Children's Audiobooks:
Are You SURE?

Do you love audiobooks? Are you going to buy children's audiobooks no matter what I might say?

Then page down because I have a couple really good ideas for you.

Are audiobooks for children an appropriate reading option?

Audiobooks have taken the reading world by storm. Busy adults stuck in their cars listen as they ride to and from work, doing the reading they haven't time to do elsewhere.

But what about children? If a child hasn't yet developed a lifelong love of reading, are children's audiobooks going to help develop that love? Or are they actually going to hurt?

Is a child who's simply listening to a book being read actually reading?

2015: Now that I'm a teacher, I have some new thoughts on this!

As someone who teaches reading, I have mixed feelings about audiobooks for kids. I would prefer that children read books in the traditional way, but I also know that hearing a book properly read increases reading fluency.

This really deserves some thought, parents!

Before you go ahead and buy children's audiobooks, I urge you to consider these factors:

  1. Your child's age and reading level
  2. Your child's level of love for reading
  3. The circumstances under which children's audiobooks will be listened to

Children's Audiobooks - The Case Against

Parents should be reading to children - every day - if children aren't yet reading to themselves.

We all know that. It's not news. We want to convey to our children the importance of reading because we know how important it is for their future.

But what about parents who don't have time? Are children's audiobooks a good substitute?

No, they're not. Sitting in a parent's lap, hearing that parent's warm and familiar voice, looking at the pictures, that's the way to develop a lifelong love of reading.

Hearing the unfamiliar voice of a disembodied adult in a sterile, impersonal environment is NOT the way to develop a lifelong love of reading.

Aren't children's audiobooks an okay option for parents who don't have the time to read to their children?

No. They should find the time. Or at least find other caring adults who have the time.

Of course, you can't spend every hour of your child's waking day reading aloud! If children's audiobooks really are something you want in order to supplement reading aloud time, at least find children's audiobooks that work in conjunction with hard-copy books.

In other words, the audiobook should signal your child when to turn the page and your child should have something to look at!

But even then...

Many of these audiobooks for children include sound effects and music. Is your child going to come to expect similar bells and whistles from regular reading? Do children's audiobooks come a little too close to being television?

And isn't television going to seem a lot more appealing?

So consider whether your child might not be better off engaging in other skill-building activities during those times when you can't read aloud. Art, music, athletics...

What about audiobooks for children who are already reading to themselves?

Those children should continue reading to themselves. There is nothing like reading. Listening to a song is not the same as singing a song.

Listening is passive. Singing is active.

Listening to a children's audiobook is not the same as reading the same book.

Listening is passive. Reading is active.

Steve, why do you feel so strongly against children's audiobooks?

I'll tell you. Our children are becoming media-addicted. They want the TV on, an MP3 earphone stuck in one ear, a cell phone crammed against the other, and multiple chat windows open on their computer monitor while they do their math homework.

They're clear out of ears and eyes! About all they'll be able to do with a children's audiobook is to smell it!

This generation thinks they're "multi-tasking." But all the research indicates that multi-tasking is an illusion. What they're really doing is flitting their attention from one thing to another, and the lack of focus is slowing them down...

In the short run. AND in the long run.

An hour's worth of homework can take five hours. Bright high school kids are pulling "all-nighters" on a regular basis for homework loads just like the ones that used to take you and me two hours.

Let's not feed the multi-tasking illusion!

Unless your child is incredibly focused, a children's audiobook is likely to become something he or she half pays attention to. That's a bad habit to get into when it comes to something as important as reading.

If your children are young, you might be leading them down the dead-end multi-tasking road even before their peer culture tries to!

Here's when children's audiobooks make sense

Audiobooks for children make sense in a car. On a long ride. With no other form of stimulation available. But do you know what might make more sense?

Music. Children's music. Storytelling children's music.

For young children, songs are the literary equivalent of a picture book!

Here's what I mean. A song that tells a story has pretty much the same amount of story as a children's picture book does. Your child can "consume" songs voraciously, and storytelling songs tend to demand all of your child's attention.

Unlike children's audiobooks.

And just like with a beloved picture book, children want to hear their favorite songs over and over!

Yes, sometimes this will drive you crazy

But when you can handle it, children's music is better than children's audiobooks in a multitude of ways, some of which are:

  1. Music develops your child's brain in ways that reading doesn't.
  2. Music skills and language skills correlate. Help your child learn about music and you might be increasing your child's foreign language aptitude down the road.
  3. You can expose your child now to different kinds of music before peer pressure attempts to limit your child to a single type of music, music with a message you might despise!

And if you choose children's music that tells coherent stories, the songs can be discussed just like books can.

I just visited an incredible website

I know some adults enjoy making fun of Raffi almost as much as they enjoy ridiculing Barney. But the abuse is undeserved.

I love the multitude of musical styles Raffi works in. My child is exposed to songs and sounds from various genres, cultures and lands.

I love the gentleness. I love how he speaks to children with his lyrics, and how children clearly love him back. (Until a certain age, of course.)

But until I visited Raffi's website I had no idea the extent to which he is a humanitarian, children's advocate and children's book author as well.

If your children are young, it's hard to do better than Raffi!

Other options

Another way to expose young children to multiple music styles - for free! - is by exposing them to multiple musicians. There's a great site, Free Kids Music, that offers free MP3s of multiple artists.

The artists offer these songs as a way of promoting themselves. I just listened to a bunch and was very impressed. On top of that, their library of music changes regularly.

Check it out!

Music for older children

What music is appropriate for older children? Again, I think the goal is to expose them to a wide range of music before their tastes grow too limited. Let them listen to storytelling music you enjoy or enjoyed at some point in your life.

I consider song lyrics a wonderful way to introduce children to the real world gently, with parents controlling the exposure. Songs, like books, can be used to stimulate discussion of real world issues, like relationships, religion, love, good and bad choices, etc.

Good parenting requires us to tackle some uncomfortable subjects as our children grow. But these topics can be easier to discuss when something prompts your child's curiosity, as opposed to when you have to introduce the subject out of nowhere!

I just typed "songs about drugs" into a popular search engine and came up with nearly 17,000 pages. The first page that came up lists songs alphabetically and by drug.

If you want to find popular songs that lament the consequences of, say, teenage sex, we actually live in an where you can find those songs!

Page down if you're still interested in children's audiobooks. Otherwise:

The Oral Storytelling Page

Getting a good children's audiobooks deal

Okay, you're committed to children's audiobooks for your kids. I've checked out a bunch of the top audiobooks sites. I considered

  • site navigability
  • form of delivery
  • pricing
  • selection

The commercial site I recommend for children's audiobooks is Simply Audiobooks.

For children's books they seem to have a wider selection than the others. The site is easy to surf and search, you have download AND rental options, and monthly and yearly payment plans as well.

(And not only can you save significant $$$ by prepaying yearly, they claim the charge is fully refundable during that first year!)

The one thing they seem not to offer is audio newspapers and magazines. Oh well. You were looking for books, right?

The non-commercial children's audiobooks site I like is Librivox.

Sure, I don't know a podcast from a peapod, but I know a labor of love when I see one. At Librivox, volunteer readers record their tellings of books from the public domain. (Books with expired copyrights.) Because the readers are volunteers and because the authors are dead...voila! Free audiobooks!

These are books for older children as well as adults. But one Librivox volunteer has started her own site with a focus on children's chapter book classics in particular.

Kara's Free Children's Audiobooks

is growing books practically as fast as Kara can read them into the microphone. Check it out!

Best Children's Books - The Oral Storytelling page

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Do you know enough Seuss to excel?

Great info!