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This guest post is by Charity Hawkins, the author of the The Homeschool Experiment, an entertaining and encouraging novel about what homeschooling is really like.
Children's Audio Books for Read Alouds at Home (+3 Great Times to Listen with Your Kids)
Or, How to Make Your Kids Fall In Love With Reading
This is Part Two of Three!! (Part One is here.)
We talked last week about how one of the best ways to help struggling readers is to have lots of Read-Aloud Time where Mom or Dad read to them at a level above their current reading level.
How did it go? Did you get in 10 minutes a day a couple days last week? Please comment and let us know of any benefits you saw as well as any questions or struggles you had.
Maybe some of these additional ideas will help.
6. Ask questions as you go.
If my children seem to be staring out the window and not paying attention, I usually ask a question to bring them back to the story. Sometimes they know exactly what’s going on. If not, this helps us focus back on the book.
My all-purpose question is, “Okay, what’s going on here?” That works for everything. They explain a little or they might say, “Actually, I’m confused …” and then we talk about it.
At surprising points or when the character makes a choice in the story, I like to ask, “Why do you think she/he is doing that?” or “How would you be feeling if you were her?” or “What would you do?”
I’ve been asking those in the co-op literature class I’m teaching and it’s really interesting to hear the answers. Or I’ll realize they don’t quite understand what’s going on, so I’ll explain very briefly what they missed.
I don’t make this into quiz time, and there are no right answers. This is discussion, connecting with the kids, heart-to-heart time.
7. Explain vocabulary briefly
I don’t stop to get out the dictionary. I just explain the word briefly and go on. So I read the sentence.
I read: “They pulled the enormous turnip.”
I explain: “Enormous means really big.”
I read again, then go on. “They pulled the enormous (really big) turnip… “
Occasionally I don’t know what a word means. Then I try to model guessing from the context.
For example, one Narnia book I read aloud had a lot of sailing terms. We could have made a list and looked them up later, (and you can totally do that), but often I’d just say, “I don’t know what that word means. Hmm. It must be part of the mast or something.” That way they know that even if they don’t know every word they can make an educated guess and go on reading and still get the idea.
Every now and then I would actually remember to look them up later and tell the kids because I think words are so interesting and it’s fun to find new ones!
8. Keep their hands busy (if needed)
I haven’t had great success with letting my children play with toys while I read. They always seemed to get too distracted. But many kids (probably kinesthetic learners) learn best while playing with Legos or drawing. The best things I’ve found are:
a. Draw a picture of the story – this requires 5 seconds of preparation: paper, pencil. No mess to clean up. This one is our easiest one.
b. Sometimes I’ll let them try a quiet fidget toy, or something repetitive like finger-knitting or weaving or cracking nuts (weird, but my son loves this. Then he eats them.)
c. Legos work for many people, or puzzles. We tended to be too distracted by them.
d. Let them trace a map – my daughter especially loved this. Plus it reinforces the geography of the book. We’d get out a map (laminated placemat of USA or a world or US map). She’d trace it with wet-erase marker. OR we’d tape tracing paper on it and she’d trace and color with colored pencil and make these beautiful maps. So she’d be doing geography/art and reading all at the same time.
e. This Read-Aloud Revival podcast has lots of ideas on keeping hands busy.
I bet one of your biggest challenges was finding time, right?
This is where children's audio books can really help you out. The connection and acceptance you build with your child is really important, so I think it’s still so valuable to have that time with Mom and Dad when you can, but you can get in hours more of read-aloud by supplementing with audio books.
9. Use Audio Books to add interest and help you out.
I use these most at these times:
1. Bedtime, to let your child listen as they fall asleep.
Last night I snuggled with my 3rd-grader in bed while we listened to a chapter of Mary Poppins, then I went off to bed and he listened until he fell asleep. (And that kid snuggles up to me like a sweet baby during that time. I love it.)
We started doing this because I was just too tired at night to read. It’s a lovely break for me and gets me tired so I actually get to bed at a decent time.
(We use an old iPhone 4 with Audible on it but not internet or anything much else. And you can set a sleep timer so it will turn off and not be on all night. But CDs from the library or your library’s online system like Hoopla are great too.)
2. To replace screen time
Often when we’re in a pattern of too much screen time, I’ll go load up on CDs from the library. Then when my kids ask, “Can I watch ___ ?” my answer is, “No, but you can go listen to ___. “
After a few days of this, they sort of forget about TV and are back into their audio books. If you are wanting to cut down on screen time, I’d recommend getting a pile of CDs and for a week or two, just answering, “Not today. I’d like you go to pick out a CD and put it on please.”
Be brave. Be strong. You can do it.
They adapt really fast. Just try it for experimental purposes. And it keeps them busy and entertained so you can fix dinner.
And don’t let tears, anger or pleas for sympathy deter you. Once you’ve said it, don’t let them talk you out of it. Just keep saying over and over, “As soon as you’ve done 20 minutes of listening, come tell me about it, and then you can play/watch/do … “ Unplug the video games and hide them if you need to, but make the kid do the 20 minutes of listening time first.
I’m working on this one too, you guys. My 3rd-grader came out all bleary-eyed before 7 this morning and we’d just had the mad rush of getting the two older ones off to school, the toddler was still asleep and I just wanted a few more minutes to collect myself and get ready!
I’ve been in the habit of letting him go watch Curious George but I don’t really like that. Then I thought, “Aha! Audio books!” I put on Mary Poppins which is what he listened to as he fell asleep. It worked great and I got 30 minutes to make my eggs, eat breakfast, and get ready for the day. And he got 30 minutes of ‘reading’ time in.
And what’s the difference between Curious George and Mary Poppins? Aren’t they basically just entertainment?
No, a children's audio book is heads and tails better than a screen.
- It increases attention spans instead of shortens them.
- Visualizing helps in reading preparation.
- Book vocabulary is typically higher level with much more complexity and has more “rare words” than TV.
- They build appetites for reading. (Screens do not.)
- They increase connection if you can discuss the story with them or listen in the same room with them.
The Read-Aloud Connection by Jim Trelease is the classic book on this that shows the astonishing link between vocabulary and school readiness. Kids in poverty start school with dramatically lower vocabularies (almost 75% lower) than upper class kids which translates into a deficit throughout school. The best way to get those ‘rare words’ is reading aloud. If you want to see the research, this book is the one for you.
And the third place I typically fit in children's audio books is:
3. In the car
Especially for road trips, but even a trip around town can get in 20 minutes.
Some books are read better by a narrator than by me. Hank the Cowdog, for example, is hilarious when read by the author and quite boring when read by me.
If you haven’t done audio books before, start with Little House on the Prairie. They are just the best ever. Farmer Boy is a wonderful boy book and Little House in the Big Woods is great for boys or girls. Cherry Jones’ reading of them makes you feel like you are in the story.
Seriously, check your library or Audible for these. And there are so many they can keep you entertained for months.
Favorite audio for boys and girls: Little House on the Prairie series, Narnia series, Penderwicks series, Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins series
Our favorite boy audio books are: Hank the Cowdog (The author sings the songs and they are clever and hilarious), My Side of the Mountain series, Sugar Creek Gang Series, Adventures in Odyssey radio theater.
Our favorite girl audio books are: All in A Kind Family (my 3rd grade boy loves these as well), Anne of Green Gables (Focus on the Family Radio Theater) and all those mentioned for both boys and girls above.
This Week’s Baby Step
This week, your Baby Step is to continue that habit of Read-Aloud Time you started last week. If it works well, continue and maybe add 10 more minutes or a second time with another child. If it did not work well, adjust. Why not? What could you change? Then try again.
Also, try to swap in an audio book instead of a screen for 20 minutes a few days this week. If you don’t have any, request some CDs or downloads from your library. Audible usually gives one free one as a trial.
So, find something that looks good (see my list of recommendations above) and just start! Sometimes starting is the hardest part.
If you’re driving somewhere for the holidays, you could do 20 minutes of an audio books between DVDs or video games. The kids trapped in the car with you, so you really have the upper hand here. They can’t revolt; they’re buckled in!
One More Baby Step
Here are a couple more must-listen-to podcasts:
And if you are hooked and want more, I also love these:
Do you notice I keep sending you over to Read-Aloud Revival podcasts? They just pull together all the research and information in one place and you can listen while you work out, drive, or do laundry. They’re magical and will give you so much enthusiasm for making your home a Reading Home. I’m not affiliated with them at all; I just love them.
What problems did you have last week? Scroll through the list of podcasts here and see if one addresses it. There are some on wiggly kids, some on reading to all ages, reluctant readers, finding time, and more. If you had a problem, Sarah has probably had a podcast about it.
Charity Hawkins is the author of the real-life adventure book The Homeschool Experiment. She lives, writes, and reads to her kids (even when they are wiggly and dropping muffin crumbs) in Tulsa, Oklahoma.