Sunflower Summer Reading: Long summer days are the perfect time to get lost inside a book! Join Sunflower throughout the summer, as we explore reading aloud in all its forms and benefits.

This post is Part 2 in the series. Read Part 1 here: Read me a story? As you wish.


When my daughters were growing up, over twenty years ago, I read to them untold hours. We went to libraries, we went to bookstores, and one day when they were busy in the children’s section I found my first audiobooks. A most delightful world opened up for me and my children.

We know that when children are first learning to read they benefit greatly from a strong language bank. But I didn’t think much about this when I took out an audiobook for us to listen to on the way home. After we had listened to many audiobooks– and I had read boatloads about children and reading– I learned that not only is a child’s listening vocabulary important for learning to read, they also benefit greatly from experience with the rhythm of written language, which is very different from the rhythm of spoken language.

Listening to books (live or taped) gives young people valuable experience with the rhythm of writing and the scope of story. When children who are able readers listen to books beyond their reading ability, they experience a rich vocabulary, complex sentences and sophisticated story arcs. These experiences give them tools to grow to be stronger readers.

two kids on a swingset

As a culture we value reading more than listening. But hearing is not listening any more than word-calling is reading.

I found it most interesting that in my daughters’ teen years, when they talked about a book, they always said, “when I read…” Sometimes they had read the book, sometimes I had read the book to them, and many times they had listed to the audiobook. My daughters saw no distinction between reading the book and listening to the book.

As adults we make this distinction. As a culture we value reading more than listening. Maybe because most of us can hear when we are born, but we have to learn to read. But hearing is not listening any more than word-calling is reading.

We have to learn to read and to listen. Audiobooks can play a strong role in both learning to read and in learning to listen. When we encourage young people to listen to books, we lay the groundwork for better readers– readers who have the ability to not just read, but to truly comprehend what they are reading.  We listen to books because we are story driven. When young people listen to a skilled reader, they experience the nuance of language and the dance of the story without having to struggle to decode the words.

To be able to not only read, but to read critically, and to comprehend what they are reading, the reader needs to be able to draw nuanced meaning from the text. To get here, the reader needs a great deal of experience with the written word. Reading the book and/or listening to the book will feed this need. But we (adults in general, parents in particular) often grow uneasy when our children listen to books. We have a not-so-closeted fear that, if we let them listen, they won’t want to do the heavy lifting required for reading.

We need to rethink this predisposition. Audiobooks are a resource, not a competitor, in our effort to grow readers who are both good readers and love to read. If we think audiobooks are “okay until you can really read,” or they are “only okay after you can read,” we are limiting a great resource. Audiobooks should be respected for the many reading and listening skills they build, as well as the joy they bring to the listener.

Post by Lora McCoy
Photo and Sunflower Summer Reading Graphic by Meade Peers McCoy

Lora is the mother of two grown, mostly home-schooled, daughters. She has a degree in special education (now called exceptional education) from Florida Atlantic University and practiced her craft in the Broward County school system before moving to Massachusetts. Lora is a founding member of, and continues to serve on, the Sunflower Board of Directors. She is immensely interested in the act of ‘learning to read’ and ‘loving to read’ as one and the same.