Ah, that new-book smell!

When Susan’s youngest son was around three years old, he made a pronouncement that is beautiful music to any teacher or mother’s ears. He had been sitting among a pile of his favorite titles, Polar Bear, Polar Bear by Eric Carle, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff, Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, and the classic Pat the Bunny. Engulfed by books, with his favorite, an oversized Richard Scarry book called Busy, Busy Town open on his little lap, he announced “I love books!” Then, holding the book close up to his face, he added rapturously, “They smell so gooood.”

Although this same little fellow had been known to chew and lick books during his toddler years, we should not dismiss the message in his innocent wisdom. For children, reading is without a doubt a multisensory experience.

In this age of digital books and e-readers one can’t help but wonder, will the children of the future ever know that wonderful smell of a new book, the sturdy feel of a hardcover novel, or the soft sound of turning pages? Will the clichés “that was a real page turner” or “he always has his nose in a book” become obsolete? And what will become of the scratchy Daddy’s beard and soft bunny fur of Pat the Bunny? It’s just not the same, is it? The image of Susan’s young son smelling a Kindle comes to mind. Hmmm.

Think of the books you loved when you were a child. Do you remember reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish over and over, always finding something new in each whimsical Dr. Seuss illustration? And what about Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, with its full-spread illustrations, artistically placed text, and adorable ducklings marching across each page?

Every children’s picture book has its own unique design and reflects the thoughtfulness and inspiration of its author and illustrator. We are left wondering what the result will be when these well-loved titles are transferred to a digital format. Will the tangible, tactile, and multisensory qualities get lost in translation?

Chris Van Allsburg, author and illustrator of many favorite children’s books, including The Polar Express, said “on a digital platform they all get ground into the same thing.” He is referring to the uniformity of text and illustration on an e-reader, which imposes a standard font and page size. The thought of each picture book illustration being the same shape and size, shrunk or stretched to fit a standard screen, is a little unsettling for any children’s book enthusiast, or for anyone who treasures the idiosyncrasies each author and illustrator bring to a story.


Now, I’m sure you’ll agree that all reading is good reading, and that there may be times when an e-reader is appropriate for children. When traveling, for example, it might not be practical for a family to bring a child’s collection of favorite books. An e-reader would make it convenient to continue an established reading routine even on vacation. The future of digital reading in classrooms is also an exciting possibility; volumes of books could be made available to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to read them. And if you’re reading to your baby in the womb, she won’t know the difference! From inside the womb, an e-book sounds just like the traditional one. Uploading a fun selection of rhyming and rhythmic stories to share with your expected child would be quick and easy, and if this is what you need to get started, then go right ahead.

But once the baby is born, and she’s snuggled on your lap to hear that familiar story, your Kindle or Nook is just going to look like a rectangular hunk of plastic. Of course, the familiar story read by your unique voice will calm and sooth your baby, and that’s always a good thing. However, by sharing a real book with your newborn, a book with turning pages and bright illustrations, you will get both her auditory and her visual attention. You’ll also be setting her up with those prereading skills that we mentioned in earlier blogs, such as holding a book right-side-up and reading from left to right, to name a few.

Again, all reading is good reading. But if you want the very best reading experience for your baby in the womb or your newborn, there’s no substitute for a real, touchable, hearable, smellable book. It’s the total sensory experience that just might lead your child to joyfully exclaim someday, “I love books!”

 

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.

Celebrating Big Sisters and Brothers-to-be

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!

Reading to the bump: Why not give it a try?


If you’re expecting a baby, you might already be clued in to the huge importance of daily read-aloud starting right from birth, and all the developmental, social, and family-bonding benefits it brings.

Well, there is a growing body of research (just check out the links on our Research and Information page!) showing that all these benefits can be enhanced if daily read-aloud starts even before birth.

Yes, your baby’s ears are already developed enough by the third trimester for her to hear and recognize your voice and even to start picking up on the rhythyms and melodies of your speech. This fosters not only her brain development but the bond you share, because by reading aloud you’ll naturally be communicating your love for her. You’ll also be showing her the joy and magic of language, and she’ll be fascinated and calmed by poems and stories when she hears them as a newborn.


This is your chance! Why not give it a try? What if you do notice that the book you read over and over to your baby in the womb turns out to be the best way to soothe her after she’s born?

What if storytime does turn out to be your new family’s favorite daily routine? And baby does turn out to be especially curious and connected, a lover of books and learning in general? You’ll be so glad you gave prenatal storytime a try!

 

Lead the way for the new generation of parents who embrace reading, talking, and singing to their babies even before they meet in person.

Talking Is Teaching Is Love!

The Timeless Power of Prenatal Bonding

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. A recent 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.

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?