Robyn T. Fink lives in Hoboken, NJ with her husband and two-year-old son Calvin. She is the manager of the Audible Social Engagement team, and will soon be launching an Audible Facebook group for Parents. We asked her to share her experiences as a parent listening to audio with her family.
Audible: When do you listen to audio with your family? Robyn T. Fink: When Calvin was first born and I was breastfeeding, listening to audiobooks was really soothing late at night. You have to be awake but you don’t want to fully wake up, so I didn’t want to be staring at a brightly lit screen on my phone. Listening to audiobooks was the perfect way to pass those nighttime hours. I remember listening to a British memoir called H is for Hawk narrated by Helen MacDonald. Listening to her voice at 3:00 a.m. while holding my baby in my arms—those memories will always be intertwined in my mind.
At age two, Calvin is not too excited by audiobooks yet, but we can tell he’s intrigued. We want to raise an independent kid, so I put on an audiobook while he’s playing by himself. With an audiobook in the background, he can play independently and still be learning, but he doesn’t feel ignored. It’s also nice when he’s winding down for bedtime. Listening is a way to be entertained without being overstimulated. And honestly, it’s a good break for us. At least it’s not screen time.
Sometimes it’s a relief to be able to listen to a book rather than to read it aloud. You can hear the book the way it is supposed to sound when read by a professional (as opposed to my husband, who, despite his best efforts, is no professional!). The narration is a crucial factor for me when choosing audiobooks. I don’t like narrators who talk down to kids. My kid is a child, not a puppy. So I’ve been really delighted to find that some audiobooks for kids have celebrity narrators. One of my favorites, Brave Irene, is narrated by Meryl Streep!
We also like stories that have a sing-song-y quality without being irritating. The language of In the Night Kitchen is very rhythmic, and this version includes music. They sing the chant. Yes, it will still get stuck in your head but it’s not as annoying because it tells a story. It’s not “The Wheels on the Bus.”
A: What have you learned or gained as a family by listening together? RF: Once on a long drive, my husband and I listened to Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. It’s amazing to be able to experience a great story together like that and it inspired me to do that more in the future. I can't wait until Calvin is a bit older and we can listen together to some of my favorites like The Phantom Tollbooth, My Side of the Mountain, and My Father's Dragon.
A: Do you have any advice for other families about kids’ listening? RF: Just have some audio on all the time. I always listened to National Public Radio in the car with my parents. At the time, I thought it was boring, but I realize now that I learned so much by osmosis. Kids will listen and learn. It doesn’t have to be Elmo. Calvin was in the car while we listened to Born a Crime. He may not have understood everything being said, but studies show that kids’ exposure to the spoken word can increase their vocabularies. My kid is young but he is listening and absorbing everything he hears. He mimics us so we know he is paying attention!
A: How do you find good books to listen to with your family? RF: I revisit classics from my childhood. I've loved introducing our son to favorite books from my own youth. Brave Irene has a strong girl protagonist and I want Calvin to hear stories about both genders, not just boys. I love In the Night Kitchen. It’s a weird one but it’s fun. Kids’ books of today are also so creative and funny. I love Knuffle Bunny! And I get recommendations from other parents. It’s good if their kids are year or two older so you their get hand-me-downs.
I discovered a new recommendation last night! Brown Bear Brown Bear is narrated by Gwyneth Paltrow, and it's actually four audiobooks in one. First, Gwyneth reads the story. Then, she reads it again, with a sound alert for turning the page, if you have the physical book. THEN, the story is read again —in Spanish! And THEN, it’s read one final time by the author himself. We listen to this during dinner last night and Calvin really enjoyed it.