Year of Audio Books for Kids Gift Idea
We are 10 hours into our 14 hour drive to Wisconsin and a seemingly impossible joy is radiating from the backseat. "That's grandpa!" shout the delighted voices of our twins as they quickly turn to the first page of their copies of Owen to follow along with Grandpa. Before we left we gifted our twins possibly the easiest and certainly the cheapest homemade gift we have yet to give and it had transformed our road trip.
It came to me during quiet time one day. I was straightening our bookshelf while our kids were lying on their bellies listening to a tape story from the library. They each had a copy of the story and were happily flipping the pages with each beep, their little legs dancing in the air. I always get an extra copy of audio books so that they each have one to follow along with and this is where my inspiration struck.
On our shelves we had tons of duplicates children's books. This was partially because we got a book each month in the mail from the amazing Imagination Library program, but also partially because no one can seem to resist gifting Goodnight Moon to a new baby. The doubles were irritating me until I realized they could be used to create an Audio Book collection of our own.
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The idea is a simple one: record your voice or the voices of loved ones reading children's books (We're going to walk you through that part below). Pair the books with a CD copy of the audio recording and wrap them up pretty in a box.
I highly recommend one book per child if you are gifting this to more than one kid. You can buy children's book relatively inexpensively online at places like Amazon and especially if you are using this in the car it highly increasing engagement and overall happiness (ie. they fight less and are happier :)!)
Audio Books are great for:
*Developing pre-literacy skills
*Developing listening skills
*Use during Quiet Times, before nap times, or on a Road Trip
*Kids ages 3 and up
We choose to make this project a little more difficult (and I would argue awesome) because we had family and friends record each of the books so we have about 15 audio book recordings each by different people.
It is seriously so much fun to listen to them all and have all that love come through the speakers, but it was a challenge to organize. We asked grandparents, aunts, uncles, and honorary aunts and uncles to record books and coordinated this across 5 different states. It is absolutely doable, but you could just record the books yourself as well.
Start by picking the books. Some questions to ask:
*How many audio books do I want to gift?
*How many people do I want to include in the recordings?
*What books do we already have more than one copy of at home?
*What books do my kids love and will enjoy hearing the most?
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean
King Bidgood is in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood
Owen by Kevin Henkes
Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
Otis and the Puppy by Loren Long
Not Your Typical Dragon by Dan Bar-el
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Have the person reading the book find a quiet space with the book and their smartphone. If they are not nearby consider transcribing the book text and e-mail it to them. We also had some family members record their books at Thanksgiving when we saw them in person and could bring copies of the books.
Bring up the voice recording app on their phone: Voice Memos for iPhone or a free voice recording app for Android.
1. Start by introducing the reader and the book (i.e. This is Uncle Pat and I will be reading Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons).
2. Begin reading the story taking a short pause between pages. You will want to let the reader know that they should not be speaking while they are turning the pages. As adults we read ahead in our mind the last few words of a page so we can finish the paragraph as we turn the page however the voice recorder will pick up the sound of the pages being turned which will make the story harder to hear for your children. As long as they finish reading the page first and then turn the page this noise can be edited out later.
3. Once every page is read encourage the reader to say "the end" and add any personal message they would like then stop the recording.
Most voice recording apps have an export function. The iPhone for example has a box with an arrow coming out of it icon that when clicked provides options for how to send the voice file.
Have the reader e-mail the file to you. A few people sent the file through text message but the audio quality is reduced and the format is harder to work with.
Once you have the e-mail download the file onto your computer so that you can begin editing. Please note: My husband is a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to stuff like this. These are his very detailed directions. They are long to be precise not to overwhelm you!
1. You will need an audio editor on your computer. For this project we used Audacity which my husband has been using for years. It is free and if you download it from their website (http://www.audacityteam.org/download/) is a safe file. When you go to download the file for your type of computer you will see the main file at the top and a list of optional files (you will need this in the next step).
2. In addition to downloading/installing the program you will also need two additional files. Follow the links to download the LAME MP3encoder and FFmpeg (You will first be taken to the audacity manual page then linked to the lame download page). These optional files are important as it allows you to open the files and then save your edits as a playable mp3 file.
3. You have the audio recording and the editor but you need one last thing. The time to turn the page ding. We used https://www.freesound.org/search/?q=ding to locate something we liked and downloaded a copy to our computer.
4. The first thing you will do is get rid of background noise. Open up the voice recording file in Audacity. You will see a grey bar with a blue graph of all your sound, the areas where the blue rises above and below the center line represent the loudest sound where the center line only represents silence.
Find an area of the recording where the sound is closer to silent. Use the magnifying glass logo and then click to zoom on this area. Switch back to the selection tool and select a few seconds of the silence.
Then under the Effect menu choose Noise Reduction then select Get Noise Profile (this will identify any background noise in the selection you had just made) the Noise Reduction menu will close. Press Ctrl-A or Apple-A to select all of the recording. Open the Noise Reduction option a second time and this time click OK. It should pop up a progress bar as the background noise is removed.
5. The second step is creating silence between pages and adding to or reducing the pauses.
You will want to zoom into the audio so you can see about 10 seconds at a time. Use the Selection Tool to place your starting point at the begining of the track. Press play and listen as you follow along in the book. When it is time to turn the page listen to what happens in the space in between. Press stop and then use the Selection Tool to highlight the area between the two areas of text being read. Go to the Generate Menu and choose Silence then click OK (this just removed the noise in this gap of the reader breathing and turning the page).
Now you can use the selection tool to create a longer or shorter pause between pages, you want to have about 5 seconds of silence. If you want a longer pause use the selection tool to select a portion of the silence you just created then copy the selection, click with the selection too and paste it into the break to increase the length of the pause. If you feel the pause is too long use the selection tool to highlight a portion of the silence and then click the delete button on your keyboard to remove some of the time.
6. Now add the beep or ding for the page turn! To add the page turn beep go to the File menu and choose New, this should open a new window. Then from the File menu choose open and select the ding sound that you downloaded earlier. You should now see the sound information for the ding (note that it will likely be very zoomed in. Use the selection tool to highlight the ding sound. Return to the file you are editing and then about 2 seconds after the person is done reading use the selection tool to indicate where you want the ding and then paste the audio from the ding. You will end us with about 2 seconds of silence, the ding, and then 3 seconds of silence.
Note: If there is a page without words leave 10-15 seconds of silence for your child to look at the picture. Now repeat for each of the page turns in the book; thankfully kids books are short right?
7. Export. Once you are done and the book sounds good start to finish you can export the audio. Go to the File menu and select Export Audio. Name the File the title of the book and then change the Save as Type to MP3 Files. Click Save. You will be prompted to Edit Metadata where you ccan add an Artist Name (the person reading or book author), the Track Title (book name) and a few other things you can make up if you would like. Then click OK at the bottom of the popup.
You now have a MP3 that you can burn to a blank writable cd. Most computers that have a cd burner have a built in program to do that. I know for a Windows PC you can open Windows Media Player and click on the Burn tab. Then it is just a matter of dragging ang dropping the file you created into the burn list and clicking Start Burn. We only put one story per CD.
Once burned label your CDs with the title and reader (a sharpie works great). Then place the book and CD in a one gallon ziplock bag. You now have a homemade audiobook ready for use.
For Christmas morning, you will want to wrap up the bags of books paired with CDs in a Gallon Ziplock Bag. We put the whole collection in a big box for them to unwrap together.
Our kids didn't have a CD Player so we also bought and wrapped one for an additional gift to use at home with the collection.
Grandpa finishes the story and our twins call out "The End!" They happily hand their books forward and then say "Next book please!" We are still 3 hours and 55 minutes from seeing Grandpa in person but at least for now we have plenty of entertainment.
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