Read to the bump —
Don’t miss the Belly Books Giveaway!
Don’t miss the Belly Books Giveaway!
Don’t miss the Belly Books Giveaway!
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!”
We talked recently about Deepak Chopra’s beautiful book, Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. Another thing we love about this book is that Deepak devotes so much attention to bonding with your baby, both before and after birth. For example . . .
“Use all five senses to connect with your baby and create a nurturing environment for both of you.”
In our August post, we mentioned the very real sensory connection mothers have with their babies in the womb that researchers have been discovering over the years. For instance, this fascinating BBC article delved into research that “supports the idea that babies learn taste preferences before they are born” and why this link between mother and baby (human and animal) likely developed to enhance newborn survival. This Science Daily article cites earlier studies that showed that babies’ sense of smell also develops in the womb.
What about the sense of touch? Well, a recent study, “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch,” reinforced findings of earlier research that found that “Newborns preferentially respond to maternal voice hours after birth, suggesting that the fetus is able to detect stimuli in utero and form memories of them.” Yes! We never get tired of hearing our message corroborated by experts!
This study is especially interesting in that it also measured (through ultrasound) fetal response when pregnant mothers touched their
baby bump. The researchers conclude, “Overall results suggest that maternal touch of the abdomen was a powerful stimulus, producing a range of fetal behavioural responses.” We love how they put their findings into a family context:
Mothers, fathers and other family members talk and even sing to the fetus throughout pregnancy with communicative intent. Many report changes in the fetal behaviour as a response to such communication. . . . Similarly to talking to the fetus, most mothers and even fathers attempt to communicate with and regulate the behaviour of the fetus via stroking of the mother’s abdomen as a response to the kicking or positional movements of the fetus. Even the expecting mothers’ mood is affected by massaging the abdomen. . . .
And this brings us back to Deepak’s important advice. We know now that babies can hear, taste, smell, and feel from inside the womb, and scientists also find that they’re sensitive to light as early as the fourth month. But you also create a “nurturing environment” for yourself and your baby in utero simply by connecting to your own five senses.
Revel in the flavors of your breakfast, your fruit, your tea. Feast your eyes on the kaleidoscopic colors at the farmer’s market. Moon around the florist’s shop taking deep, ecstatic breaths. Luxuriate in the bliss of a warm ray of sun slanting through the window. And lie back in the comfiest chair in the house and let your sweetie give you and baby-to-be some loving touch. All this (plus the resulting release of endorphins, or feel-good hormones) will
communicate to your child, “All is well and calm and safe. Rest, relax, and grow, and soon you’ll join us in this beautiful world.”
If you foster calm and peace in your baby’s environment even before he’s born, the effects can last through the birth, the newborn weeks, the first year, and on into childhood. A “magical beginning” indeed!
Now please forgive a shameless plug for our book, Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, which takes you through a journey of the five senses with your baby in the womb. Read aloud these words that let you indulge your happy anticipation, and enjoy the colorful nature-inspired illustrations, and you’ll truly be connecting with your senses and your unborn child.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!