Recently, in response to a post that I wrote about my daughter's 20 minutes a day of required reading, a mom of a four-year-old boy commented. She said that she and her son listen to audiobooks together constantly. She wondered if, when he is in school, those sessions would count towards time spent reading. I thought about this for a bit, and decided that the short answer is: "It depends." Here's the longer answer.
I would think that listening to audiobooks would count in the same way that books a parent reads aloud to a child would count. For instance, when my daughter was in kindergarten her teacher asked for a list of books that we had read aloud to her each month. I believe that I would have added in any audiobooks that she listened to for that list. And of course I think that listening to audiobooks is a wonderful way for parents and children to spend time together, especially in the car.
Once kids are reading on their own, however, I think the question of whether audiobooks count would be up to the teacher. On the one hand, I believe that listening IS reading - I certainly consider that I've read a book when I've listened to it. Listening prevents me from skimming, in fact, and I generally retain audiobooks better than I do print books. Listening to audiobooks is great practice for holding stories in your head and for visualizing. Listening to audiobooks is particularly helpful for literacy when a parent and child listen together. If the child has a question about a vocabulary word or the meaning of some plot element, it's simple enough to pause the audio and discuss. So, all in all, yay for listening to audiobooks, especially together.
On the other hand, when kids are just learning to read, they do need practice sitting down with a printed book and decoding the words themselves. So, at that point it's important for kids to spend some time reading print books, in addition to listening to audiobooks.
Of course any required reading assignments are going to depend on the individual teacher. I think that when the time comes, this parent could talk to her son's teacher to see what the teacher's goals are and what the best way might be for this mother to support those goals at home. My feeling is that any mother who listens "constantly" to audiobooks with her four-year-old is already doing a great job with literacy development, and probably doesn't have too much to worry about.
What happened in my own household was that my daughter and I dabbled in listening to audiobooks in the car for a while. But then, as her reading skills advanced, she became impatient and wanted to just read books on her own in the car. This was probably influenced in part by her love affair with graphic novels, which don't lend themselves as well to the audiobook format. So the audiobooks have fallen by the wayside for us, for now. I imagine that we'll pick them up again at some point.
As long as kids are reading, it's all good. That's what I say. The details of format will certainly sort themselves out.