I love getting questions about books because reading is one of my passions. It has become even more so since becoming a mom because I have seen firsthand the value of stories. They spark imagination and creativity and produce some really great conversation and games!
Recently I was getting into the car. E was already in there. It was dark outside, and I could hardly see. In a barely audible whisper, E says, "Be quiet! This is an underground railroad house! Is anyone following you? Shh...get in really quiet!" I mean, the fact that my 6 year old even knew what the underground railroad made me giddy! We read the Harriet Tubman biography months ago! I think reading together may be the best parenting secret ever!
I remember when she was one and not interested in anything audio really, and I could not wait until she started getting interested in stuff like that! But when do you start? Is it ever too early to start them listening to audiobooks?
I am a fan a good, wholesome audio, whether it’s music or story, and I don’t think it is ever too early to start. Will they be interested? Maybe not, but their interest will grow.
So how do we get our toddlers started on audiobooks? (If you'd rather watch than read, see my highlight bubble called Toddlers & Audio on Instagram.)
1. Make sure you’re reading aloud to your kids.
Most of the time, kids won’t have such a difficult transition to audiobooks when they are used to listening to someone read aloud already. (And as a side note, when you do start listening to audiobooks, still continue reading aloud to them.)
Studies show that babies who are read to as young as six months old have stronger vocabularies and better literacy skills years later. We are preparing our babies for future success when we put them in our laps and share a story.
Most likely the really little ones won’t sit with you for very long, but that’s ok. Snuggle together for a minute and look at the pictures, then when they are ready to get down, you can still read the book while they play. It may not seem like it, but they are listening!
2. Ease into "audio" with something other than an audiobook and see how they respond.
Listening can be an art. Reading or telling a story to a toddler when there are no pictures to look at might be a little hard for them at first. So start them with an exciting story like Patch the Pirate with different character voices and songs or maybe even something like Wee Sing Songs and Fingerplays and then watch how they respond.
A story is a story is a story whether it is an audiobook or a Patch the Pirate. When E was one, we started having her listen to Patch the Pirate during quiet times. Did she pay attention? I don’t really know. She couldn’t tell me about it, but she sure did have those songs memorized, so I know she was listening at least a little bit.
By watching how they respond to stories like this, you can kind of gauge when they will be ready. E was ready at around two and a half or three if remember right.
3. Keep them short.
Once they start showing interest in stories, you can try out some audiobooks, but don’t pull out Pride and Prejudice or Anne of Green Gables. This will most likely turn into a bad experience, and you don’t want that for either of you. Keep the stories short, fun, simple, and sometimes even silly.
Also, don’t feel like you have to borrow a book from your favorite library app. There are a couple of free places you can turn to for audio stories. First check out YouTube. It is the gold mine of read-aloud stories as you will find out in the follow up post.
A second hack is to find some good story podcasts. One we’ve tried out is Little Stories for Tiny People. Her earliest episodes are pretty short.
4. Keep their hands busy.
You’ve probably figured this out by now, but most little ones won’t sit still for a story. For some reason, it’s so much easier for them to listen if they’re hands are busy.
What toddlers can do while listening to a story:
Listen during a snack time or meal time
Blocks or Jumbo Duplo’s
Color (Tape paper to the highchair for really little ones)
Special basket of toys just for listening time
Washable dot markers
“Paint” (with just water for the littlest ones)
5. Don’t get frustrated and don’t quit if they don’t like it.
Some kids won’t be interested in stories as early as others, and that’s ok. Play a story in the background during play time or lunch. Get them used to hearing it. Most kids seem to love stories, so it won’t be long till they are into audiobooks as much as you hope for them to be!
By "don't quit if they don't like it," I mean for the long haul, not one certain book. By all means, if a book is not going well, don’t make them finish it. Sometime stories can be a little too scary or too dull for a toddler. You want their experience at this age to be really pleasant. Right now in their little life, the goal is to grow a love for stories in them so that as they get older, they will continue to enjoy listening and reading on their own.
You want this stage of reading to be fun and exciting, not dull, boring and frustrating. So follow their cues on what they seem to love or what is not working.
Don't get stuck in the toddler books! When they are ready, move them on to longer books. Kids can understand at a much higher level than you would think. By the time they are four, they will most likely be ready for longer stories such as Charlotte’s Web. And this is when audiobooks start getting really fun!
For a HUGE list of recommended audiobooks for toddlers, see the follow up post here. It is full of resources and links that you are NOT going to want to miss!