatory history textbook each year for school, but I couldn’t tell you a single fact I learned from them once I’d passed my tests. The history I remember is what I read about in books like Johnny Tremain and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
These days, my children will almost beg, “Mom, can’t we please just go into our room and listen to history?” They love Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World audiobooks (narrated by Jim Weiss) so much that they’ll choose history over any other school subject. Meanwhile, I’m brushing up on my historical data from what I catch overhearing their story-based history lessons. (I hear Audible has Susan Wise Bauer’s higher level world history books available now, too, if I really want to be able to keep up with my children.)
8. Audiobook narrators don’t feel ignored if little hands are busy.
While not everyone is an auditory learner, we can all learn something by listening (if nothing more than learning how to listen!). But I’ve found that some of the more hands-on learning styles can absorb even more audibly if they keep their hands busy with something else. It’s amazing what you can hear even when your hands are occupied.
My husband spent hours as a child playing with Legos and drawing pictures while his dad read aloud to the whole family. He still remembers the details of those stories like Swiss Family Robinson and Little Britches. So as much as it’s tempting to try to make everyone sit perfectly still during story time, we don’t enforce it. When Daddy is reading aloud from Little House in the Big Woods, everyone has to be quiet, but not still.
But when I play an audiobook in the children’s room, I can simply turn up the volume high enough to be heard above the noise. Oftentimes audiobooks are on repeat all day long in their room, thanks to the tireless recorded voice of the narrator. And despite wondering how much they can even hear over the crash of toys and constant chatter, their conversations, questions, and imaginary play reflect the stories they’ve heard–albeit over a noisy din.
“Sometimes the children who don’t look like they are hearing you are hearing better than anyone else.”
-Andrew Pudewa in “Nurturing Competent Communicators“
9. Audiobooks redeem sick days.
Last winter, we succumbed one after another to a nasty chest cold. We spent months with bad coughs and little energy. Reading aloud was the last thing my husband and I felt like doing. But oh the audiobooks we listened to during those months!
Whether it’s that week when colds hit the whole family at once or the first trimester when Mom is down and out with morning sickness, audiobooks make our home a happier place when someone isn’t feeling well. I can tuck everyone into their own beds or let them all pile into mine and we’ll all forget our own troubles when I turn on Charlotte’s Web (narrated by its own author!).
10. Audiobooks are great for road trips!
Two years ago, we took a 3-week family vacation in which we traveled 3,000 miles. The only way we survived the three energetic children in the car was by captivating their attention with audiobooks. That trip we were introduced to Edith Nesbitt’s classic Railway Children and then her stories of Five Children and It. Delightful tales that amuse all ages are not my only criteria for audiobooks suited for long car rides, however. The story must also be interesting enough to help keep the driver awake!
This year, The Green Ember kept us on the edge of our seats for another (shorter!) family road trip. While the children kept theorizing what would happen, their daddy kept asking if there was more than one book in the series, and I was searching my Kindle edition for the quoteable quotations I was hearing. (Needless to say, we hope the next book comes out in time for our next family vacation!)
“Audio books are my friend. I don’t want to rely solely on audio books for our read-aloud time, as they definitely lack the connection and relationship-building piece that reading aloud fosters. But as far as wanting my kids to have massive amounts of good language patterns coming through the ear? Audio books can help with that.”
Image Credit: Everly Pleasant
Reading aloud is a timeless, irreplaceable tradition. However, audiobooks can expand the entire family’s exposure to classic literature and treasured tales far beyond read-aloud time.