I wonder what you all think of audiobooks. SCM seem to think that a lot of homeschoolers use them. Do you?
My brother loves them. Enough that he even bought a specially designed waterproof iPod so that he could listen to books while he swims laps. (He says it works well, but that the water makes quite a lot of background noise. In case you're interested.)
One of my bloggy pals, a single mum, homeschooled her two children whilst working full time. They covered a significant proportion of the AO literature list by listening to audiobooks in the car to and from work. Without them she would have struggled to find time to cover the curriculum. Nowadays the drive to work is done alone, but my friend, a voracious reader, continues to listen to many of her books in the car. She often comments that a particular narrator has enhanced her pleasure in a particular series, or conversely that a poorly selected narration has destroyed the book for her.
I haven't used audiobooks much, but we do have two. The Loaded Dog and more Classic Favourites by Henry Lawson is read by Colin Friels. Friels has a great voice - strong and distinctly Australian, without becoming a parody of Australiana.He articulates well, and I find him a pleasure to listen to. My only criticism of this audiobook comes from the author himself, Henry Lawson. When I read these stories aloud, I do some judicious editing to remove the profanities and blasphemies, thereby making the classic Aussie stories acceptable for their 9 yo audience. Colin doesn't do this, and I find his use of God's name unacceptable. Sadly.
The other audiobook is also read by Colin. C J Dennis' A Book for Kids. This one is great, and I highly recommend it if you can get a hold of it somewhere. The problem with this one, for me, is that the print version of this book is one of our dear friends, and I'm afraid Colin just doesn't read the poems right. He doesn't know when I pause, and when I-read-really-fast-and-run-all-the-words-together and when I wait for Jemimah to fill in the missing word. He doesn't know because he is not my daughter's mummy. I am.
They tell me that there are a lot of advantages to audiobooks. Apparently they improve reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. Your auditory processing improves, as does your memory. Apparently you are better able to analyse a book that you listen to rather than one you read. They will get your non-reader interested in reading. They will develop vocabulary and pronunciation, and encourage and nurture a love of reading.
Some of these claims may, indeed be true, in that the audiobook is simply a story read aloud. The skills that Jemimah has attained from read-aloud books are impressive, particularly in her vocabulary, auditory comprehension and listening skills. Jemimah's ability to listen to the spoken word developed from a one time reading, translates to so many situations - the sermon in Church on Sunday; a list of instructions by her parents (pick up your clothes, brush your teeth, refill your drinking glass and hop into bed, please. Let me know when you're ready for a story.) All of these skills apply directly to audiobooks as well, I feel sure. Other claims I am less convinced about. I can't see how a child's reading comprehension improves, for example, by listening to a book on tape (or its modern equivalent!). Most importantly, I do not see that audiobooks nurture a love of reading. In fact, I am inclined to think they do the opposite, cultivating a lazy child who is not willing to master the mechanics of reading for himself. Miss Mason speaks of this in Home Education:
We must remember the natural inertness of a child's mind; give him the habit of being read to, and he will steadily shirk the labour of reading for himself; indeed, we all like to be spoon-fed with our intellectual meat, or we should read and think more for ourselves and be less eager to run after lectures.Later she says:
Home Education p228
A child has not begun his education until he has acquired the habit of reading to himself, with interest and pleasure, books fully on a level with his intelligence...Once the habit of reading his lesson-book with delight is set up in a child, his education is - not completed, but - ensured; he will go on for himself in spite of the obstructions which school too commonly throws in his way. ibid p229The real reason that I don't use audiobooks is because one day when I'm dead and gone, I want Jemimah to remember my voice when she thinks of the Triantiwontigongolope and recites it for her own children. I want her to pause where I do: So try. (pause) Tri (longer pause) Tri-anti-wonti- (even longer pause, and then running quickly together:) Triantiwontigongolope! That's the right way to say it, Colin Friels. Why? Because that's the way I know it, and that's the way I want my daughter to know it. That's all. It's just right.
A friend recently was reminiscing over the audiobook of Jonathan Toomey: "I hope you got Jonathan with the cd - it is wonderful in the car at night to hear such a lovely story...we lost our cd in a car accident, but I can still hear it in my mind 'pish posh...'" See, this is my point. I don't want to remember the sound of a narrator utter Jonathan's 'pish posh'. That's my part. I want Jemimah to remember me saying it. I make him sound all English. He's not of course, but my Jonathan Toomey has quite a plumy English upper class accent. Don't know why, but he does. That's just the way it is.
Speaking of which, I can see an advantage of audiobooks with accents. I would love to have read the Brer Rabbit book by Joel Chandler Harris to Jemimah in the original African-American dialect:
"'Hit's so much trouble fer ter kindle a fier,' sez Brer Fox, sezee, 'dat I speck I'll hatter hang you,' sezee.Nope, Sorry, this white Aussie girl ain't gonna attempt that. No siree, I sez. An audiobook of Brer Rabbit would have been marvellous. An audiobook of Rabbie Burn's poems would be too. I just can't roll my Rs like my Dad.
"'Hang me des ez high as you please, Brer Fox,' sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, but do fer de Lord's sake don't fling me in dat brier-patch,' sezee.
"'I ain't got no string,' sez Brer Fox, sezee, en now I speck I'll hatter drown you,' sezee.
"'Drown me des ez deep ez you please, Brer Fox,' sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, 'but do don't fling me in dat brier-patch,' sezee.
"'Dey ain't no water nigh,' sez Brer Fox, sezee, 'en now I speck I'll hatter skin you,' sezee.
"'Skin me, Brer Fox,' sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, 'snatch out my eyeballs, t'ar out my years by de roots, en cut off my legs,' sezee, but do please, Brer Fox, don't fling me in dat brier-patch,' sezee.
"Co'se Brer Fox wanter hurt Brer Rabbit bad ez he kin, so he cotch 'im by de behime legs en slung 'im right in de middle er de brier-patch. Dar wuz a considerbul flutter whar Brer Rabbit struck de bushes, en Brer Fox sorter hang 'roun' fer ter see w'at wuz gwineter happen. Bimeby he hear somebody call 'im, en way up de hill he see Brer Rabbit settin' crosslegged on a chinkapin log koamin' de pitch outen his har wid a chip. Den Brer Fox know dat he bin swop off mighty bad. Brer Rabbit wuz bleedzed fer ter fling back some er his sass, en he holler out:
"'Bred en bawn in a brier-patch, Brer Fox-bred en bawn in a brier-patch!' en wid dat he skip out des ez lively ez a cricket in de embers."
Apart from examples like these, though, I'm going to stick with read alouds. As the time I have left to read to my daughter diminishes as her skill in reading increases, I'm going to make the most of every minute I have left. I'm going to snuggle together on the sofa with my daughter and read, read, read. I'll edit the American grammar (and references to 'barfing' - what kind of a word is that, I ask you?) in The Penderwicks, and remove the profanities in Little Britches. I'll omit the references to evolution in our natural history books, and edit the brothel scene in Playing Beatie Bow. I'll make Granny Tallisker sound Scottish, and Abigail (formerly Lynette) sound like an Aussie. My Jonathan Toomey will be English. Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty speak like nice Australian girls, their Professor father sounds absent and dreamy and pronounces his Latin the Classical way, like we do. I'll attempt the Yorkshire accent in Lassie. Sometimes when it gets exciting I run-all-the-words-together-into-a-big-long-phrase-with-no-punctuation. When it gets scary I pause. When it gets predictable I expect everyone to guess what happens next. When the suspense is killing I stop in the middle of a chapter. Hah! I'm cruel.
When she is grown, I hope Jemimah remembers these days with pleasure. I hope she will be able to hear her old friends speaking aloud to her, each in her own special voice. And behind it all, I hope she hears the love in her mother's voice as she says, Try. Tri. Triantiwonti. Triantiwontigongolope.