Make it your own

You and your partner are expecting a baby, and you’ve heard the buzz about all the benefits of reading to that baby even while it’s still in the womb. But gosh, it feels a little funny reading to an unseen audience! Maybe you’re a first-time mom-to-be, or an expectant dad eager to share in every aspect of parenting. You settle down happily with a Dr. Seuss book, ready to start bonding with your little one, but you just feel awkward reading a children’s book to someone you can’t interact with and show the silly pictures to.

Well, what about reading some grownup poetry instead? Remember, the essential elements of reading to a baby in utero are:

  • Your familiar voice
  • A rhythmic story or poem
  • Regular reading of the same story or small selection of stories

As shown by the research we’ve been sharing with you here, babies in the womb respond best to rhythmic, rhyming, and repetitive auditory stimulation; such stories are the best remembered and have the most soothing effect on newborns. But of course the meaning of the words you read doesn’t matter to the baby. So you can choose the material you feel happiest and most comfortable reading aloud.

And remember, when a pregnant woman is relaxed and happy, she passes on “feel-good” hormones to her baby. It seems likely that this same effect would take place when she watches and listens to her partner reading to her belly too! You can really make this special reading time your own, specially suited to your tastes and quirks. This can only enhance the fun and connection of the family reading routine you’ll be sharing for years to come. So go ahead and have fun with your choice of stories—you might as well please yourself!

We’ve told you about Shel Silverstein a few times, and we’ll tell you again, because his poems are so charming that they can appeal to any age. Here’s another example of his work, the beginning of “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” from his book of the same name.

There is a place where the sidewalk ends and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind. . . .

How about a bit of nonsense? Lewis Carroll is probably best known for his strangeand beautiful “Jabberwocky,” by no means a poem restricted to children’s appreciation.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe. . .

Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter” is less well known but no less delightful:

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat—
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet. . . .

An illustrated collection of Carroll’s poetry will bring you and your growing family endless hours of reading fun. And while you’re at it, pick up some Edward Lear! “The Owl and the Pussycat” is full of rhythmic, rhyming nonsense, but don’t miss out on his limericks! Lear was responsible for establishing the wide popularity of the limerick form, and these silly poems will be a great pleasure to read for your own sake as well as your coming baby’s. For example:

There was an Old Person of Dutton
Whose head was so small as a button;
So to make it look big,
He purchased a wig
And rapidly rushed about Dutton.


On the other hand, you might prefer to read aloud the poetry of the Romantic age—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats—which is so rich in rhyme and moving language. William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience is a collection of “happy songs every child may joy to hear,” though definitely more comprehensible to the modern adult’s ear. For example, his lovely “Nurse’s Song”:


When the voices of children are heard on the green
When the voices of children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill
My heart is at rest within my breast
And everything else is still.

“Then come home my children, the sun is gone down
And the dews of night arise;
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away
Till the morning appears in the skies.”

“No, no, let us play, for it is yet day
And we cannot go to sleep;
Besides, in the sky, the little birds fly
And the hills are all covered with sheep.”

“Well, well, go and play till the light fades away
And then go home to bed.”
The little ones leaped and shouted and laughed
And all the hills ecchoéd.

Take this as your starting point and search for the poems, lyrics, and stories that most resonate with you. Relax, enjoy the language, and know the baby in the womb is enjoying it too!

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