Adventures in audiobooks

A mom discovers that audiobooks are as beneficial for her daughter as they are fun.

By Ann Sullivan-Cross

Web Editor at LeapFrog

Ann Sullivan-Cross is LeapFrog's Web Editor, and when she's not chasing after her three kids, she's out running in the woods.

A few evenings ago, I asked my second-grade daughter to spend some time in her room reading. It’s something I often have to ask her to do, not so much because she doesn’t enjoy reading, but more that she enjoys other things like playing in the backyard, listening to music and just being a kid, more. Her teacher asks each child to read 20 minutes a day so I was really asking her to do her homework.

After she was up in her room for about 20 minutes, I went up to peek in on her. I found her with her eyes closed, iPod buds in ears, but not sleeping. There was no book in sight.

“Um, where’s your book?” I asked. She replied, “it’s right here, in my iPod.”

She was listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, a book she’d decided she wanted to “read.” Unbeknownst to me she had bought the book digitally via iTunes with my wife’s blessing.

“Don’t you think she should read them?” I questioned my wife. The Harry Potter series, after all, holds a special place high atop our bookshelf. “Well, listening to a book is sort of reading,” she replied.

Sort of reading. I thought about that.

When my daughter was three, I enjoyed taking her to the local library and picking out new books with her. Oftentimes, she gravitated to books that came with CDs so she could listen along. She’d pop them in our ancient CD player and lay down listening to her favorites: Skippy John Jones, Fancy Nancy, Clifford… Now I wondered if I had done her a disservice, letting her indulge in the siren sound of audio narration. I wondered if the whole idea of audiobooks wasn’t some lazy way for people to enjoy a book without the mental work of actual reading. Of course, we’d read to her nightly (and still do) but this was her thing, and it was lovely to see her enjoying something independently at such a young age. But now I wondered, was there any benefit to her listening to, rather than reading, Harry Potter? I knew she still had to get her actual reading time in and this is not what her teacher meant by 20 minutes of reading, but did I have a right to say what she was doing wasn’t reading?

Benefits of audiobooks

According to LeapFrog literacy expert, Dr. Carolyn James, “Just as listening to parents and caregivers speak supports oral language development, listening to models of fluent reading, whether that's a parent or the narrator of an audiobook, supports reading fluency.”

Audiobooks, she explained, can provide young readers with access to more challenging texts, which exposes them to advanced vocabulary and more complex text structures.

There are also benefits in terms of reading comprehension: “The simple act of using the imagination, of seeing a story with the mind’s eye—whether listening or reading—helps children build their visualization skills. This, in turn, helps foster children’s creativity and is linked to improved reading comprehension.”

Obviously, my daughter made the effort to seek out a story she was curious about, a story loved the world over. Who was I to say how she should read it? Even if it is purely entertainment to her, I know better.