If the numerous literacy benefits of audiobooks haven’t convinced you of their value in schools yet, consider this: academics aside, audiobooks are good for our mental health! Audiobooks provide an engaging and accessible way for students to develop essential social-emotional skills such as empathy, self-awareness, and healthy communication. Plus, listening to a story read aloud is shown to reduce stress and strengthen relationships.
From infancy through adulthood, we can support the social-emotional well-being of students (and teachers, and librarians, and families…) by enjoying the age-old art of storytelling.
When I first started incorporating audiobooks into my personal reading, I struggled to follow along with the narration. There was always something else I could be doing, and the temptation to multitask interrupted my focus on the story. It is hard to just sit and listen, but audiobooks provide the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness with students. Incorporating short “listening breaks” of 5 minutes or less into the weekly routine can have a positive impact on student well-being. Try a novel in verse, or a book of short stories such as You Are Here: Connecting Flights by Ellen Oh. The point of this exercise is not to assess comprehension, but rather to encourage students to pay attention to the present moment. What do you notice about the narrator’s voice? What did you picture in your mind while listening? Does your body feel restless or calm?
Create Moments of Connection
A good narrator can transport readers into the story, conveying context about a character’s feelings and actions through auditory cues such as pitch, tone, and inflection. Some audiobooks even have multiple narrators that bring characters to life in their own ways, making the story feel even more dynamic. Hearing aloud what a character is saying or thinking can help foster an emotional connection with that character, especially if students have dealt with similar circumstances.
Beyond building empathy, listening to audiobooks in a group setting – whether in class, with friends, or with family – creates a shared experience. So much of our focus is on reading independently; even for book clubs and whole-group novels, we often expect students to do the reading on their own, and then come together to discuss. But storytelling has been a social activity throughout human history! Listening to an audiobook together allows readers to share in the pivotal moments in the story, which builds a sense of community and may encourage less confident readers to join the conversation.
Step into a Story
Having the choice of an audiobook format can help reduce mental fatigue for busy, stressed-out learners. If you’ve ever caught yourself reading the same page over and over, you know that sometimes the work of reading print just isn’t feasible! Audiobooks provide a scaffold for students who might struggle to decode and/or process the meaning of written text. Strong readers and developing readers alike can benefit from increased comprehension, retention, and vocabulary. When we remove the pressure and frustration that comes from reading print, we build bridges for learners to step into new worlds and new perspectives. This is how we make space for all readers to learn and grow.
For more inspiration on how to support students’ mental health with books, check out Students are Struggling. We Can Help by Letting Them Read! by Jen McCarty Plucker.