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Have you heard a good book lately?

Using audio books may feel like cheating for school children who have been assigned reading. Listening to a book seems like it is more passive than reading independently, and we reason that an easier, more passive activity can’t be quite as educative as the alternative. You may be surprised to find out that audio books are actually beneficial for readers of all levels.

Audio books are a particularly useful tool when used as companions to traditional books; children listen to the recording as they read along in print. This strategy can help improve reading fluency and comprehension. I highly recommend that children who find reading challenging try pairing audio and print books. This is also something to try if you feel like your capable young reader needs a boost to reach the next reading level. The Reading Rockets website explains these and other audio book benefits further.

Families need not fear that audio books are just one more thing to buy. Our local public libraries all offer audio books on CD. Some also provide digital files that can be accessed from home through the library website. Montgomery County library card holders can browse and download audio books here. Fairfax County Public Libraries offer digital audio files through Overdrive, detailed instructions for which are here. If your child has a documented disability that affects his reading, such as dyslexia or visual impairment, there are a variety of services that provide access to audio books. Some, like Bookshare, are free. Others, like Learning Ally, require a membership fee. Of course, for families who do wish to purchase audio books, there are plenty of online resources for that too from iTunes, to Amazon, to Audible, and more.

If you can’t find the companion audio book for a text that your child wants to read, using the text-to-speech function on an e-reader is another option. While it lacks the emotion of a narrator’s voice, text-to-speech can still provide some of the same benefits as audio books. Kindle Touch, iPad, iPhone, and Mantano reader for Android all have this feature.

Reading is the cornerstone to everything children do in school. It is often the means through which new information is conveyed, and it is also the key to learning how to write well. Audio books can help to overcome reluctant readers' resistance to text, and they can help all readers improve their skills. If your family hasn't yet tried an audio book, I hope you will consider it.


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