Introducing Audiobooks to Toddlers & Preschoolers

Twenty something years later I can still vividly recall listening to the audiobook of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on a road trip with my parents. The story was so clear in my mind that watching the eventual release of the movie felt jarring against my mental images stored up from a decade earlier. When I became a parent I knew I wanted to share the world of audiobooks with my children. “But when?” I wondered. Most of the articles I have come across are for school aged kids. I couldn’t wait that long!

audiobook preschooler

Today I’m sharing how we first introduced audiobooks to our bookworms: our stepping stone experiences.  At age 3, we are just transitioning Preschool Bookworm to traditional chapter audiobooks, defined by me for this post as books that aren’t listened to in a single setting. I’ve drawn an invisible line at age 3 for this post because this is when I’ve seen a shift in comprehension and stamina. We are now reading together books that require a bookmark, and transitioning to audiobooks with longer plot lines. We still aren’t ready for true chapter audiobooks because PB requires more scaffolding: questioning, checks of comprehension, modeling through think alouds, illustrations to support building mental images (more on this in my upcoming chapter book post). Instead, the types of audiobooks we seek out are either narrated versions of picture books or very short chapter books that are familiar from read alouds. In this post, I’m focusing on introducing audiobooks to toddler & preschool aged bookworms, around age 3 and below.

audiobooks toddlers preschoolers

Starting Out

Toddler Bookworm, being the second born, has already been listening to audiobooks for essentially his entire life thanks to big bro bookworm (he’s now 18 mo). When Preschool Bookworm was our only, we first introduced audiobooks somewhere around age 2- 2 1/4. He really got going, requesting them himself, closer to 2.5. It all started organically after I snagged a copy of a picture book with an included CD at a library book sale. It was a Caldecott Award book that I recalled sharing when teaching library storytime, so I picked it up figuring it was worth the $1. I had no idea what a bang we’d receive for that buck! The book was Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, and I’m not truly sure how to describe to you how special this book is to our family. I described it in Preschool Bookworm’s 3 year update. He simply adores it, and it has opened up the world of classical music to him. (We’ve attended two children’s orchestra concerts, and he is able to name every instrument thanks to this book.)

audiobook toddler

Our other first foray into the audiobook format was listening to Lots of Little Pigs by Laurie Berkner. This is essentially a retelling of The Three Pigs set to music. It’s around 5 minutes long and provides a great introduction to listening to an extended story, practicing creating mental images, and anticipating repetition. (Also great to act it out while it’s playing!)

Back to our very first audiobook experiences:

  1. We listened to audiobooks of already familiar & beloved stories. (Pete the Cat and Click, Clack, Moo were early favorites)
  2. We listened to short books with audio and physical books together to learn the concept of the “page turn” sound effect.
  3. We listened to books with added “effects” to dramatize the story: thunder, music, excellent narration.

Picking Up Speed

Now, my kids more often than not listen to audiobooks without having a copy of the text next to them. Similar to how I share books with my kids as “background reading” while they play (read more about that in my posts here and here), audiobooks step in when I cannot read: in the car, while I shower, during independent playtime. This alternative to screentime keeps their bodies more active than zoned out at the screen (except when they’re in 5 point harnesses, of course!). They are exposed to a richer vocabulary and they grow accustomed to more sophisticated language (varied sentence structure, variety of topics). Audiobooks aren’t a substitute for reading aloud with my kids, but a supplement, another layer of literacy to broaden their horizons. My kids LOVE their audiobook time and become quite irritated if I forget to set it up! (Our car CD player was broken for a while. Heaven forbid!) I haven’t taken a shower without hearing an audiobook through the monitor in MONTHS.

Heard Any Good Books Lately? Our Favorites

I have a pet peeve when it comes to audiobooks– when it takes me more time to set up the story than it does to listen to! Two minute stories aren’t worth it in my opinion, beyond the initial stamina building stage, or for older bookworms who are learning to read themselves. I always check running times before checking out. We’re really aiming for the sweet spot of longer, more substantial picture books and shorter chapter books (or collections of short stories).

Pete the Cat. On the book’s website you’ll find a nice selection of videos of the Pete books, but also included are audio versions (narration & the songs that are part of the text, no visual element) of four of the books. I like to play the audio versions, sometimes with and sometimes without a copy of the book in front of us, rather than simply watching a video. These are on the border line of being too short, but for Pete we make exception! A great “first audio” choice. (All run about 4 minutes.)

audiobook pete the cat

Leo the Lightning Bug and Ellison the Elephant. These two are produced by Kidwick Books and have a similar story arc, but they are distinct enough to own both. I used Leo to introduce audiobooks to my kindergarteners, and it has been a hit with Preschool Bookworm the same. Both books feature fantastic effects to bring an added layer to the story: a thunder storm, echos, jazz music, and the like.

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin. As I mentioned earlier, our longest running favorite (in months, not recording time). It teaches counting, sophisticated vocabulary, and pairs each instrument when introduced in the text with its sound, eventually building from solo, duo, trio, quartet, to nonet and full orchestra. (I’m not certain if the library binding of this book comes with a CD or not. There does appear to be an Audible version! Check your library, of course. )

audiobook in car

Mercy Watson Collection. Yes, you can listen to one an entire 80-page chapter book while running errands. See Tuesday. Mercy is one of our all time favorite book series, regardless of who reads it aloud.

The Poky Little Puppy. A classic favorite book (see my post here), the audiobook is excellently done and just long enough!


I’m pretty old fashioned when it comes to audiobooks. I like my CDs. Yes, they’re fallible and prone to scratches, but aren’t we all? 😉 Your local library likely has a collection for the old souls among us. However, libraries increasingly have robust collections of digital audiobooks for young and old alike. Check your library to see if they offer Overdrive, Hoopla, OneClick, or eReading Room for Kids. These will allow you to download directly to your chosen device after creating an account with your library card. Items are returned automatically at the end of their borrowing period. All free. (I talked more about this in my roadtrip post.)  The only downside to borrowing audiobooks is that you don’t own them. Duh. Returning audiobooks seems to have a greater sting to Preschool Bookworm than regular books. Maybe his attachment is greater. 😉



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