Happy Daddy-to-Be Day!

Preg DadThere’s no better way to for us to inspire you, the expectant father, to read to your baby before birth than for you to hear from fellow daddies who have experienced the magic of in-utero reading firsthand. We just happen to have some amazing stories from a couple of incredible dads-to-be who  bonded with their expected child by reading to Mommy’s baby bump. We’ll wow you with their stories first, and then tell you all about the evidence supporting this practice and also how to begin!

Meet Everett Bowes. He’s a first-time father who, as you can see from the photo below, is truly enjoying the benefits of having read to his son before he was born. Everett heard about the benefits of prenatal storytime, and…well you can hear it from him:

Early in my wife’s pregnancy we heard about the benefits of reading to a baby still in the womb. . . . I read to Emerson every day. In fact, I often read to him multiple times per day. When he was just a few weeks old I read it to him for the first time outside the womb. We were shocked at his response. He seemed to recognize the story immediately, including all of my silly Everett Bowesaccents for the different characters. He made sounds and waved his arms excitedly as we read. Babies his age don’t smile like this, yet he wouldn’t stop smiling, squealing, and waving. We couldn’t believe how clearly he recognized the story. This is one of our most treasured memories.

See the whole beautiful Storehouse story here.

Everett’s story is an amazing example of an exciting trend. More and more expectant fathers are bonding with their sons and daughters before birth through the power of their voice. And in that incredible moment when their newborn first responds to Daddy’s voice and a familiar story or song, the baby/daddy bond comes to life.

Here’s another one. Thanks to Brigid Hubberman of the Family Reading Partnership in Ithaca, New York, for sharing this wonderful anecdote about a dad she knows who regularly read The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle to his baby in utero. She told us:

Hungry CaterpillarAfter a long and difficult labor, when baby was finally born by C-section, the new dad found himself exhausted, alone and panicked in the recovery room with a shrieking new baby. Looking down he felt the words well up, and found himself say to the baby, “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.” Immediately, the baby quieted down and looked into her father’s eyes as he told the story of the caterpillar that turned into a butterfly. There is no doubt that this baby was soothed by the familiarity and comfort of her father’s voice reading (by heart) a story that was already her own.

Almost convinced? Well, here’s the research part. You’ve probably heard of Dr. Sears, the world-renowned pediatrician who wrote Keys to Becoming a Father. He says, “Studies have shown that babies whose fathers talked to them before birth attended more to their father’s voices soon after birth, perhaps indicating that the sound of the father’s voice had been imprinted on the mind of the preborn baby.”

Daddy and BabyAccording to Dr. Sears, “Some researchers suspect that the preborn baby actually may hear the father’s voice better than the mother’s, because the amniotic fluid transmits the resonant low-pitched male voice more easily than a higher feminine voice.” So there’s the scientific evidence you might have needed to know that your baby will hear and learn your voice from inside Mommy’s tummy. (More about this fascinating research on the sidebar of our blog if you are interested.)

After reading all that, we’re certain that you are chomping at the bit to get started, right? So, how does a dad begin? First he should designate a special and regular time each day to snuggle up to his expectant partner and her belly. (Make sure to ask her first!) Choose a story that is rhythmic and repetitive; the research says that babies respond best to stories with an inherent beat. (We have some excellent suggestions in our Reading Roundup post.)

Read the same story or poem each time and we promise that your unique daddy voice and the story will soon become familiar to your baby. Also, there is some evidence that it may help the acoustics if you keep your mouth right up close to the belly.Reading Daughter

Once your baby is born, the magic will begin. She will reward her daddy for his efforts by becoming immediately calmed and soothed as he reads the story she’s already come to love. What an incredible connection you will have created with your child!

Reading to an unseen listener may feel odd at first, but you’ll find that sharing this special reading time with your partner and expected child will become a loving family routine, the cornerstone of family bonding for many years to come. And as you can see, you won’t be alone. Many dads are jumping on the prenatal-reading bandwagon. If a father reads to his unborn child every night, he will have a special opportunity to bond with his child and establish a routine that can be continued long after the child is born.

For some specific instructions from an actual dad, please check out this awesome blog post from Dad’s Adventure.

And you must check out Daddy Elvin Freyte’s blog, Majendome. He’s started a powerful movement to inspire fathers around the globe to embrace this practice.

Bedtime StoryNow you’ve heard the stories and seen the evidence that supports the power of reading to your baby in utero. The rewards will continue throughout your child’s lifetime as you establish a Daddy/baby storytime that will continue for years to come.

So go ahead, Daddy-to-be — read to your baby! When he is born and you say hello, he’ll be thinking, “Hey, I know you!” And when you share the story he’s heard so many times before, your little one will become an alert and attentive audience, captivated by his daddy’s voice, the voice that is yours and yours alone.

Celebrate World Read Aloud Day with your baby-to-be!

LitWorldLogo

Not only is March National Reading Month, but March 2nd is Read Across America Day, and March 4th is World Read Aloud Day! If you are an expectant parent feeling intrigued by the idea of reading to your baby in the womb, we say: Give it a try on Wednesday, March 4! If you carry on through the rest of the month, we think you’ll be hooked. And this is one of the best things you can do for your baby, right up there with prenatal nutrition and healthcare.

World Read Aloud Day, celebrated annually on the first Wednesday in March, was initiated by LitWorld, an international literacy advocacy organization. According to LitWorld, this day “motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another.” We heartily approve of LitWorld’s mission (the emphasis is ours):

LitWorld photo of WRAD 2014
LitWorld photo of WRAD 2014

We cultivate a love of reading and writing because having the chance to experience that love is how literacy grows best and strongest. Literacy for LitWorld is not just about learning the alphabet or phonemic practice; it is also about cultivating creative expression, about the power of the read-aloud to immerse children in the power of language, and about putting young people’s stories out into the world, dignifying their experience and giving them a voice in the world.

Yes! And that powerful read-aloud time with your child can begin even before birth. In the last three months of pregnancy, when the baby’s brain and auditory system are already developed enough for him to hear and recognize sounds, you can start practicing this important reading routine and enjoying the feeling of sharing the love of language with your child. The benefits of in utero reading to babies’ cognitive development and language skills have been well documented over the last several years (just check out the Research section in the sidebar).

So we’re really excited to tell you about the latest contribution to this body of work, just reported on February 24. This study, led by the Harvard Medical School, showed that a baby’s brain development is e24441283_snhanced by hearing its mother’s voice and heartbeat before full gestation. “We theorize,” say the researchers, “that exposure to maternal sounds may provide newborns with the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development.” We’re right there with you!

All the benefits of reading aloud to children that LitWorld so passionately advocates, combined with the wealth of scientific support for reading to babies in the womb, make it abundantly clear that It’s Never Too Early to Read to Your Baby!

12070233_sStart this joyful and valuable storytime routine right now, during National Reading Month! Book lovers everywhere are commemorating this special month with activities to spread the love of reading, and the National Education Association celebrates Read Across America on March 2 with fun events in schools, libraries, and community centers around the U.S.

Do you need some tips to get started? Please see this post for a fuller exploration of Jim Trelease’s read-aloud insights, but here are a few for now:

  • Use plenty of expression when reading: You can use your voice to reflect the meaning of the text. Use a soft voice for gentle characters and moving moments. Use a loud voice to show strong emotion or to emphasize adventure or excitement.
  • Adjust your pace to fit the story: Read slowly to bring attention to beautiful language and imagery. Read more quickly to show movement and action.
  • Preview the book by reading it to yourself ahead of time: This way, you’ll be more comfortable when you start to read it aloud. Reading it to yourself a few times will help you plan how the story might sound when it is spoken.

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Happy Reading! 

The Tale of an Insatiable Reader

Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Warmest thanks to Gina of the wonderful blog Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers!

What made Gina such an avid book lover? Her mother read to her in the womb, of course! Read her story and her kind words about our book for reading to babies in the womb, Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be.

Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers: Can’t Wait to Show You by Jacqueline Boyle and Susan Lupone Stonis.

Your voice + rhythm = a love song to baby

ReadingNew studies continue to emerge that support the idea that a baby in the womb is capable of a lot more than was previously thought. Just last week, researchers at the University of Florida announced their discovery that babies in the last trimester learn and remember nursery rhymes, and that they become especially attentive when the rhymes are read by their mother!

Discoveries like these have made it clear that a baby in the last trimester is an active and responsive member of the household, someone who hears, learns, and remembers what he is exposed to in the womb. Think about what this means! Your baby is already familiar with his sibling’s laugh, the sound of your dog barking, the musical theme of your favorite show, and most importantly, the melody and cadence of your voice.

21492380_sPrevious research in this area strongly suggests that a baby is soothed and calmed by a rhythmic and repetitive story — or song — because the inherent beat closely mimics the rhythm of his mother’s heartbeat and breath. It makes sense, doesn’t it? A baby in the womb is cozy, warm, and comforted by the “ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump” of your heartbeat, and the in-and-out “whoosh” of your breathing. If you read a rhythmic story, he will also be soothed by the rhythm of your voice, which he can hear quite well by the third trimester.

When your baby is born, he’s taken out of this soothing environment, with its predictable, rhythmic sound. But if you hold him close and read a rhythmic poem or story that you read to him regularly during the last trimester, he will immediately be soothed by the familiar “ba-bump” beat.

We created our book, Can’t Wait to Show You, the first in the Belly Books Collection, with all this research in mind. As you read this selection, notice its distinct rhythm and limerick meter:

Hello in there, baby! I’m thinking of you
As you’re curled up inside me so small
Every joy that we share
All my loving and care
And I can’t wait to show you it all!

NoiseOf course, the baby in the womb won’t yet be able to understand the words and appreciate the poem’s imagery and emotion — but you will! He will become accustomed to the sounds of the words, and the repeated rhythms will catch and hold his attention in the womb. And because your baby is already in love with your unique voice, he’ll pay extra close attention as you read.

When your baby is born and you read the familiar words, you’ll be amazed to see that he becomes instantly relaxed — a rapt and peaceful audience. You know the feeling: You’ve been searching the radio for a good station. When you catch the beginning of one of your favorite songs you just sit back, listen, and let it take you away.

GuitarThe benefits of reading rhythmic words to babies in the womb naturally apply to music, too. For a refresher on the benefits of singing lullabies to your expected baby, please see our November 6, 2013, post, Joyful Noise!

What should I read to my baby in the womb?

RThe research confirms: the best kind of story to read to your baby in utero is . . .

Rhythmic
Repetitive
Rhyming

In other words, Rollicking! And Recognizable even from within the muffled environment of the womb.

Now, what more rollicking poetry is there than the limerick form? Something like Edward Lear’s:

LearThere was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”

But we can do even better than Mr. Lear when it comes to a perfectly rollicking limerick that expresses your joyful anticipation of the birth of your baby! Just for a sample:

Play


A bouncy-seat when you are tiny

But someday you’ll crawl, walk and run
I will cry “Peek-a-boo!”
For a giggle from you
Oh, I can’t wait to show you the fun!

 
Yes, our very own baby-bump-shaped board book, Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be. And for just this week we’re offering it to you, our dear Reading Womb readers, for a special price.

Go to Amazon and enter the promo code N26VPJ3D to get $1.00 off until May 31, 2014. Enjoy!

National Reading Month: Save Our Storytime!

Norman RockwellIt’s hard to imagine a sweeter family scene: children snuggled up close to Mommy or Daddy, bright expectant faces awaiting the next words of their favorite bedtime story.

Little ones look forward to this special time each night; it’s a sacred routine that makes them feel safe and loved, and the benefits of storytime for the child and the family as a whole are immeasurable. But is this idyllic scene becoming a thing of the past?

Recent research in both the United States and the UK shows that bedtime stories are on the endangered list. The Guardian reports that in “a poll of 2,000 mothers with children aged 0 to 7 years, only 64% of respondents said they read their children bedtime stories, even though 91% were themselves read bedtime stories when young. Only 13% of parents read to their children every night.”

BabybotThe reasons cited included “being too stressed out” and “not enough time,” but the most dismaying was that children had trouble staying engaged with books when so many other options were available to them. Now, the chances are pretty good that if you are a follower of a blog called The Reading Womb, you are as unsettled by this information as we are.

As a reader, you probably intuitively knew that there are benefits to reading to children regularly, and we can support your hunches with a few hard facts:

·        Children who are read to regularly and exposed to many words from an early age perform better in school and are all around better adjusted emotionally and socially than children who were not read to. Drs. Hart and Risley’s study about this has gotten a lot of fresh attention lately, inspiring initiatives all over the country to increase the number of words babies and children hear. Please see our January 2014 post all about it.

·        Hearing stories from the very beginning creates a multitude of neural pathways in the brain. Says Dr. Reid Lyon, Ph.D., chief of the child development and behavior branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, MD.: “There’s a clear indication of a neurological difference between kids who have been regularly read to and kids who have not.”

·        Snuggling up with Mom or Dad increases levels of cortisol, the anti-stress hormone, and oxytocin, “the bonding hormone,” in children. Not to mention the benefits for Mom and Dad—research shows that snuggling also reduces blood pressure and heart rate!

TabletSo, in short, family storytime makes kids socially comfortable, smart and healthy. All parents want what’s best for their children, don’t they? So what’s going on here?

We’re thinking this could have something to do with it!

In that same survey we mentioned earlier, “Nearly half of the parents surveyed said their children found television, computer games and other toys more diverting, while 4% said their children do not own any books at all.” Oh, dear.

FPFisher Price recently introduced a baby-product line called Apptivity Entertainers, or Apptivity Play and Learn, which they describe as “a grow-with-me seat for baby that’s soothing, entertaining, and has a touch of technology, too.” We say it’s a screen dressed up like a baby toy, but either way, there’s a really good chance that this baby is not going to be begging Mommy and Daddy to read another story when an iPad, iPod, Bedtime Storyor other electronic device is available. Look how this baby is more interested in the small screen than his own Mommy’s beautiful face!

We know technology is here to stay—and it’s an amazing and helpful phenomenon in most cases, in its proper time and place. Most children are going to engage in some kind of screen time, and much of it is good, but it’s our job as the grownups to ensure that there’s a balance between the zesty stimulation of electronic bells and whistles . . . and the rich, organic simplicity of illustrated paper pages being turned slowly by soft human hands and narrated by a loving human voice.

It’s only natural

Mother and NewbornA very important quality that separates mammals from other creatures is our strong desire to protect and care for our young. Unlike a turtle, who lays her eggs in the sand, leaving the tiny baby turtles to return to the sea and fend for themselves alone, we mammals form a bond with our young — even before they are born — that continues for our whole lives.

A fascinating discovery was made recently about the special bond that mother dolphins create with their babies while they’re still in the womb. The aquarium staff at Six Flags Discovery Park in California started noticing that Bella, a pregnant bottlenose dolphin, was already sending out her “baby whistle” as she swam alone in the tank. It seemed Bella was talking to herself . . . or was she?

Bella and Baby

Once the baby dolphin was born, Bella continued her baby whistle, and the little one responded right away by coming to her side. It became clear that the prebirth baby whistle was Bella’s way of teaching her baby to recognize her voice so that she could call to it immediately, protecting the vulnerable baby right from the moment of its birth. Dolphins understand something innately that many of us in our culture are just coming around to: A baby in the womb in the last trimester can hear what’s going on in the world outside, and the opportunities for bonding before birth are countless. Pretty exciting, isn’t it?

Bella’s story illustrates how very natural it is to connect with our expected little one, and what better way to do that than by beginning a reading routine that, like Bella’s baby whistle, will be recognized and responded to by your baby at birth? You can actually begin a bedtime-story ritual during your last trimester that will condition your newborn to quiet down, settle in, and get sleepy. A simple, beautiful, rhyming and rhythmic story, read in your familiar voice, is just what is needed to regulate your baby’s alpha waves, slow his breathing and pulse, and get him primed for tuck-in time.

PregReadBegin this special bedtime routine now, while your baby is still curled up inside you, and you’ll reap the benefits when he is born. Research shows that having a regular bedtime helps babies to become conditioned to fall asleep each night, so set a regular time to slow your day down and read to your expected little one. Get cozy, relaxed, and comfortable and your baby will, too. Read in your regular voice (your baby has the best seat in the house) and know that you are establishing a beautiful and natural routine that will enrich, nurture, and support your child’s well-being in so many ways.

If you’re considering using an e-book for bedtime reading with a child, well, research says that it just won’t do. According to a recent National Literacy Trust study, children who engage with e-books have less engagement with a story and are less likely to grow up to be readers. Turns out that a story on a tablet is perceived by children, especially young ones, as more of a gaming than a reading experience. Additional research says that the screen time before bed interacts negatively with brain waves, getting them wound up instead of quieted down to alpha. Not exactly an effective way to get your child settled down to sleep.

Read BabyOf course, those who love reading know there’s nothing like a real, holdable paper book. When you read a real book with your newborn, turning the pages and looking at the bright illustrations, you will get his visual as well as his auditory attention. You’ll also be setting him up with those prereading skills we’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, such as holding a book right-side-up and reading from left to right.

If you want the very best reading experience, and the most natural one for your baby before and after birth, there’s no substitute for the real thing. By establishing a quiet bedtime routine now, centered around your loving voice and a beautiful storybook, you will be delighted to find that you have a child who looks forward to winding down at bedtime, and whose biorhythms will be accustomed to settling down as he snuggles in at the same time each night.

Bella and Baby 2So let’s get back to Bella, our dolphin. She knows how natural it is to talk to her baby in the womb—nothing fancy required, just her voice and her desire to connect with her little one. Your own perfectly natural instinct to communicate and bond with your baby can be reinforced by establishing a routine centered around literacy and language, right from the beginning. Research says that both babies in the womb and newborns respond to and learn best from text that is rhyming and rhythmic, and also that the baby knows your voice best. So your voice, plus a beautiful book, is the recipe for a natural language bond. We have just the thing . . .