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Reading With Your Ears

Last weekend we were out of town on a last-minute road trip. Each direction was nearly eight hours of drive time, with another few hours baked in for rest stops, meals, and attending an online class somewhere with a stable internet connection. Stuffing eight people into a vehicle, even a roomy one, is a recipe for cabin fever and discontent. We came prepared with an audio book.

Audio books are an amazing multitasking tool. They are useful not only for occupying children (and adults) on long car drives, but for any number of uses at home.

My oldest son has a reading assignment this week for one of his online classes: My Antonia by Willa Cather. We have an extensive library, but we don’t own everything. I’ve ordered a copy but it won’t arrive for a few days. Until it shows up, he’s listening to the audiobook. It’s in the public domain so there’s a copy on Librivox. Rather than lose time waiting for a hard copy, he can start in on the story and be ready to discuss it even if the book gets delayed in the mail.

My youngest son is not yet a strong reader. His comprehension for story is years ahead of what he can decipher on the page. I’ve had a few children like this who were late readers. Not necessarily dyslexic—although audiobooks are an excellent way for dyslexics to enjoy stories even while they work on improving their ability to decode text—their brains prioritized development of other skills and then overnight they seemed to be reading on grade level or beyond. During this gap period where what they can understand is far beyond what they can read with their eyes, we’ve used what Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing calls “reading with your ears”. Reading with your ears means that even while your own ability to read may be at the Frog and Toad level, you can be following on with the adventures of Toad of Toad Hall with a recording of The Wind in the Willows.

And then there is the hallowed custom of the Read Aloud. We have an evening custom of reading aloud books to our children. Over the years we’ve read aloud everything from children’s classics to newly published books to spiritual reflections. And usually this works out just fine. Except when my husband and I both end up with laryngitis at the same time. Enter the audio book. Our children still get a good book, well read, while we enjoy our hot tea and recover.

Good books are at the heart of not only a good education but a life well-lived. Don’t limit yourself to only the written word. Consider “reading with your ears” to give you voice a rest, aid a struggling reader, or just keep everyone enjoying an eight hour car ride in relative peace and quiet.

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