Using audio stories and MP3 players in the EYFS

Eleanor Johnson

Eleanor trained as a teacher in 1984 and has taught mainly in the EYFS since then. In 2003, she began teaching children with speech, language and communication difficulties within a mainstream school and was then appointed co-ordinator of a two year language and communication intervention project with responsibility for developing teaching resources and guidance. This was delivered to schools in North West Durham.

Eleanor has always used audio resources as part of her regular teaching activities and, aware of the importance of supporting children’s listening and spoken language skills, she came up with the concept of StoryPhones, an MP3 audio system designed specifically to make listening an easy and accessible activity for all children. Eleanor left full time teaching in 2008 to concentrate on the design and development of StoryPhones with her husband Simon. Alongside StoryPhones, they have developed an educational download store called BookShelf, which now contains 100’s of audio stories, song, listening games and MFL resources provided by leading publishers such as Pearson, Walker Books and OUP.

Eleanor still teaches regularly, and focuses on the development of the BookShelf download store. She also delivers training and leads workshops promoting the use of audio resources and the benefits that children can gain from taking part in regular listening activities.

Twitter: @storyphones



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I have recently spent a few days teaching in an EYFS Unit. It’s been a wonderful chance to share my love of storytelling and use of audio stories with the children. It’s also been an interesting opportunity to observe children’s reactions to the different ways of sharing and listening to a story.

I don’t claim to be the world’s best story teller but I like to think that, when reading with a group of children, most of them will be listening. A good story and a lot of enthusiasm go a long way! However, the children knew that there was an audio story to accompany the book so were keen to listen to this the next day, which we did, and they were gripped. What struck me when observing the children as they listened was the way that they reacted to the music and sound effects. I was also impressed at how intently many of the three year old children were listening.

The story we were listening to had some wonderful sound effects and accompanying music. When done successfully, these effects can almost tell the story on their own and add an extra dimension to the spoken narrative. (This is why I feel it is important to be as careful about choosing an audio story as you are when choosing a printed book.)

We all listened to the story on our loud speaking MP3 player and followed along with the book. By not being the reader, I was able to add comments and prompts here and there and to take a small step back and observe the children’s reactions and encourage others to join in. We had fun curling and uncurling elephant trunks and joining in with the dancing (we were listening to ‘Albert’s Tuneful Trunk’ by the brilliant Neil Griffiths) and at one point the whole group spontaneously burst out with ‘ahh’ when Albert the Elephant cried. That was a very interesting moment, because the children hadn’t reacted that way the day before (although it could have been my storytelling!) but I felt they were responding to the sound effects and the music.

We know how important it is that our children become fluent readers and lifelong readers and there is growing concern that although our children may be learning to read successfully, fewer are choosing to read for pleasure. I believe that audio stories should play a regular role in the range of tools we use to support and encourage our children’s reading skills and love of reading. It may be that, by offering our children a variety of ways to enjoy a story, it catches the attention and interest of a child who otherwise would not engage with a book.

Audio technology has a role to play too. Having used audio equipment ranging from record players and LPs, to MP3 players and digital audio, it is the versatility and flexibility of MP3 players which can offer practitioners and children the vehicle for really easy, accessible listening. We often hear comments from teachers using MP3 players saying they appeal to boys who have previously never shown much interest in sitting down and reading a book. I also find that using a loud speaking MP3 player allows you to maintain that intimacy of the shared story time while listening to a story along with a book. I have lead listening sessions curled up on cushions or outside in the middle of the grass. So, I will be back in the classroom again soon, armed with my MP3 player, books and audio stories and ready to have fun listening!

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