Reading a book can be a challenging task for kids, especially kids who have difficulties in reading or have trouble paying attention.  In the hustle and bustle of daily life, reading also does not incorporate into the busy schedule.  Not many parents can sit for hours to read a book to their children.  That is why the industry of audiobooks is growing rapidly.

Audiobooks have traditionally been used with second-language learners, learning-disabled students, and struggling readers or nonreaders.  However, after a few decades, audiobooks have proven to be successful in helping these students to access literature and enjoy books.  Listening to audiobooks can provide a wealth of support for readers of all ages, help them gain more knowledge and joy in the very little time that students have.  Audiobooks also are a perfect treat for a sick day or a private listening experience anytime. 

In this article, we want to introduce some amazing benefits that audiobooks can bring to your children, and include a list of resources that provide excellent audiobooks for free.  Check them out and tune in during quiet time this summer!

What is Audiobook?

An audiobook is voice recordings of the text of a book that you listen to rather than read.  They can be exact word-for-word versions of books or abridged versions.  Audiobooks have been around since the 1970s and have come in many forms over the years including cassette tapes and CDs.  You can listen to audiobooks on any smartphone, tablet, computer, home speaker system, or in-car entertainment system.  

Audiobooks are usually purchased and downloaded in the same way as digital music and video.  They can also be purchased from online bookstores or downloaded free from public domain sites.

5 amazing benefits of audiobooks

We’re happy to report that audiobooks offer tons of brain benefits – from improved reading comprehension to an expanded vocabulary. 

  1. Audiobooks can help improve your child’s comprehension and vocabulary

Hearing new words – independent of or in combination with reading them – can significantly help with comprehension and vocabulary, especially for kids learning English as a second language.  Just as early elementary school classes encourage children to new readers to say words aloud, audiobooks promote the same healthy learning habits.  Mary Beth Crosby Carroll from The Children’s School in Brooklyn, NY, told Scholastic that “following along visually while listening can enhance word-recognition ability, while listening alone can expand vocabulary.”  Audiobooks provide unique context clues and intonations that can help readers better understand the meaning and application of specific words.

  1. Audiobooks may help our brains better imagine the story

The vivid images and jump-off-the-page characters in books create a sort of magic, no matter the format.  But a study conducted by the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior found that our brains are actually more likely to create meaningful imagery when we listen to a story – as opposed to when it’s read in a traditional format – because it allows more room for our brain’s visual processes to kick into gear. This explains, in part, why so many younger children love when someone reads to them!

  1. Compared to reading, listening to audiobooks can help kids attach deeper meaning to phrases

When your child reads a book, a lot of focus is placed on filling in gaps: voices, sounds, settings, accents, and more.  Dr. Art Markman from The University of Texas tested whether hearing a proverb versus reading it resulted in a difference in comprehension.  

The results showed that when we hear a statement like “empty vessels make the most noise,” we’re more likely to connect this to other proverbs that have similar deep meanings.  But when we read that same proverb, our brain will pick out the literal elements rather than those that contribute to its deeper meaning, making us more likely to associate that proverb with others that mention wheels.  According to Markman, because we can’t go back and “reread” audiobooks as easily, we’re inadvertently forcing our brains to extract deeper meanings more quickly.  In other words, listening to audiobooks enables the mind to comprehend phrases at a faster speed.

  1. Listening to a story rather than watching one can spark a more emotional response

According to a study from University College London, people have a more emotional reaction when listening to a novel than they do when watching an adaptation.  When we listen to a story, our brain has to create more content, such as imagery, to supplant the words.  This helps create a “greater emotional and physiological engagement than watching the scene on a screen, as measured by both heart rate and electro-dermal activity,” according to conclusions drawn by Dr. Joseph Levin.

Psychology Today cites audio as “one of the most intimate forms of media—listeners work together with the narrator and author to create mental pictures of situations and characters.  Audiobooks can captivate the imagination, allowing listeners to create a whole world at once within and outside themselves.”  Being able to escape our daily worries is a powerful tool that we can easily tap into through the wonder of audiobooks.

  1. Audiobooks may offer a welcome alternative for children having reading difficulties

Young children, and people with dyslexia, and those who are auditory learners may find that they can retain more of the story when listening to audiobooks than when reading the written word.  Audiobooks allow children to hear fluent reading and — especially for growing readers — listen to what reading should sound like. 

These are keys to future reading successes. When children listen to audiobooks, they hear firsthand the proper pacing and intonations of reading, how punctuation should sound, and how reading should sound. Ideally, they will transfer that knowledge to their own reading, both independent and aloud.

Using audiobooks in conjunction with actual hard copies of books allows kids to follow the words on the page with their eyes as they listen to the words being read. The shared visual and audio reading experience provides extra support for readers: They learn to pronounce new words, hear fluent readings, and get to enjoy a new story.

Where to get free audiobooks?

There are endless reasons why audiobooks are an essential part of learning – time to get the kids listening anywhere and everywhere!  On the internet, there are dozens of websites that provide free audiobooks and digital books.  Here are a few helpful sites that share audio versions of books to use alone or in conjunction with hard copies.

1. StoryNory

StoryNory is a British site featuring free downloadable and streaming stories for young children. Titles include fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood and classics like Alice in Wonderland. Each audiobook includes the digital text of the book.  This site offers free audio downloads of classic fairy tales, myths, world fairy tales, fables, 1001 Nights, and more. StoryNory is a particularly good option for young kids and students in elementary and middle school.

2. Lit2Go

Lit2Go provides free audiobook versions of books that are no longer protected by copyright laws.  Lit2Go offers downloadable PDFs of books so your child can read along as she listens to classics like The Call of the Wild. The site also categorizes books by reading level.  What we love about this site is that it’s not only packed with hundreds of free audiobooks, but many of the books and poems have free PDFs to download and print so that children can read along, highlight, and mark up the passage being read.

3. Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is an online resource, housing more than 45,000 audiobook, including a sizable library of children’s classical literature by some of the world’s most beloved authors. The stories can be downloaded to read on your computers, an e-reader, or other mobile device and some of the stories can be downloaded as audiobooks.

4. Spotify

You or your child might use this popular streaming service to listen to music, but did you know they also offer audiobooks? You’ll need a free (or paid) account to listen, but if your child doesn’t mind hearing a few ads now and then, she’ll be able to stream audiobooks for free. The best thing about Spotify’s selection is the opportunity to hear literature read by the authors themselves. There are also books read by great actors, including Harry Potter read by Daniel Radcliffe, Sherlock Holmes read by Sir John Gieguld, as well as classics from Shakespeare, Jane Austen, literature from women authors, fairy tales for kids…

5. Storyline Online

Sponsored by the Entertainment Industry Foundation, Storyline Online isn’t strictly an audiobook service. Instead, the site features videos of actors reading popular picture books. For young children who might miss the pictures in an audiobook, this site offers some good options. Each book also includes a free accompanying activity guide to engage children in learning about the story, both online and offline. Check out Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog, James Earl Jones reading To Be a Drum, and Ernest Borgnine reading The Rainbow Fish.

6. Audible

Audible – one of the world’s largest collection of audiobooks, – is offering free audiobooks for kids during school closures. Through Audible stories, Audible allows anyone, anywhere, to access over 200 full-length audiobooks for free for the duration of school closures. There’s no log-in or registration required and it’s not a free trial. All the titles in the collection are available to stream straight from the web and there’s no limit to how much people can listen. The collection is geared toward children but there are some audiobooks suitable for adults too, and many read by familiar voices, including Alice In Wonderland (read by Scarlett Johansson), Jane Eyre (read by Thandie Newton), Anne of Green Gables (read by Rachel McAdams) and Frankenstein (read by Dan Stevens).

The platform made the announcement via social media, writing: “We wish you and your loved-ones good health and we hope that listening to a good story will offer some respite during these unsettling times.”  

It’s all part of the global effort to pull together and support children at this time so they can keep on learning, as Audible put it: “Continue dreaming, learning, and just being kids.”

Parting words…

Audiobooks can also change the way we listen, read, and learn, improving the literacy of young readers and those for whom English is a second language. They can make learning a much easier process, and allow your child to absorb new knowledge and experiences while still being active.

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