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Getting books into the hands and brains of your below-grade-level or reluctant readers isn’t just a good idea. It’s essential. Over time, kids who read less fall further and further behind their average reading peers. Researchers have found that as early as first grade, average readers read up to three times as many words in a week as their lower performing classmates. They have called it “the Matthew Effect” because in reading, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When kids miss out on reading all those words, they experience limited vocabulary, poorer comprehension, and slower growth in fluency. They fall further behind and become even more likely to avoid reading.
For this snowball of important reasons, it’s a great idea to give audiobooks to reluctant readers.
But isn’t reading an audio book cheating?
This is the number one question that comes up when I suggest audiobooks for reluctant readers. But is it cheating when you listen to the news on the radio instead of picking up the newspaper? Is it cheating when your best friend starts to text you a great story and you say, “Call me instead!”?
Audio books are a great tool for kids to use and they don’t replace learning to read. In fact, they complement it.
Here are five reasons to get your kids listening to audiobooks
Students can comprehend material at a higher level than what they can read. By listening to audio books at their listening comprehension level, kids can be exposed to vocabulary that they will not be able to read independently for a while. In turn, a better oral vocabulary helps with their reading comprehension and their ability to read those familiar words when they first see them in print.
Grow a love of stories
Listening to audio books can be just plain fun! Kids who struggle to read or get bored when they’re reading with their eyes may find it much easier to get into a story when they hear it. That doesn’t mean it’s cheating. Sometimes they are exposed to a story for the first time as an audio book, then later go on to read other titles in the series in printed form.
Replace screen time
Audio books can be a nice compromise to replace screen time, for long car trips, for example. Times when kids are “bored” are great times to listen to audio books. You can either choose a title to listen to as a family or have the kids put in earbuds and listen to their own choices on tablets or smartphones.
Promote independent reading
If you find yourself struggling with your child about independent reading time, audio books might be a solution that get them over the hump and help them create an independent reading habit. You might make a deal like letting the child listen to the book first and then having them reread it with their eyes. You could also set a schedule where Tuesday and Thursday are audio book nights and the other nights are for eye reading.
Practice comprehension skills
Just like vocabulary, comprehension can be improved by listening to audio books. Kids have the chance to listen to text that is more complex, and maybe more interesting, then what they can read independently. Understanding things about story structure and character traits will help them comprehend better when they do read text with their eyes. Plus, it gives them a chance to practice those story-level skills without feeling distracted by the mechanics of reading words.
Some kids avoid reading because it feels hard. These can be kids with ADHD, or with specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia. Other reluctant readers do not have disabilities, but for one reason or another would rather do other things and avoid reading. No matter the reason, audio books can be an excellent stepping stone towards a love of reading. Free audio books are available for download at many public libraries. You can also get books on CD from the library. Finally, a subscription to a service like Epic Books gives your child access to a wide range of children’s titles, many with audio narration.
No matter what option you choose, consider offering audiobooks as part of a “balanced diet” of reading.