Watch! Read to your baby before birth and after!

Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be

Reading to your baby in utero is a beautiful way to bond, relax, dream, and share the magic of storytime! By the third trimester, babies’ ears are fully developed and they are able to discern and remember their mother’s voice (and father’s, too) and recognize rhythms and speech patterns — then respond to the familiar story after birth! While you read the sweet verses and page through the gorgeous illustrations, not only will you be practicing the new skill of reading aloud, but you’ll be basking in feel-good hormones from bonding with your baby-to-be.

Experts agree!

Click on the egg to listen to “Hear from an Expert: It’s Never Too Early to Read to Your Baby,” an interview with Susan and Jackie from The Reading Womb, on the Stork Storytime Talks podcast

Hooray! The message is spreading: literacy can and should be nurtured not only in toddlers and babies but babies in utero, too. Abundant research over the last decade has shown that babies in the third trimester are an active audience. They can discern, remember, and learn what they hear from inside the womb. Learning doesn’t beginatbirth but beforebirth, and that means early literacy work should now include pre-birth literacy, or, as we like to call it, preliteracy.

As we’ve been reporting for years, libraries are some of the greatest champions of preliteracy. What stronger testament to the clear and proven benefits of reading to babies in the womb could there be than the readiness of library organizations to develop programs to teach young families about the practice?

In this April 2017 post we filled you in on the amazing prenatal-storytime programs being developed by the North Liberty, Iowa, library system. That was just the beginning! The former Womb Literacy program is now Stork Storytime, expanded to offer a variety of services to expecting and new parents. This innovative family education initiative…

encourages the development of a daily reading routine before baby (and chaos) arrives. It offers expecting parents and caregivers opportunities to learn about early literacy skills and connect with resources in their communities, empowering them to be more confident in their roles as a child’s first teachers, right from the very beginning.

Stork Storytime at a library in North Liberty, Iowa

They’ve also created this wonderful Stork Storytime Reads Librarian Toolkit to assist libraries in delivering the Reads program to their communities.

Expectant parents can register for 100 Books Before Birth to log 100 read-alouds before baby arrives — a really fun way to encourage parents to develop a reading routine from the very beginning and even earn prizes along the way.

Every year they host the annual Stork Storytime Expo for local non-profits and businesses to meet and share all things baby.

Especially exciting is their Stork Storytime Talks podcast, designed to help busy families learn about the literacy skills kids and babies need to succeed, whenever and wherever they can. Episodes feature experts and library staff sharing useful information to get parents more confident about their role as a child’s first teacher. See this American Libraries article by Stork Storytime co-founder Jennifer Jordebrek for much more info.

And don’t miss this episode featuring The Reading Womb!

Now for a shout-out to a small-town library on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts that’s making a big impact on local families. Emily LaPierre, the children’s librarian at the Vineyard Haven Public Library, launched the Belly Babies Storytime program when she learned she was pregnant herself and realized that expectant mothers, who can feel isolated on an island, needed a regular way to connect.

Belly Babies is a monthly gathering for moms-to-be to bond with each other while bonding with their expected babies by reading and singing to their bumps, chatting, learning, and sharing snacks.

We met with this dynamic and enthusiastic young woman a few months ago and were bowled over by her dedication to both community building and the power of prenatal literacy. Read more here.

We’re so grateful to these brilliant and beautiful people making such great contributions to the cause of family bonding through preliteracy. If you haven’t yet tried reading to your baby in utero, please give this sweet and snuggly practice a try. You’ll feel the love flowing through your words, and so will baby — maybe even more if you practice amid the good vibes at your local library.

And if you feel like you could use a little support, check out your local library — does it offer prenatal story hour yet?

 

Do you speak Parentese?

As parents, we have so much to think about, worry about, and learn. We are bombarded with information from news, research, and social media that can be overwhelming and confusing. It sometimes makes us wonder if we’re doing too much or not enough in our mission to raise healthy, happy kids.

So isn’t it great when you get a big thumbs-up for something you’re already doing as a parent?

You’ve talked to your baby in a funny voice, right? You’ve also stretched words out and carefully articulated them to help your baby understand and learn them. You’ve probably even exaggerated the tone of your voice to show different emotions through your words.

New research out of the University of Washington confirms that you are on the right track! The study, from UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), shows that it’s important not only thatyou talk to your baby but howyou talk to your baby.

It seems that this use of “parentese” has a powerful impact on infants. More than just baby-talk, parentese is grammatical language using real words and accentuated tones of voice that “helps babies tune in socially to their parents and motivates them to talk back, even if that just means babbling,” according to an article about the study on University of Washington News.

The research shows that babies who are exposed to this type of speech develop strong language skills themselves. When parents participating in the study were coached in using parentese, their children learned to talk earlier and with a larger vocabulary than babies whose parents did not speak this way.

The lead author of the study, Ferjan Ramírez, explained that parents can communicate with their children in this way to enhance language learning throughout their usual activities: “Everyday moments and daily interactions really matter, and parents can create more such moments and be more intentional about them.” Ramírez added:

Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, and we are happy to show they can have an immediate positive effect on the growth of their child’s language. Early language skills are important predictors of a child’s learning to read and of their success in school, and parents can directly affect their child’s outcomes in this way.

Supercharge your parentese: read aloud!

If you’ve looked around The Reading Womb a bit, you’ll be aware of the explosion of research and advice about early literacy—reading to children right from birth—that’s become available to parents in recent years. This practice, advocates say, stimulates early brain development and helps build important language, literacy, and social skills. Sound familiar?

Well, just like parentese, reading aloud is something that many new parents have to learn. After all, most adults haven’t read aloud since they were kids themselves! Fortunately, you have so many great teachers to turn to.

Jim Trelease, author of the long-bestselling Read Aloud Handbook, created a list of “Do’s and Don’ts for Read Alouds.” Right in line with the findings on parentese, Trelease suggests, for instance, that parents use plenty of expression when reading.You can use your voice to reflect the meaning of the text: a soft voice for gentle characters and touching scenes, a loud voice to show strong emotion or to emphasize drama and excitement. Also, adjust your pace to fit the story: read slowly to bring attention to beautiful language and imagery, and more quickly to show movement and action.

When it comes to enriching the vocabulary you use with your baby, beloved children’s author and early literacy advocate Mem Fox says in her amazing book Reading Magic, “If children love the words they hear, they’ll use them delightfully in their own speaking and in their own writing. If they love the sounds of the words, they’ll understand them better when they come to read them later. That’s another terrific benefit of reading aloud: familiar words—words heard often previously—are always easier to read than unfamiliar words.”

And as Sarah McKenzie says in her book (and entire platform!) The Read-Aloud Family, “When we read aloud, we give our kids a storehouse filled with excellent vocabulary and highly sophisticated language patterns. We offer them practice at making connections and thinking well. And best of all, we help them fall in love with reading—an affection that will serve them well their entire lives.”

Reading aloud to your baby can be the perfect way to practice using expressive language in all your communication with your child.

The perfect time to learn

So, if it takes some practice to develop a comfort level with reading aloud and speaking parentese, what better time to start than before your baby is born? In the final weeks before baby arrives, her ears are already fully developed and her brain is able to discern varying speech patterns. This time of expectation, before your life changes so dramatically, is the perfect time to get used to reciting bouncy Dr. Seuss rhythms and silly Sandra Boynton rhymes. By the time your baby is born, you’ll already be fluent in parentese!

This is also the time to make bedtime stories a nightly routine that you’ll look forward to as much as your new baby will. After a period of practicing reading to your baby in utero, you’ll fall into a storytime routine that’s comfortingly familiar—even to baby, who’s been listening avidly from inside the womb—and it will become a cherished family ritual with lifelong rewards.

All the benefits of reading aloud to children and babies, combined with the wealth of scientific support for reading to babies in the womb (check out the links on our Research & Information page), make it abundantly clear that it’s never too early to read to your baby!

Remember, you are your baby’s first and most important teacher. By modeling enthusiastic and expressive speech, you are setting an example for your child’s own language development—before birth and after!

 

 

 

Sibling-bonding magic

Helping Mommy read aloud to baby brother- or sister-to-be

If you’re a new family hoping to add another member someday—or soon!—then you might sometimes worry about how this will affect your firstborn. How will she feel when she’s no longer the center of your universe?

Popular wisdom holds that introducing a new sibling is inevitably difficult and potentially even traumatic for the firstborn child. But the truth is that expanding your family can be a joyful experience right from the beginning if you help your little one create a strong relationship with her baby brother or sister—even before the baby is born.

Our mission at the Reading Womb is to educate parents about the importance of bonding with babies by starting a regular storytime even before birth. And prenatal bonding, especially through reading aloud, is also the very best way to build strong sibling relationships!

By the time your second child comes along, you’ve probably established a regular read-aloud routine. We hope you even read to your first child in utero, and she’s a book lover already! Whether storytime is part of your family’s schedule or not, reading to your firstborn and expected child at the same time is way to continue or ingrain a practice that is integral to successful families.

Think about it: you’re sharing with two little ones at once all the joys of language, literacy, and bonding through books, and at the same getting some relaxation time for yourself. Now, that’s multitasking at its best!

Research has shown that babies can hear and remember voices from inside the womb during the last trimester—so let your first child know that the baby in Mummy’s belly can really hear her talking. The sibling-bonding magic happens when your child actively joins in the read-aloud with you. She can repeat some of the lines from the story after you read them, or even read some words herself if she’s old enough. Meanwhile, you can help her describe the pictures to the baby and add her own details to the story.

Hey, Little Baby, from Cottage Door Press

We can’t resist sharing a glimpse of the “second sibling” in the Belly Books collection! Hey, Little Baby was created specially for little ones to welcome a new baby brother or sister into their world. By telling the baby-to-be about all the fun they’ll have together, your firstborn will develop a sense of excitement about the upcoming birth—and a feeling of companionship that will ease the adjustment.

There are so many benefits to both grownups and children from family storytime, even just 15 minutes a day. Setting aside this sacred time to share the joys of language and story is a beautiful way to just be together as a family. And if you establish daily reading time with your first child, then when the new baby finally arrives, this will continue as an expected and comforting routine as you all settle into life as an expanded family.

Goodbye, sibling rivalry—hello, sibling revelry!

Our new Cottage home

We are so excited to announce a giant step forward for prenatal storytime. The Belly Books collection, the first family of board books to read to babies before birth, has found a new home (and what a cozy and colorful one it is!) at Cottage Door Press.

Cottage Door Press is devoted to promoting early literacy through its Early Bird Learning Guide™. Voted by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the fastest-growing independent publishers of 2017 and 2018, Cottage Door produces a vast array of beautiful board books for babies from birth (and now even before birth!) to three years.

Cottage Door is kicking off the Belly Books collection with two titles. The first is a brand-new edition of our original Can’t Wait to Show You, now stunningly illustrated by Laura Horton. Just look at these scrumptious colors!

And we’re thrilled to welcome the next member of the family, Hey, Little Baby, specially created for big sisters- and brothers-to-be to read to the expected baby! The adorable illustrations by Roxanne Rainville will get little ones excited to share their world with the new baby, and at the same time the baby in Mummy’s belly will be listening to the fun rhythm and rhymes.

Upcoming Belly Books will be specially designed for Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa, parents expecting twins . . . and the list will go on and on.

The Early Bird Learning Guide is a system to help parents understand which skills they’re reinforcing when they read a Cottage Door book to their baby. The guide is based on widely accepted milestones of childhood development and corresponds to the removable sticker on the front cover of each of its books.

Belly Books is joining the Family category, whose motto is “Story time is family time!” Among the benefits of this category listed in the Early Bird Learning Guide are that it “strengthens family bonds, supports a literate home environment, creates lifetime memories . . . and reinforces language patterns” — those family-storytime benefits we at The Reading Womb are so passionate about!

To have the support of this distinguished, literacy-centered publisher is such an honor for us as authors, but even more importantly, it’s a sign of the growing understanding that the baby in the womb is already an alert and responsive member of a young family. And it means that Belly Books, so perfectly designed to invite expectant parents to try this new practice, will be able to reach pregnant women and their partners, children, and extended families worldwide.

We couldn’t be more proud and delighted to be working with the lovely and talented people at Cottage Door Press. Check out their fabulous Stories from the Cottage blog, and watch their Instagram account for the Belly Books takeover in August!

What’s old is new again

If you’re a regular visitor to the Reading Womb, we’re guessing you’re a research geek like we are, especially when it comes to studies about prenatal language learning and bonding. Part of our mission is to inform our readers about the latest and greatest new studies that reinforce the evidence that babies in the womb are an active audience, one who is listening, learning, and enjoying the sensory stimulus of the outside environment.

And here’s some fresh reinforcement! Researchers at the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge have been studying the relationship between prenatal bonding and infant and child well-being. The June 2018 edition of the journal Developmental Review has published the results of a meta-analysis carried out at the Centre that draws data from 14 studies—involving 1,862 mothers and fathers—to determine whether there is a link between the way parents think about their child during pregnancy and their behavior toward the baby and child later on.

“Studies have shown that parent–child interaction is crucial for a child’s development and learning,” said lead researcher Dr. Sarah Foley, “so we wanted to understand if there were prenatal signs that might predict a parent’s behavior.” And once the child had been born, researchers in these studies observed the interactions between parent and child, looking for such outcomes as “sensitivity”—the ability to notice, interpret, and respond to children’s signals, for example if the baby was upset.

In fact, the analysis did find that parents who were optimistic about their relationship with the coming baby, felt connected with the baby during pregnancy, and/or recognized her as a unique individual were more likely to have more positive experiences with parenting in the coming years.

The results from the study showed that mothers who actively engaged with their expected child by talking, singing, and imagining activities they would do together led to a stronger attachment between mother and baby after birth. Conversely, mothers who did not connect with their baby prenatally had more difficulty bonding with their newborns.

“This is a relatively new area of research,” Dr. Foley said, “but could have important implications for children’s development.” Very much so, we say! Implied in this study is its relationship with the large body of existing data that shows the impact of parental interaction—especially through talking, reading, and singing—on the language development, literacy, academic proficiency, and overall well-being of children.

You might assume that this fascinating research is introducing something new: the ideas that babies learn language, develop sleep and wake patterns, and bond with family members in the last months before they are born. So you might be surprised to learn that the recent findings are actually affirming the beliefs and practices of cultures that have been interacting and bonding with babies prenatally for thousands of years. Just a few examples . . .

  • In Hindu culture it has long been thought that a mother’s emotional well-being is deeply connected to that of her expected child. A special mantra is devoted to this purpose, and reciting it is said to put the spirit of the mother and baby at ease and promote a powerful bond between them.
  • When a woman from the Himba tribe in Africa discovers she’s pregnant, she and the other women of the village meditate together and create the Song of the Child, a unique melody that is sung regularly to the expected child. This practice creates a sense of connection between the baby and her mother, as well as to the tribal community and Mother Earth.
  • The Chinese have long believed that a mother’s disposition during pregnancy affects that of her child, so much so that expectant mothers are discouraged from engaging in conflict or experiencing sad events such as funerals and are encouraged to engage in positive thinking and cheerful activities.
  • A beautiful tradition of the Navajo tribe is a Mother’s Blessing Ceremony, during which a circle of women close to the expectant mother celebrate the pregnancy by reading poems, singing songs, and sharing stories about the joys of motherhood. It is the Navajos’ belief that this ceremony will calm the new mother’s worries and get her and her baby into a joyful frame of mind before the birth day.

It seems that prenatal science has been proving something over the last decade that many cultures have known for eons—that a deep connection exists between an expectant mother’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being and that of her baby.

As an expectant mom or dad, you’ve probably had the intuitive stirrings that are sparking a desire to connect with your little one before she’s born. What if you created a modern-day version of the ancient traditions by practicing a prenatal bonding ceremony of your own? That way, you could follow your innate, natural instinct to communicate and connect with your baby by establishing a routine centered around language and love, right from the beginning.

All you need to remember is the Four R’s: Rhyming, Rhythmic, Read, Regularly. That is, a rhyming, rhythmic story read regularly during the last trimester will have all the power of the ancient ceremonies. It’s part of that deep and simple truth that was known by our ancient ancestors and is being confirmed by the cutting-edge science of today.

Start imagining how you will create a prenatal celebration of this precious family bond.

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.