When I was a kid, my little brother and I spent many long summer hours playing around with our cheapo tape recorder. We had a bunch of books on tape ("Turn the page when you hear the chime...") and a handful of music albums (Thriller was on heavy rotation), but our favorite thing to do was insert a blank cassette, press "record," and just goof around.
A quarter-century later, somewhere in my mom's closet is a box of tapes of her chipmunk-voiced children singing their ABCs, telling dumb jokes, and squabbling over whether Minnie and Mickey were husband and wife or brother and sister. Those recordings are of zero monetary value, but their sentimental worth is unmatched. I'd save them in a fire, and I think she would too.
These days, when so many of us are photographing and filming every little thing our kids do, a basic audio tape recording might seem a little lo-fi. I mean, why just get the kids' voices when you can have them in full-color, high-quality HD, right? Well, for me, part of the fun is that it is lo-fi. In the same way there will always be a soft spot in my heart for real Polaroids, there's something charming about a cassette tape you can actually hold in you hand. As for your kids, how many of them have actually even seen a tape recorder? Don't you think they'd get a kick out of it?
If you're worried that using cassette tapes means not having a digital backup stored on a secure hard drive in a disaster-proof vault somewhere...maybe you need to get a grip. Just kidding; I worry about that stuff too! If you want to go digital, here are some notes:
- There are plenty of modern audio recorders out there to meet your needs, whether you're looking for something super high-tech and fancy-schmancy or just a dinky little handheld unit that won't break when your kids drop in on the sidewalk for the hundredth time. Definitely keep durability and ease of use in mind if you're going to let your kids run wild with your recorder.
- Yes, there's an app for this. The iPhone app called Recorder is $.99 and so simple I'd trust my three-year-old with it (after I wrapped my phone in bubble wrap first). Recorder can capture seconds, minutes, or hours of audio (depending on your phone's storage capacity), and the files download right into iTunes.
- Android has a free version called Audio Recorder. The display graphic looks like an old-school cassette tape. Aw.
- Another advantage of digital recording is the ability to share your snippets via email and social media. Just sling them around like you do regular mp3s. Easy peasy.
- Incorporate a compilation CD of audio recordings into your scrapbooks. A lot of albums come with a CD sleeve attached to the inside back cover; if yours don't, just glue one in.
If audio recording sounds like something your family would dig, here are a few final tips:
- Ambiant recordings can be fun too. Set your device on the
tablecloth during a picnic with friends. Take it to the swimming
pool. Record some silly moments from a road trip. Last weekend we
recorded a ride on a century-old steam train through the redwoods. Chugga chugga choo choo! Good times.
- Get the old folks in on the act. Have Grandma and Grandpa send recordings of themselves reading stories, singing silly old songs, and telling tales about when they were kids. Voila, priceless heirloom. And way better than listening to the Barney CD every time you get in the car.
- Find an audio pen pal. Who do you know that's willing to snail-mail CDs or tapes back and forth with your family? Long-distance cousins? Friends you don't see often enough? Kids of Internet pals you met on Twitter?
- Try a combination of structured and unstructured recordings. Ask your kids to tell stories, or interview them about whatever fun activity they did that day, but also just let them ramble on about whatever. That's where the magic happens.
Have you done any audio recording with your kids? Are you going old-school or using the latest and greatest technology?