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Do children really benefit from listening to audiobooks?

Storytime has always been an important part of the school day. These stories are absolutely essential in fostering young children’s development. They both entertain and inform, as well as extend vocabulary and language patterns. Now that children have no choice but to stay indoors, teachers and other members of the community are providing alternatives in the form of audiobooks that can be accessed at home. Government advice is to keep our routines as normal as usual, so being able to listen to a story a day will also help maintain children’s daily schedules.

Members of the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office have posted a series of Youtube videos in which they read well-known children’s books. These videos can be easily accessed by parents, and aim to provide a source of entertainment for children now that schools and nurseries have been closed. 

Additionally, listening to stories is essential for children’s development. A study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found clear neurological differences between children who had been regularly read to and those who hadn’t. Children’s books are especially important to foster learning in places like Niagara, where over 59% of adults don’t meet literary expectations and lower literacy levels are overrepresented.

Listening to books gives children introductory experiences of storytelling and narrative, which they need to hear in order to become storytellers themselves

Niagara’s efforts are part of the wider trend to boost children’s access to storybooks while at home. The United States’s charity Save With Stories has celebrities, such as Jake Gyllenhaal, reading bedtime stories on social media like Facebook and Instagram. Similarly, British writer David Walliams has announced he’ll be releasing 30 short audio stories taken from his book The World’s Worst Children. Many teachers are also producing videos of themselves reading stories that are made available to their class online. These combined efforts mean children can listen to stories if their parents are too busy working from home.

But how effective is listening to audiobooks as opposed to looking at picture books?

For children, there are actually many benefits to listening to audiobooks. Listening to books gives children introductory experiences of storytelling and narrative, which they need to hear in order to become storytellers themselves. It also exposes children to vocabulary that wouldn’t usually be used in speech. This is important as high numbers of children are struggling with vocabulary more than ever. A study by Oxford University found 69% of primary school teachers reported the number of pupils with word gaps was significantly increasing. Having a low vocabulary hinders pupils’ progress in a range of subjects, not just English, and sets limits on understanding.

Oral storytelling is believed to go back as far as the invention of language. This is evident in ancient cultures like the Australian Aboriginals, who have passed down stories by mouth for so long that they date back to 10,000 years ago. It is described as a nurturing act for the listener, who feels connected to the storyteller as a result. Perhaps this is the reason that bedtime stories are usually told by parents to their children.

Children can get all the benefits of a bedtime story from a Youtube video, while their parents are able to take a five minute break

But, for parents who are too busy or struggle with reading themselves, there are bedtime alternatives. Apps like Calm provide bedtime stories for both children and adults, which uses mindfulness techniques to ease people into sleep. In order to help children calm down and get a good night’s sleep, the app uses a combination of music designed specially to lower the heart rate and integrated breathing techniques.

Children can certainly gain many benefits from listening to audiobooks. But ideally, they should be listening to stories in addition to looking at the written words and pictures. This helps them build a connection between the written and spoken word, as well as strengthening the child’s cognitive abilities. For this reason, Niagara County Sheriff’s Office have words and pictures accompanying their stories online so children can read along. Children can get all the benefits of a bedtime story from a Youtube video, while their parents are able to take a five minute break.

So, are audiobooks the way forward during quarantine? Maybe not flying solo. But they do allow children to continue learning and developing while their parents take a break to work.

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