A few months back, one of our participants in Books for Babies asked if audiobooks could be helpful for a baby.
This is a great question because we always talk about how much a baby enjoys being talked to and sung to. And how starting around 18-24 months, a baby begins to understand stories that have a narrative.
However, even though they love the sound of language, a baby is still particular about which voices they will listen to. And while they love face-to-face interaction, a disembodied voice is usually ignored at best and a distraction at worst.
We take voices for granted, and listening to the radio, or talking on the phone seems normal to us. But have you ever tried talking to a toddler on the phone? As much as they might love you, you can usually only keep their attention for a few seconds before they drop the phone or start pressing buttons. They don’t find the experience engaging, even though you are talking directly to them.
Video chat works much better—it’s still not as great as face-to-face conversation—but you’re not nearly as likely to be abandoned mid-conversation, or at least not as quickly.
Listening to stories is similar. Without pictures to connect to the story, or some kind of related object to explore while you tell the story, your toddler will often lose interest quickly. (Don’t forget that we’re talking about an older baby here.)
So, as much as I personally enjoy audiobooks, it’s not something I would recommend trying with a baby or young child. It’s just too much to expect them to pay attention to a story that is being told by someone who isn’t in the room with them, about someone they haven’t met, doing something that they can’t even see.
But don’t take my word for it, experiment! Use the voice recorder on your phone and record yourself reading a book. Sit down with your baby and the book and turn the pages while you play the recording. Watch how your child reacts. Another time, sit down together without the book and listen to the recording together. What does your baby do this time? These are both very different experiences than sharing a book with your child in real-time, responding to them, and inviting their participation in the process.