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How Audio Books Help Children Learn To Read

June 5, 2018

Educator Mary Ryan looks at audio books as a solution for a child who finds reading hard.

Words | Mary Ryan

Recently I had a conversation with the mother of a ten year-old who was struggling with her reading. The little girl had been slow to pick up the skills and although she was able to decode text, her fluency was stilted and the task was not enjoyable. The impact of this was that she did not choose to read.

Regular reading for pleasure and learning are essential for reading development. When children learn to read they learn a number of skills, but the ultimate goal is to make meaning from the text. This is what reading is…making meaning. Like any skill, the more you practice the better you get. So, for a child who finds reading hard, there is a simple solution: audio books.

Listening to a story does not necessarily strengthen decoding skills, (sounding out) however, it does reinforce some of the components of reading. The Rose Report (Sir Jim Rose, March 2006) names 5 essential components of reading. They include, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Phonemic awareness is an awareness of the sounds in words. Phonics is the relationship between letters and the sounds they make. Fluency is the flow of the language, the speed, accuracy and expression. Vocabulary is word knowledge and use. Finally, comprehension is understanding what we read.

Listening to an expert reader reinforces the skills of speed, accuracy and expression. Listening to an expert reader exposes children to new vocabulary, correctly used. Listening to an expert reader still requires the brain to comprehend what is being read, as it does when we read to ourselves.

For an older child who struggles with reading, audio books develop the components of fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. They also give the child access to age appropriate stories, the ones their friends are reading, or the titles they are sharing in class. Simply, they can join in the conversations. Most of us read for the sheer and utter joy of it. Audio books, on top of all the learning they offer, provide to the struggling reader what the rest of us take for granted. Technology can clear the way for the very best things in life.

Non-fiction audio books build topical knowledge that can be used by the child to contribute to rich class discussions while broadening their understanding of the world. The struggling reader is no longer the student who can’t access information, but rather they can be the font of wisdom that everyone wants in their group! At its core, 21st century learning is knowing when and how to access information.

So next time you think, “am I helping or hindering my child’s progress in reading by making audio books available to them,” be reassured. There is no doubt audio books have an educational impact but maybe more importantly they give children full access to the wonderful world of story.

Mary is an educator with more than 30 years experience. She has taught Kindergarten to Year 6 and has held a number of leadership positions in schools across Sydney. Mary has a particular interest in the space between school and home and a determination to empower families and schools to work positively together for the benefit of children.



  1. Anthony

    This was a thoughtful article which I found very useful. Mary has demonstrated her deep knowledge of the subject matter and her practical experience no doubt gained from her years of experience. I wish my children could have been taught by her.

  2. Kate Mercer

    Thank you Mary for highlighting a great strategy to engage struggling readers. Students will develop the skills to decode in their own time, but of course reading is so much more. By giving students access to audio books they have an opportunity to hone other skills like visualising, inferring, asking questions, making connections, analysing, synthesising and evaluating. This creative and critical thinking is so valuable. What a great idea to help support struggling readers and to encourage a life long love of literature! (Please don’t publish my email address)

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