Reading with our ears can have educational benefits at all ages, but my favorite benefit of listening to audiobooks with kids is the priceless connection of experiencing a good story together. If your family has never listened to an audiobook, getting started can feel daunting, so here are some tips to get you up and running.
Set up your device.
Start your listening journey at the public library! Many libraries have both CDs and digital audiobooks, so ask your local librarian to walk you through the options. Depending on what’s available at our public library, my family either listens to CDs or digital audiobooks downloaded via the OverDrive app. In the car, I use Bluetooth to connect my phone to the stereo so we can all listen together. Our 14-year-old has the OverDrive app on her phone and uses her own library card to download audiobooks. A younger child could use a tablet loaded with audiobooks you choose, or you might want to buy an inexpensive CD player and get books on CD. A set of headphones with volume restrictions is also a good idea for younger listeners.
Start small at first.
For your first listening experience, start with something short, or even a book your child has read many times already, like GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, CONSTRUCTION SITE. Listening is a skill that needs to be practiced like anything else. Developing those listening muscles is hard work, so start slowly and get used to the format. CHARLOTTE’S WEB is a beloved story that kids will jump right into. Or if you want to laugh, try I’M JUST NO GOOD AT RHYMING: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Adults.
Explore the tried and true.
Revisit stories you loved as a child. I was thrilled when my family listened to TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING together and loved it as much I did when I was eight. You can also look for timeless children’s classics. Kids can listen at a higher level than they can read, so even five-year-olds can enjoy classics like THE SECRET GARDEN or THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.
Know your narrators.
The narrator makes a huge difference, so be sure and sample an audiobook before you commit. AudioFile has easy-to-browse reviews of recommended kids’ audiobooks with age levels and sound samples. Many popular actors have also narrated children’s audiobooks. One of my favorites is David Tennant’s priceless performance of the How to Train Your Dragon series.
Start a listening queue.
I always have two or three audiobooks downloaded on my phone and about ten more on hold at the library. That way, wherever we are—in the car, waiting at the dentist’s office, relaxing at home—we have options on deck. A series is a great way to kick-start your queue. The Boxcar Children, Magic Tree House, and Hank the Cowdog have seemingly endless lists of titles. Have your kids help add to your library list, too! Newer series like THE PRINCESS IN BLACK are sure to delight.
Don’t slog through.
It is perfectly okay to give up on an audiobook if you or your kids are finding it boring or irritating, or you’re just not that into it. Listen to a few chapters to give it a chance, but after that, there’s no reason to finish listening to a book no one likes. Move on to the next audiobook on your list!
Find Audiobooks for All Ages
Audiobooks for babies and toddlers should engage their attention and get them laughing, singing, clapping, or repeating a catchy refrain — or nonsense words like DU IZ TAK? TROMBONE SHORTY engages young listeners with music, and the familiarity of the Llama Llama series by Anna Dewdney gives comfort to little listeners.
The goal here is to learn to love stories! Make listening together a fun bonding experience, and have kids tell you their thoughts about the plot and characters. Grace Lin, Beverly Cleary, and Kate DiCamillo are some fan favorites perfect for this age.
Try out different genres like fantasy, adventure, realistic fiction, nonfiction, and scary stories. Let kids choose their own audiobooks and listen to books for school. It’s not cheating! This is especially true for reluctant readers or those with learning differences, as reading with their ears can expose kids to more advanced vocabulary than they would attempt in print.
Ages 12 and up
Explore a range of dialects, voices, and points of view. Audiobooks can introduce teens to different cultures in a meaningful way to help build empathy. For example, the German words and phrases in THE BOOK THIEF give a real sense of life in World War II Germany. And Jason Reynolds’s reading of LONG WAY DOWN gives authentic voice to contemporary African-American characters.
If you’re looking to get teen listeners hooked on audiobooks, be sure to check out SYNC Audiobooks for Teens. This year’s free titles include Kwame Alexander’s SWING, F.C. Yee’s THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO, and more audiobooks to love.