The recipe for storytime magic

When is a book more than a book?

When it’s at the center of a snuggly, joyful, lively family storytime, that’s when!

A storytime book isn’t just an ordinary book: it’s the catalyst for a powerful shared experience, a celebration of togetherness, chock-full of laughing, learning, bonding, and just plain fun.

And yes, an actual, holdable book is needed for the magic to unfold, a book with pictures to point to and words to play with. When we share a real book, we smell the perfume of the paper and see its grain or sheen in the lamplight — sensual pleasures we’ll relish as long as we live. With a beloved book, the spell of the story begins to take hold and the juicy anticipation builds as each real page slowly turns.

Notice that snuggling is another essential part of storytime magic: close, warm, and safe, nestled in the crook of an arm or on a welcoming lap. Deep family bonds are formed during these sacred times, and science tells us that all kinds of wonderful feel-good hormones are exchanged when people sit close and share a happy experience.

Best yet, this snuggly read-aloud time can begin even before birth! In the last three months of pregnancy, the baby’s brain and auditory system are already developed enough for her to hear and recognize speech sounds, making this the perfect time to launch family storytime. The benefits of prenatal reading to babies’ cognitive development and language skills have been well documented over the last decade (just check out the Research section in the sidebar).

Just try it! Snuggle up with your partner tonight, and every night, for 15 minutes with a bedtime story — especially one that’s rhythmic and rhyming — for your expected little one. If you read to the bump every night during the last trimester, then keep that cozy ritual going when baby arrives, you’ll see real storytime magic when she’s born. Hearing the familiar story, she’ll probably stop crying . . . turn in the direction of the familiar voice . . . move her face and body, already caught in the spell of a beloved book.

As parents we work tirelessly to provide the very best for our kids. So much of what we do for our children every day places huge demands on our time, money, and energy.

But not storytime! Storytime is free! Storytime is easy! And most importantly, storytime gives your children what they crave most of all: YOU!

Mem Fox, courtesy of MemFox.com

So grab that beloved book, pick a cozy spot, settle down, and snuggle up with your child — or your child-to-be. Just sit back and let the storytime weave its spell and create the magical adventure that you and your child can experience again and again.

Take it from Mem Fox, the queen of Read-Aloud Magic. Here are her Ten Read-Aloud Commandments:

1 Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud. From birth! [Of course, we would respectfully amend that to “From the third trimester, or earlier!”]

2 Read at least three stories a day: it may be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read. Or the same story a thousand times!

3 Read aloud with animation. Listen to your own voice and don’t be dull, or flat, or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.

4 Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners

5 Read the stories that your child loves, over and over and over again, and always read in the same “tune” for each book: i.e., with the same intonations and volume and speed, on each page, each time.

6 Let children hear lots of language by talking to them constantly about the pictures, or anything else connected to the book; or sing any old song that you can remember; or say nursery rhymes in a bouncy way; or be noisy together doing clapping games.

7 Look for rhyme, rhythm, or repetition in books for young children, and make sure the books are really short.

8 Play games with the things that you and the child can see on the page, such as letting kids finish rhymes, and finding the letters that start the child’s name and yours, remembering that it’s never work; it’s always a fabulous game.

9 Never, ever teach reading, or get tense around books.

10 Please read aloud every day because you just adore being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do.

 

 

Why should I read to my baby before birth?

OK, so you’re intrigued. Reading to your baby in the womb seems like a fun way to connect with your expected child. But did you know there’s a heap of research that supports the benefits of this practice? We thought we’d give you a quick breakdown of some of these findings, and point you toward further details.

You might also want to check out this fascinating TED.com talk by Annie Murphy Paul. It’s a synopsis of the latest discoveries in the exciting field of fetal origins.

The Benefits of Prenatal Reading

Your baby will become familiar with your unique voice.

Your baby will begin to learn language.

A familiar rhythmic story will soothe your newborn.

When you take time to relax and read, your baby relaxes, too.

Bonding with your baby prenatally benefits his future health and emotional well-being.

  • When a pregnant woman feels love for her expected child in the womb, she releases endorphins (“feel good” hormones), which trigger the same hormone release in the baby.
  • The baby becomes accustomed to these hormones and mimics the mother’s positive physiological response.
  • The result is a baby who has unhindered physical, cognitive, and neurological growth, and who is born with a general sense of safety and well-being.
  • See: Prenatal Bases of Development of Speech and Language and Prenatal Stimulation.

The more words your baby hears, the better adjusted and more successful she will be in life.

Reading to your child before and after birth strengthens family and social bonds.

  • Establishing a routine around reading creates a sacred, centered, regular time devoted to you and your child.
  • This helps expectant parents and siblings develop a relationship with the baby before birth, easing the transition into parenthood and siblinghood.
  • It’s also an opportunity for others (grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends) to get involved in the prenatal bonding process.
  • In the bigger picture, family reading helps establish a culture in which literacy and language are a priority.
  • See, again: Prenatal Bases of Development of Speech and Language and Prenatal Stimulation.

The Research Confirms: It’s Never Too Early!

Pretty convincing, isn’t it? Now that you’ve seen all the research that supports in utero reading, it seems the real question is, why wouldn’t an expectant family read to their baby before birth? It’s so clearly the right thing to do!

The gift of reading in utero

’Tis the season for giving, and what better gift is there for expectant families than a book that’s perfect for reading to a baby in the womb? We’ve received requests for suggestions of titles from our followers, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to share some of the best books for reading to babies in utero.

If you’ve been following our blog and podcast, you know that the research says that the best stories for reading to your baby before birth are those that are rhythmic, rhyming, and repetitive. Preborn babies respond best to this type of auditory stimulation, and studies definitively prove that these kinds of stories are the best remembered and have the most soothing effect on newborns! The following list includes fun rhyming stories that you and your baby will enjoy before and after she’s born.

Ashley, an expectant mother from California, shared with us that she is reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle to her little “bundle of joy.” Ashley has chosen an excellent example of the type of story that is perfect for reading to your baby before and after birth. The poetic meter and repetitious verse will create those neural pathways in your baby’s brain that will lay the foundation for future language learning.

Author Bill Martin Jr. and illustrator Eric Carle have collaborated to create many other appropriate titles, including Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? and Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? These books all have colorful illustrations that will engage babies and adults alike.

Another favorite Bill Martin Jr. title is a whimsical rhyming alphabet book called Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. In a catchy beat it describes the antics of the personified letters of the alphabet—great fun to read aloud.

Mem Fox is a prolific writer of children’s books, and many of them are perfect for reading to your expected child. The adorable illustrations and simple verse in her Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes is just perfect for introducing your child to the joys of reading. Other appropriate titles by Mem Fox include The Magic Hat and Time for Bed.

A traditional favorite is the series of books written by Ludwig Bemelmans about Madeline, the little French girl. These stories told in simple verse may be a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the adult reader.

Dr. Seuss has dozens of rhyming books, and some of our favorites are One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Horton Hears a Who, and Green Eggs and Ham.

Sandra Boynton is the author and illustrator of many fun and melodic board books, including Barnyard Dance and Pajama Time. These books, with their lively illustrations and all-around silliness, are bound to become cherished additions to your child’s story repertoire.

You’ve already heard us gush about the wonderful poems of Shel Silverstein (Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Everything On It) and Jack Prelutsky (Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face, A Pizza the Size of the Sun, and Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young), but there are many other wonderful options when it comes to prenatal reading:

Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka

Sheep in a Jeep and Sheep in a Shop by Nancy Shaw

Bats at the Beach, Bats at the Library, and Bats at the Ballgame by Brian Lies

Remember that it’s important that you enjoy reading the books as much as your baby enjoys hearing them. Keep in mind that these are the stories that your baby will become familiar with and will request again and again once she’s born. Right now, your baby is a captive audience, snuggled up all safe and warm in your “reading womb.” She waits to hear the beautiful sound of your voice and the beloved story, a magical combination that she’ll respond to and that research shows will help her cognitive and language development.

And one day soon, when your child is all cozied up in your lap, sharing this sacred and special reading time, she will say those words that will be music to your ears, “Can you read that again, Mommy?” or “Just one more time, Daddy!” Now, what could be better than that?