Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
Henry David Thoreau
Yes, yes, condoning the use of electronic media may sound a little contradictory, in light of my last post. But hear me out. While we do curb screen time on road trips, audio resources are a different sort of animal.
Screen time is passive time. Movies and TV are stories that supply everything: visual imagery, dialogue, sound effects. Our kids don’t have to do anything but sit there. Coach potatoes.
Audio stories, such as books and radio dramas, are different. Instead of being spoon-fed images by a screen, a good audio narration forces your child’s imagination to fill in the blanks. What does he look like? What kind of expression is on her face? How big is the castle? How dangerous are the waves? The mind reels. Audio stories are active listening. Plus, when the whole family listens together, the book or narration becomes part of the shared experience.
There are some important ancillary benefits of listening to good quality audio resources, too.
Building narration skills.
As humans, we are made to understand and appreciate stories. But the ability to tell or retell a story is a skill that must be cultivated and honed, starting in early childhood. As with most skills, we stand the best chance of learning it for ourselves when we can see — or, in this case, hear — it modeled well. Providing our kids with quality narration, whether through our own reading of books aloud, or through electronic sources, helps them learn how to present a story to be both understandable and entertaining.
Research suggests that vocabulary skills are an early indicator of student success. But expanding our child’s vocabulary skills shouldn’t mean forcing them to ingest long lists of tricky words. In fact, perhaps the best — and easiest — way to build vocabulary is simply to expose them to more of their native tongue. By hearing more language, spoken by more speakers, using new words in everyday contexts, our kids’ language skills blossom.
Sparking family discussions.
Experiencing a story together — whether it’s fiction or fact — is another way we can broaden our children’s minds. But by taking it a step further, by having a conversation about the story and its characters, we are building into their souls, too. These conversations usher them toward ordo amoris, the proper ordering of affections. By teaching them to love what is lovely, we are shaping our children’s character — and our own.
These discussions often grow out of good questions: Should Edmund have befriended the White Witch? Why did Charlotte save Wilbur? Why did Booker work so hard for Mrs. Ruffner? Why did Almanzo and Cap go after the wheat? These are not difficult questions, but over time, they erect the moral timbers that will frame our children for a lifetime.
Audio resources have become a big part of our family road trips, something we all enjoy, and something that makes the highway miles seem to fly by. There are lots of options to satisfy different ages and tastes, but the best are those that can be enjoyed by everyone — parents and kids of all ages.
Here are some of our favorites:
Radio dramas from Your Story Hour are my family’s hands-down favorite audio resource. Your Story Hour is a Christian ministry that began producing dramatizations of Bible stories and historical biographies for radio broadcast in the 1940s. Each broadcast tells the story with an emphasis on Biblical values, and moral character — but without being heavy-handed or preachy. The stories are well-researched, engagingly written, and dramatized with a broad cast of voice actors, sound effects, and music.
I loved to listen to YSH broadcasts as a child, so I bought two sets on CD for my kids… and they hated them. So I did what any self-respecting homeschool parent would do: I forced my kids to listen to them every night for a solid week. By Night 3, they were hooked. Now they ask for radio dramas every time we hit the road.
(Sidebar: Kids are weird. At least, mine are.)
Among my kids’ favorite YSH episodes are: The Man Who Conquered Pain (about the invention of anesthesia), Mad Dog (about Louis Pasteur’s discovery of the rabies vaccine), Yankee Woman (about Booker T. Washington’s youth and education). I love the episodes about Dwight Moody, Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc, and George Mueller.
Another great audio resource is The Story of the World history series, written by Susan Wise Bauer, and read by Jim Weiss.
The Story of the World (SOTW) is an excellent narrative history that even adults will enjoy. Factual events are interwoven with the myths and folktales of cultures from all over the world. The series itself is broken into four volumes: Ancient Times, The Middle Ages, Early Modern Times, and The Modern Age.
Each volume has a book available, but the audio CD sets are a terrific companion (some might say “substitute”) for the book. Each set is skillfully narrated by Jim Weiss, whose fantastic characterizations bring the stories alive. (And he pronounces all those tricky Assyrian names for you. Take that, Ashurbanipal!)
The Ancient Times CD is a great place to start, because it includes fascinating origin stories from different cultures. (Parents should note that these stories present myths and religious beliefs as they would have been told in their culture of origin, so additional conversations about your family’s beliefs may be warranted, depending upon the age of your kids.) That said, you could pick up any one of the four CD sets to start with, especially if your children already have an interest in a particular time period of history.
When I was a kid, I loved to go to the library and borrow books on tape. (Yes, “tape.” Old. No apologies.) But as a grown-up, given the time, I’d much rather sit down with an actual book in my hand and just read it. Given the time.
Now that I have older and more active kids, with nary a nap between them, the charms of audio books have come to the fore again. We already do a daily read-aloud as part of homeschooling day, but I’m slowly starting to work audio books into our routine, as well.
So where does one find good audio books for consumption on the road?
Reading guru Sarah Mackenzie of Read Aloud Revival shares great resources for all manner of books, including a “Current Audible Deals” page — great bargains with no subscription required! (Sarah also has a great Audible FAQ page, in case you’re new to the particulars of Audible.)
The LibriVox app has thousands of free public-domain audio book titles. LibriVox may not have the talented and famous actors you’ll find narrating books on Audible, but once again, Sarah Mackenzie has you covered: you can find a list of her favorite LibriVox titles, by narrator, here.
You can also find free audio books on Hoopla, a digital media service that many local libraries make available to their patrons. Hoopla allows users to check-out movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics and TV shows. There are limits to how many items can be checked out each month, but their catalog is varied and extensive. (Did I mention FREE?)
I hope you’ll find some of these audio resources to be a great addition to your road trip arsenal. Do you have favorite audio books, or audio resources to share? Post them in the comments below!
View all posts in this series
- Rediscover the Road Trip Making Family Trips a Chance to Thrive, Not Just Survive - June 12, 2018
- Rediscover the Road Trip, Part 2 Getting There is Half the Fun - June 13, 2018
- Rediscover the Road Trip, Part 3 Share What Matters Most - June 20, 2018
- Rediscover the Road Trip, Part 4 Listen to Good Stuff - June 23, 2018