Listening for Early Literacy

Listening for Early Literacy

A perennial staple of children’s library programming around the world continues to be public story times. While some communities have access to frequent events such as an infant-targeting Baby Bounce or the toddler-friendly Rhyme Time hosted by children’s librarians, almost all public libraries in the U.S. provide regularly scheduled and thematically varied opportunities for groups of small children and their care providers to enjoy experiences with books together.

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For the care providers, these half-hour or forty-five-minute programs can offer the chance for some adult visiting time, although the best use attending adults might make of such opportunities is to participate with their children to take note of how the library staff leader engages them in exploring books read aloud together. For parents and guardians sure of their own oral reading skills and an interest in children’s books, staff can offer worthy role models for successful family time reading. For children who are too young to read print on their own, listening skills should be encouraged as a necessary foundation for future multimedia literacy, including visual reading. Children’s books offer rich vocabulary, the essential elements of a satisfying narrative arc, and a world of people and places no one child can meet face to face.

With the rise in accessibility of children’s audiobooks, this story time experience can be taken home as well by anyone who wants to give their children language and literacy opportunities, whether or not the adults in the home have the skills and confidence to read aloud well and frequently. Even if a small child is lucky enough to live in a print-rich home with readers willing and able to read aloud to them in a well-paced and child-engaging manner, why limit the opportunities for listening to just those moments when adults have enough time and energy to spare?

Care providers can extend or discover fine library-style story time experiences with audiobooks performed by expert voice actors who — at least in the recording — never tire of the same read-aloud three times in a row or hesitate when an unusual onomatopoeic term unfolds in the text. For those already attending library programs for the very young, the best person to ask for audiobook advice may be the staff member delivering the program. There are, however, other resources readily available as well; many of these have been developed by children’s librarians with keen ears for performance quality as well as deep children’s book knowledge.

AudioFile regularly works with such librarians both as reviewers and as curators for child-oriented listening lists. Care providers new to audiobooks for the young may want to start with the half-dozen or so suggestions on this Audiobooks for Ages 4–6 list, noting how the description considers the performance as well as the content of the audiobook. Audio clips accompanying each description allow parent selectors to sample the sounds, too. There are dozens more under-six listening suggestions here as well, as there are more than 40,000 reviews with about 200 added monthly to AudioFile’s database. Picture book read-alouds typically utilize twelve minutes or fewer of listening time, but don’t let the brevity be confused with their being ephemeral; this time span is great for early childhood listening and a lot of imagination, information, and emotional modeling can be packed into those few minutes.

Looking for a way to share audiobooks with the very youngest of listeners? From your library’s audiobook service, you can download titles onto that old and unused iPod or take advantage of the android-compatible Smart AudioBook Player app to create a child friendly MP3 player with an otherwise outdated and disconnected android phone. Budget wisdom suggests that, rather than buying heaps of audiobooks for this age group, you borrow the audiobooks through the library service. They are so brief that the household will want to frequently refresh the content available to your littlest audiobook listener.