March 19, 2014
Audiobooks have been a homeschool staple at our house for years. In fact, I feel like one of the best things I have done for my kids, starting when they are very young, is to get them listening to classic stories on audio while they are playing with their toys. It has done so much to enrich them in so many ways, and since I can't read aloud to them as often as I wish I could, I am really grateful for that technology.
The library has usually been our go-to source for audiobooks. Most of the six towns we've lived in over the years have had a good selection of children's stories on audio at the library. We have sure appreciated being able to borrow these stories from the library for free... though I must add that while my children were still learning to take good care of tapes and CDs we spent a lot of money in library fines. (You might want to think about that before you check out a book that has 10 CDs, especially if you have very young children. Lose one, and you might have to pay for the whole thing... been there, done that!)
A few years ago I heard about the website LibriVox from a homeschooling friend. She told me it was a website where you could download free audio recordings of books in the public domain. I was very excited about that idea, but when I visited the site at that time I found it not only difficult to navigate but I had trouble getting the audio files to work on my computer. So I moved on to other things and forgot about it.
Later, my sister told me about Audible, an Amazon-affiliated site for audio recordings. She had a membership for $15 a month which allowed her one audio download a month. She could also purchase other downloads for a discount if she wanted.
I thought she was crazy. Why commit to spending $15 a month on audio books when you can get so many at the library, or buy used CDs from half.com or other online merchants?
A year ago we moved to a town where the audio selection at the library was not up to my standards. My oldest in particular was really missing having the rich selection of books on CD, especially some of his old favorites. This is my child with the learning disability, and audio books have been a critical component in his educational success, so I started looking at purchasing the ones we were missing. It wasn't going to be cheap!
I decided at that point it made sense to get a membership at Audible. I figured I would look at the $15/month as a homeschooling expense. We made a big huge wishlist with all our favorites on it, as well as new ones I wanted the kids to experience. Once a month we get to pick out something new. This not only breaks up the expense but makes it more exciting as we wait for our next credit and think about what we're going to get with it. We've been doing it for almost a year and it's been a lot of fun. The quality of the recordings has been excellent and they have a return policy: if you choose one you don't like for whatever reason, you can return it for something different. And we don't have to worry about scratched or lost CDs.
Recently, something got me back over to the Librivox site and I found that it has improved much since I first took a look at it. I found it easy to use. I could easily see what books were available, and many of the classics have multiple recordings. Downloading them was simple and they played on my computer without any problems. And then it hit me how awesome it was that they were all FREE! My son and I got pretty excited as we went through our Audible wishlist and realized that many of the things on there were classics that we could get on Librivox right away without waiting for our next credit.
We went wild and downloaded a bunch of books.
We have been very happy with some of them, but not so happy with others. I guess we've gotten kind of spoiled with the high-quality Audible recordings. Librivox recordings are done by volunteers. Some of them do a practically professional job, some of them don't. And often they switch readers on you between chapters. This can be distracting and even frustrating. My son downloaded a G. A. Henty book and was loving how exciting it was until about a third of the way through when the reader switched to someone with a really dry voice that read action-packed sentences with no emotion whatsoever. The story was much harder to follow at that point.
However, some of the recordings have been really great. And it's so cool that it gives you access to so many classics for free. What an incredible resource for homeschoolers! It's definitely worth putting up with some imperfections. I see a lot of Librivox recordings in our future. I'm still going to hang on to my Audible membership though. It's not a necessity, but it's a little luxury we really enjoy.
Sarah (Birrd) and her husband (Badger), are raising six children in a small cowboy town next to the mountains. She loves daffodils, roasted asparagus, and the writings of L. M. Montgomery. She would love to have you visit her personal blog, The Birrd's Nest.