Wednesday, August 20, 2014

You should really do this....the magical power of audiobooks!

If you read my blog at all you've read my praises of Jim Trelease's READ ALOUD HANDBOOK....he spends a large section of his book discussing the importance of reading aloud to your children--even the ones that can already read themselves.  Largely this is because listening comprehension develops more quickly and at a higher rate than reading comprehension.  That means that children can listen and understand a book more difficult than they can read on their own.  Reading aloud to kids exposes them to richer vocabulary, more complex plot elements, more diverse settings, and more developed characterization.

So we read aloud to our kids several times a day at our house--at least at nap time and bedtime, but often first thing in the morning and maybe in-between if there's a good time for books.

One tool that we also love around here are audiobooks.  Audiobooks provide a way for my children to be read to where they're in control of the situation.  They choose the cd, they turn it off or on, and they can choose when they want to listen.

My daughter stopped napping at 18 months and also has a difficult time falling asleep at night.  For her, audiobooks are a great sleep aide.  She listens to stories during her rest time in a dark room to relax.  At bedtime she prefers falling asleep to a story rather than music.  My son still prefers music--so you can see the choice thing coming into play.  Remember that it's great to provide opportunities for control and power to young children.  Having a cd player and some cds in their room is a great tool for this!

Quinn also uses her audiobooks as a tool for times she needs to cool down or chill out--we call this "composing herself."  She can typically go to her room and listen to a cd for a few minutes and calm/refocus herself enough to come out ready to rejoin the ongoing activities.  I love that, often, a few minutes of a story gives her pleasure and calm and provides a medium through which she can regain control over her emotions.

We use audiobooks on roadtrips.  I am not a tv person--we don't have our television on when the kids are around at home.  While we do loosen up on this and typically let Quinn watch one movie on long road trips, I don't like to spend the whole drive with her watching a movie.  We check out a stack of audiobooks and listen away!  The advantage of audiobooks/reading aloud over movies and tvs is that they require the listener to use their own imagination to picture the scenes in the story.  Movies are more passive--they do all the work for you and there isn't much left to the imagination.  We live in a large city where sometimes even driving to places like church can take over 30 minutes.  Often this is a great time to pop in an audiobook!

Quinn is 5 years old.  At this point she has listened to the entire Magic Treehouse Collection several times over--which is more than 40 books.  She has also enjoyed the Clementine series (Sara Pennypacker), Junie B Jones collection, My Father's Dragon series, Animal Rescue Team series (Stauffacher) and countless other picture books.

We also use audiobooks for calming tools.  When we're having a crazy day and trouble getting along, often we'll pull up to the kitchen table with some markers or paints or colored pencils and draw, listening to our favorite Sparkle Stories.  Sometimes when one of my kids doesn't feel to great they'll cuddle onto the couch with their blanket and a Sparkle Story playing.

Have you heard of Sparkle Stories?  (  It is a company that provides the most beautiful, simple, innocent stories that you can purchase from their website.  The stories are based around child development and the rhythm and seasons of the year.  In each story the characters work through a particular problem or issue in a lovely way.  You can listen to some free stories on their blog or also on their podcast.  We often have "Sparkle Lunch," which means we eat our lunch quietly while listening to a Sparkle Story. This is such a gem on those days we've been running like crazy all morning and just need some slow-down time to recharge.

I can definitely see the results of my two little ones listening to audiobooks often.  Quinn is always amazing me with some vocabulary word she uses correctly in a sentence or a historical fact she throws in to our convo that I didn't even know she knew.  

I really have to say, the Magic Tree House books are top notch.  If you have preschoolers or younger elementary kiddos, you HAVE to share these with them!  They are written in a way that appeal to boys and girls....and are wonderful exposures to historical fiction.  I read Quinn the first one aloud, and then we checked out all the rest from the library on cd.

Here are some tips to help get started with audiobooks in your home:
1) Get a cd player--simple and low tech is best.  We always get the cheapest one target or walmart has.

2) Teach cd and cd player handling.  Practice with them several times.  Supervise them doing it on their own for a while, and this will gradually lead to independence, even with children as young as 2 or 3.  Be sure they know how to replace the cd in its case and have a special spot for storing cd's.  If your child misuses a cd or the cd player, begin your lessons and practice again.

3) Like anything, listening comprehension takes practice.  Your kids may not make it through a whole story and stay focused the first time.  Start small--check out shorter picture books.  Listen to the story on cd while looking at the book.  Build up to longer sessions.  I always like to take advantage of "captive audience" times like car rides to play audiobooks for my kids.  As they are able to listen to stories through, you can expose them to longer and longer books.  Quinn listens to chapter books, so she pauses her cd player between listening sessions.

4) Try some of the free Sparkle Stories.  Remember that you might have to play the same story a few times for your kids to help them grow comfortable with something new and familiar with the characters.

5) The library is the best tool ever!  Check out their audiobooks.  We can put items on request from other libraries around our area--so I always have a list of what we want to listen to next.  I am sure there are also websites such as audible that you can get kids audiobooks from, but for us we haven't exhausted the free ones at the library in the past several years, so we'll keep getting ours from there!

Quinn begs me several times a week to take her to the library for more audiobooks!  She devours them.  Beck is beginning to fall in love with them too, and often he's the one that asks for stories at lunchtime.

Important to note, I still think (and Trelease agrees with me!) that Matt and I reading aloud to the kiddos is the most important read alouds they get during their days.  Using audiobooks hasn't become a substitute for this--we still read to them several times a day.  The audiobooks are more of a supplement that they use at other times across their day.

So.....are you inspired?  Or maybe you already listen to books on cd--if you haven't listened to Magic Tree House--please do!!!