In the last few years, audio books have exploded in popularity amongst adult readers. They’re especially popular with people who have little time to sit down and read, allowing busy book lovers to enjoy books while commuting, exercising, or otherwise multitasking. But what about kids? Sure, listening to audio books can be a good activity for car rides and holiday travel, but is there any real educational benefit for children, or do audio books not count as real reading?
Benefits of Audio Books for Students
According to Denise Johnson, assistant professor of reading education at the College of William & Mary, audio books can provide a way for second-language learners, students with learning disabilities, and struggling or non-readers to “access literature and enjoy books.” But audio books may also also provide additional educational benefits for all students, not just those who struggle with reading. Johnson argues that audio books can be used to:
- Introduce students to books above their reading level
- Model good interpretive reading
- Teach critical listening
- Highlight the humor in books
- Introduce new genres that students might not otherwise consider
- Introduce new vocabulary or difficult proper names or locales
- Sidestep unfamiliar dialects or accents, Old English, and old-fashioned literary styles
- Provide a read-aloud model
- Provide a bridge to important topics of discussion for parents and children who can listen together while commuting to sporting events, music lessons, or on vacations
- Recapture “the essence and the delights of hearing stories beautifully told by extraordinarily talented storytellers” (Baskin & Harris, 1995, p. 376)
Of course, audio books should be used to supplement, and not entirely replace reading. But when used alongside other media, including printed books, ebooks, and reading aloud in person with children, audio books can be another excellent way to instill a love of books and literature in children.
Where to Find Free Audio Books for Kids
While sites like Audible are popular and provide thousands of titles for adults and children, the cost of purchasing books and membership fees can add up. Luckily, there are thousands of free audio books available for readers of all ages if you know where to look. Here are six of the best sources, some of which offer books for all readers, and some tailored just for kids.
Much like Project Gutenberg, our favorite source for free ebooks, Librivox books are from the public domain, and read by volunteers. Books are available to stream online or download. Some of the books include an entire cast, acting out dramatizations, while others feature a single reader. The catalog includes a large collection of children’s books, both fiction and non-fiction, including a number of classics that are also found on the K12 recommended reading list for kindergarten-12th grade students. Some of these include:
You or your kids might use this popular streaming service to listen to music, but did you know they also offer audio books? You’ll need a free (or paid) account to listen, but if you don’t mind hearing a few ads now and then, you’ll be able to stream (but not download) audio books for free.
The best thing about Spotify’s selection is the opportunity to hear literature read by the authors themselves. The “Poetry: In Their Own Voices” collection includes poets such as Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Milay, e e cummings, Dylan Thomas, Langston Hughes, and many others, reading their own work.
There are also books read by great actors, including Sherlock Holmes read by Sir John Gielguld, as well as classics from Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and categories like Russian Lit and literature from women authors, and fairy tales for kids.
To find audio books on Spotify, go to the browse menu in the Spotify application, click on “Genres and Moods” then scroll down to click on “Word.”
3. Loyal Books
Another online database for free audio book and ebook downloads, this site is easy to navigate and books are available in a variety of different formats and languages. Head to the children’s genre for classics like The Wind in the Willows, A Little Princess, and The Wizard of Oz.
A British site, Storynory features free downloadable and streaming stories for children, including classics from Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, and Oscar Wilde, as well as myths, fairy tales, and original stories. This site is a particularly good option for young children, and students in elementary and middle school.
Sponsored by the Entertainment Industry Foundation, Storyline Online isn’t strictly an audio book service. Instead, the site features videos of actors reading popular picture books. For young children who might miss the pictures in an audio book, 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.
Available for iPad and Android devices, this app from K12 offers beautifully illustrated stories, poems, and plays for children. The free version includes seven stories and poems, while the paid version offers 36 for just $2.99. The app includes a “read to me” feature that can be turned off or on, giving children the option of listening to a story, or reading it themselves.
Do you and your kids enjoy listening to audio books? What are your favorites to listen to? Tell us in the comments!