“The pleasure of all reading is doubled when one is with another who shares the same books.”Katherine Mansfield
I love the way listening to audio books brings all my kids together.
Yesterday they spent the entire afternoon in the boys’ room listening to The Last Battle, a book they’ve read and listened to several times before. But we like to listen to our favorite books again and again. It just makes us love them more.
They were all in there together, drawing, building Legos, or just laying on the bed and soaking up the beautiful language and storytelling of one of CS Lewis’ masterpieces.
We don’t use earphones or earbuds when we listen to books, at home or in the car, because I love the way listening to a story together builds our relationships with one another.
The moment we put those ear buds in, we are shutting ourselves off from everyone around us. I work very hard to cultivate relationships within my family and so this “shutting off from one another” is the exact opposite of what I want to see happening.
Instead, I love to hear my kids laughing over a story together, or discussing the book as they listen to it together. We aren’t all separated from each other–we’re enjoying time together. I love the way, everyone is drawn into a room when an audio book is turned on. We’re pulled together by the magic of a good story.
We have beautiful conversations about whatever book we are listening to. Everyone chimes in, and we all relate to the book in different to ways, but we’re experiencing it together, which creates such special bonds. We talk in the language of the books we’ve read. I often hear my kids say things like this, “you know that part in The Hobbit…” Or, “it’s like in Caddie Woodlawn when…”
The books we read together become shared experiences and create cherished memories just as family vacations and adventures do. In fact, the books we’ve read together are some of our favorite adventures.
I have always felt that putting something in, or over, our ears separated us from one another and I’ve never liked that. Even at 11 or 12 when I got my first Walkman, I didn’t like listening to it in the car because I was missing out on the conversation my parents were having. I hated sitting next to my mom while she drove, my headphones on, and not talking to her. It felt almost rude to me. But even more, l knew I wasn’t experiencing life with her. There would be no conversations about the simple things we saw as we drove, or the deeper conversations that might happen as we sat next to each other.
There wouldn’t be singing along together to the Sam Cook cassette playing in our hunk of junk Dodge Dart while my mom drove my brother and I to math tutoring. There’d be no laughing over silly stories together There wouldn’t be learning how to sit together in silence, each having our own thoughts, yet fully comfortable together in the quiet.
Building relationships is certainly easier when we are fully engaged with one another.
I suppose all those things played a part in my decision to keep our book time free from ear buds and headphones. It’s not that those things are bad in and of themselves. Or even that using them is bad. It’s just that for us, the experience of being together without them is better.
So how does this life style decision play out in our family, practically speaking?
Truthfully there is no grumbling about listening to books together because it’s something they’ve always done. This is our way of life and they don’t seem to mind it at all. The only problem that occurs occasionally is that someone is being too loud and interrupting the book. Then that person is asked to be quiet or leave the room. And the problem is solved.
We get most of our books from our subscription to Audible. This does have a monthly fee, but I consider it an essential part of our kids’ education and to our family life, so it is 100% worth the money. I get two credits to use a month and very rarely use more than those credits That means I do not spend anything beyond my monthly subscription fee. Sometimes we can purchase a whole series for one credit, like all the Ramona Quimby books. Or we purchase lots of long books, so we really make those credits count.
Our Audible books can be played on any computer or phone, so the kids can listen to them just about anywhere.
They often have the computer set up in the living room and gather there to listen to books.
They can also listen in their rooms on the laptop or on our family iPod.
We borrow books on cd from the library often and those get played on Lilly’s Hello Kitty “boom box” or on the computer.
No one has to stay in a room and listen to a book if they’d rather be doing something else.
Sometimes one kid is inside listening to a book while the others are playing outside or in another room drawing. But it just seems that once a book is turned on, they all just gravitate to where it is playing.
My kids have a hard time resisting stories.
We also listen to books in the car all the time.
My kids don’t mind long drives because they get to listen to books. In fact, short drives are far more troubling to them because they want to listen to the book longer.
Everyone takes turn choosing the books we listen to. Or we choose one together.
Occasionally there might be a groan when Davy picks “Tales of Brer Rabbit” agin. But mostly they are happy with each other’s book selections.
They just love listening to books so much that they are happy for every new book that is chosen.Or a beloved old book revisited.
Beyond the relational ways listening to books together has helped our family, it has also had an impact in other ways:
1. We’ve grown our reading skills because of listening to challenging books from a very young age. My younger kids are always listening to books high above their reading level. But because of the constant exposure to these books, their comprehension skills and vocabulary are through the roof. We also listen to all our books unabridged. It has never proven to be a problem for them–even with the most challenging books. They are building skills to become great readers.
2. Everyone is exposed to a variety of genres, and authors they might otherwise not choose. Each of us has our favorite books of course, but since we are listening to books together, we are kept from choosing the same types of books over and over again. My kids are open to reading just about anything, because they’ve experienced so many different types of great books.
3. We’ve learned the art of listening and paying attention. Listening to books that are challenging has taught all my kids the skill of being a good listener. They have to pay attention in order to understand what is going on in a story that may have lots of characters, an involved plot, advanced vocabulary, or complex sentence structure.
4. We’ve learned the importance of asking questions. Many of the books we listen to are higher level books. That means the younger kids will often stop and ask questions about what is going on, who a certain character is, or even say something like, “wait, what just happened?” If they were reading or listening alone, there would be no one to ask questions of, and I think the temptation would be to just stay lost. But because we’re listening together, asking questions is a normal part of the reading experience.
5. We’ve learned the skill of summarizing, translating, re-telling , and explaining. As we listen to books together, and questions are asked, those questions must be answered. That means my kids are learning how to explain things to one another, and how to summarize what someone just missed or didn’t understand. Best of all, they are doing it in a natural, real life way.
6. My kids are learning the joy and pleasure that comes from talking about books. The exchange of ideas and thoughts that come to us as we read (listen to ) a book together is a valuable skill that will translate to so many other parts of their life. It’s teaching them to be critical thinkers who can then discuss their thoughts. That’s a very practical part of this journey that I appreciate. But as I said before, they are also learning the joy and pleasure of discussing books. That to me is of great value as well. In fact, it may be my favorite part of this whole journey. Because there are few things I love to do more than talk about a book with my favorite little readers.
Now to get you started, here is a list of some of our favorite audio books
For the younger crowd:
*The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection narrated by Stockard Channing
*Charlotte’s Web narrated by EB White
*A Bear Called Paddington narrated by Michael Bond
*Mr. Popper’s Penguins narrated by Nick Sullivan
*The Courage of Sarah Noble narrated by Barbra Caruso
*The Peter Rabbit Collection narrated by Peter Batchelor
Books for older kids (but even my youngest has enjoyed listening to):
*The Yearling narrated by Tom Stechschulte
*The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy narrated by Rob Inglis
*The Princess and the Goblin narrated by Ian Whitcomb
*Johnny Tremain narrated by Grace Conlin
*Littel Women narrated by Kate Reading
*Caddie Woodlawn narrated by Roslyn Alexander
*The Borrowers series narrated by Rowena Cooper
*Father and I Were Ranchers (and the following books in this series) narrated by Ralph Moody
*Danny Champion of the World narrated by Peter Serafinowicz
*The Wind and the Willows narrated by Michael Hordern
*The Merry Adventures of Robinhood narrated by David Thorn
*The Chronicles of Narinia narrated by various narrators
I hope this glimpse into the way we experience books as a family will encourage you to listen to more books together. You don’t have to totally ditch those earbuds.But I promise the benefits that come when you share a book together as a family will make you want to tune into one another more, and tune out less.
Remember, you don’t have to go on fancy vacations, or grand adventures to create memories with your family. Making memories can be as simple as popping a bowl of popcorn and settling down with a fabulous audio book. You’ll laugh together, wonder together, and if you’re like my family, cry together. Best of all, listening to a book takes some time, so you’ll get to revisit that together time again and again until the book is done.
Don’t underestimate the power of books to bring people together.
For the love of (audio) books,