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"A good education for every child does not mean the same education for every child.  "

Please use what works for you and your child and ignore the rest.  Every child is different.  If this information does not seem to be a good fit for your particular child, then keep looking and experimenting until you find what works.


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 Audio Books

Audio books can be a great addition to your reading program.  They can be great for the car and, in a pinch, can even be a great stand-in for your usual reading time.  “But wait!”,  you cry.  “They don’t involve actually READING!  How can they help?”  Well, strange as it may seem at first, listening to books on tape can help build a child’s literacy skills in several ways.

Audio Books Build Reading Skills

Audio books improve listening skills, help with comprehension, build vocabulary, involve the imagination, help children to develop an ear for correct grammar and standard English, improve background knowledge, and whet the appetite for literature!  They can also be a great way to inspire a child to read more difficult or longer books. 

One of the great advantages of books on tape is that children can listen to books that are much harder than they could read themselves.  (This is of course exponentially true for children who cannot read at all yet.)  While a book on tape is not the same as having mom or dad read a book, sometimes mom and dad don’t have the stamina or the interest or the time to tackle some of the longer chapter books!  Most of the books we’ve heard (with a few glaring exceptions) have had fantastic readers – in some cases, they even do different voices for different characters.  A good reader can really add to the listening experience.

Audio books are especially good for “late bloomers”.  They help these kids to work on higher-level skills, so that when their reading ability kicks in, the rest of the required skills are in place, enabling them to move to harder material quicker. 

The Many Kinds of Audio “Books”

 “Books on tape” is actually quite a large category.  When we hear the term we usually think of novels, but there are also radio dramas (either old radio shows or new BBC productions, or our favorite Growler Radio tapes), non-fiction (this year we listened to “Lives of the Authors” – short biographies of several famous authors), short stories (like “The Ransom of Red Chief”), fables (like Julius Lester ‘s excellent Uncle Remus retellings) and children’s “audio magazines” (like the wonderful Boomerang).  We’ve even enjoyed quite a bit of poetry-on-tape!  Even if you go for the novels, there is plenty to chose from – historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, and so on.  We loved the old fashioned language of Robin Hood – it would have been too difficult for my children to read on their own, and I’m not sure I could have read it aloud effectively.  But thanks to the excellent reader, we were able to enjoy the story and get a sense of the historical setting through the language.

Family Listening

Listening to books as a family is a great way to share literature and create memories.  We often keep a story going in the car and play it whenever mom and the kids are in the car together, but the best opportunity for a good long book is a family vacation.  We drive 13 hours to Maine every summer, giving a great opportunity for family listening.  This year we had nine continuous hours of old “Father Knows Best” radio shows (we listened to all nine hours twice!), and The Gate in the Wall, a wonderful book set on English canal boats in Victorian times.  Last year we listened to Lost on a Mountain in Maine, which set a great tone for our vacation!  Harry Potter is another family audio favorite, even though everyone has also read the book.  On your next family trip, turn off the in-car TV, take the batteries out of the Game Boys, and put on an audio book!

Read-Along Tapes

Some books on tape for younger children are designed to be heard while the child is looking at the book.  Many libraries carry a large selection of these – they usually come in plastic bags that contain the book and the tape.  We’ve found that, for very young children, these work best when the book is a fairly familiar one.  If your child enjoys these, it might be worth investing in a boom box that is easy for them to use themselves. 

Mommy on Tape

You can make read-along tapes yourself by simply taping a bedtime story session.  It’s a great way to put all your child’s favorite books on a single tape – which is fabulous for long car trips with younger children, or “dad’s away” bedtimes for exhausted moms.  Use a bell or bang on something to make the turn-the-page noise.

Where to Get Audio Books

We’ve found that, with the exception of a few favorite read-along tapes for younger children, we rarely listen to the same book twice.  There are so many good ones out there!  It’s generally not worth buying tapes.  Instead, seek out tapes at your local library.  It can be worth a longer drive to find a library that has a good selection, especially if you can renew on-line. 

Tape Players

The best tape player we’ve found is one designed for dictation.  It’s the size of a Walkman and takes regular cassette tapes.  The advantages are 1) it has a record function, which many boom boxes and Walkmen lack, 2) it can be used with headphones, but it also has a built-in speaker, which most Walkmen lack, 3) it comes with an a/c adapter, 4) it’s small enough to pack on trips (nice for playing bedtime stories to settle the kiddies after “lights out” in a hotel room).  The last time we got one it was about $35 at K-mart, and came with an AC adapter