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Should Your Kids Use Audiobooks? Is it Cheating?

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Following along in the book is a great compliment to audiobooks.

Following along in the book is a great compliment to audiobooks.

It’s back to the grind for kids as back to school season fast approaches. If you don’t have a family of bookworms that could mean joining in on the rising debate for parents and teachers alike: does listening to an audiobook count as reading or is it considered cheating? For one, I don’t believe listening to audiobook is cheating at all, but that doesn’t mean the audiobook would necessarily count either.

The main thing to consider is the purpose of the assignment: is it meant to develop reading skills, as in the recognition of words on a page and ability to read more quickly, or is it meant to practice comprehension and to familiarize students with the literature itself? For literary and comprehension purposes, both audiobooks and reading have the same benefits for students, but if the purpose is to increase knowledge with punctuation, spelling, and focus, you can’t substitute an audiobook for reading.

If you do decide the nature of the assignment is comprehension, there are a few things to keep in mind when using audiobooks as a substitute for reading.

1. Distraction. When you’re distracted reading, it’s easy to go back to the paragraph you’d been reading before because your eyes and mind work together to recognize the words on the page.  When you’re listening to an audiobook, it’s easier to just let the sound run in the background during your distraction and harder to go back to the point where you stopped being fully engaged. If your child is going to incorporate audiobooks into their summer reading, try to keep the environment similar to if they are being asked to read a physical book by keeping distractions at a minimum.

2. Memory. A group of psychologists at the University of Waterloo, Ontario wanted to see how our brain’s reacted to different forms of reading material. In the study, 235 test participants were asked to read 3 excerpts from a popular science book: one read silently, one read aloud, and one consumed as an audiobook.  Listening to the passage led to the highest mind wandering, least interest in the material, and poorest memory performance. Make sure your child is staying engaged in the material by asking him or her questions to test their memory and teach them the basis of analysis. Ask what they think about a particular character or ask them to describe what the house looks like. If possible, listen to the book with them and talk about it after to keep them motivated.

3. Word recognition. Word recognition is an essential part to your child’s education. Audiobooks teach an important skillset: listening, but that is not a substitute for reading. Substituting books entirely for audiobooks may be something you can do at an adult age, but word recognition, spelling, grammar, and style can only be taught by reading. A good compromise would be to listen to the audiobook while following along on paper.  This would promote familiarity of words and let your child focus on comprehension.

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