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!

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.

 

 

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 in our sidebar!) 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!

Father power!

Dad-to-be, do you know how important you are to your expected baby? Even before he’s born, you’re already playing a big role in his life just by loving him and making that felt through all the ways you care for his mother. Then there’s the touch of your warm hands on her belly; yes, he’s aware of that, too, as the June 2015 study “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch” found. “Stroking of the mother’s abdomen as a response to the kicking or positional movements of the fetus,” the researchers wrote, was found to be “a powerful stimulus, producing a range of fetal behavioural responses.” It’s a real interaction: he moves, you touch, he moves some more!

And then there’s your voice. Talking, laughing, singing, reading…he can hear you (in the third trimester or even earlier), and he’ll show you he recognizes your voice when he’s born. Please go back and read a couple of compelling anecdotes about this in our June 2015 post. We also mention the wonderful book Keys to Becoming a Father by Dr. William Sears, who discusses the ways a man can start forming a real and active bond with the baby before he’s born, including talking and reading to him.

He reports that some research shows that the fetus might even hear the deep male voice more clearly through the amniotic fluid than the mother’s voice. Working on that assumption, know that much of the research listed in our sidebar about the effects of the mother’s voice on her baby in the womb will also apply to the father’s voice. So talk, sing, read!

But wait—for a glimpse of the powerful influence a father can have on his baby, let’s jump ahead to after he’s born. An April 2017 study, “Father–Child Interactions at Three Months and 24 Months: Contributions to Children’s Cognitive Development at 24 Months,” has found that when fathers play an active role in babies’ early development (by playing and reading together), children perform better in cognitive tests at age two. “Even as early as three months,” a study author writes, “these father–child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later, so there’s something probably quite meaningful for later development, and that really hasn’t been shown much before.”

How do fathers contribute differently to their children’s learning than mothers? The study said that previous “observational studies have suggested that even though parents display similarities in their interaction styles, father–child interactions have a distinct quality: more stimulating, vigorous, and arousing in comparison to mother–child interactions. Their interactive episodes promote their child’s risk-taking and exploration tendencies, which in turn may facilitate the development of children’s cognitive skills.”

A segment of the study’s observation of father–child interaction concentrated on reading, which especially interested us, and the authors report: “Our findings from the book session link to evidence which suggests that the provision of rich language experiences and educational references support cognitive and learning skills.” In other words, reading aloud to the youngest babies is very good for their development—in so many ways, as we’re learning from so many early-literacy sources—and it has a special flavor when it’s done by Dad!

So, if a father can provide “rich language experiences,” in his own, particularly “stimulating, vigorous” way, through reading to his baby right from the beginning, and if your baby is already hearing your distinctly fatherly voice from inside the womb, it’s safe to assume that you, Dad-to-be, are already playing that essential role in his development.

That takes care of the sciencey side of things. But the magic of bonding with the baby in the womb goes deeper than that. If you adopt a nightly story time during pregnancy, your voice, like his mother’s, will become familiar to the growing baby, and after he’s born, studies show that he’ll recognize and be comforted when he hears you “in person.”

He’ll also recognize the familiar patterns and rhyming vowels of stories he’s heard repeatedly from the womb, and you’ll be helping him develop early language, cognitive, and social skills. As a brand-new, maybe slightly stunned father, you’ll be able to experience this amazing connection right away, and at the same time watch its soothing effect on your newborn.

Reading to an unseen listener might feel funny 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 you won’t be alone: many dads are jumping on the prenatal-reading bandwagon. What better way to start finding and flexing your unique, irreplaceable fathering muscles?

Not just for mothers-to-be! Make Can’t Wait to Show You your own, for 25 percent off on Amazon with promo code DadsRead, now through June 30. Happy Father’s Day!

 

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Celebrate Read-Aloud Month — before and after birth

ReadAloud.org
ReadAloud.org

 

It surely must be a sign of healthy changes in our culture that so much attention is being given to reading aloud. What’s more, the age of focus keeps getting younger: not only were school-age children found to benefit from regular storytime but preschoolers, then toddlers, and then babies. “Read, talk, sing to your baby!” has become a universal rallying cry among educators, literacy advocates, librarians, and parenting experts.

Now, at last, babies in the womb are being gathered into the reading circle. The world is coming to understand that, to quote The New York Times, “Language Lessons Start in the Womb.” That’s the name of a February 21 article in which renowned pediatrican-author Perri Klaus reports on a compelling new study of language in adopted babies.

The study, conducted in the Netherlands, found that adults who had been born in Korea but were adopted by Dutch families had a much greater ability to make Korean speech sounds than Dutch-born adults. This was true whether they’d been adopted before or after they’d started talking, which led the researchers to conclude that the language they heard before and soon after birth had affected their ability to distinguish and produce speech sounds. These findings build upon those of a 2012 study we’ve mentioned in a previous post in which Dr. Christine Moon found that English and Swedish newborns responded differently to the vowel sounds used in their native language than they did to those of the other language.

Add it all to the big basket of evidence (just scroll down our sidebar to find that) showing that your baby really can hear you from inside the womb, and that she’s already picking up on your unique voice, your laugh, your favorite song to sing in the shower, and all the sounds, rhythms, patterns, and melodies of your language. And if you’re a bilingual parent or couple, the more, the merrier: your mighty little baby will absorb the characteristics of both languages!

Courtesy of Everett Bowes
Courtesy of Everett Bowes

Now on to the benefits of reading aloud. First, see our previous National Reading Month posts here and here for some great facts and links. Then check out another great new article, this time in the Washington Post, which starts off with these wonderful words:

One of the most important things parents can do, beyond keeping kids healthy and safe, is to read with them. That means starting when they are newborns and not even able to talk, and continuing well beyond the years that they can read by themselves. Study after study shows that early reading with children helps them learn to speak, interact, bond with parents and read early themselves, and reading with kids who already know how to read helps them feel close to caretakers, understand the world around them and be empathetic citizens of the world.

990240_sThe article quotes some very encouraging statistics from Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report, for instance that more than three out of four parents start reading aloud before their child is a year old. Forty percent of parents read aloud before their baby is three months old, and 62 percent of parents of young children are reading aloud five to seven days a week. See what we mean about all the attention being given to reading? The message is being heard!

And just think: all these powerful benefits of read-aloud time with your child can begin even before birth. In the last three months of pregnancy, when your baby’s brain and auditory system are already developed enough for her 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.

34044383_sIf you’re a mom- or dad-to-be who’s intrigued by the idea of reading to your baby in the womb, we say: this is the month to give it a try! If you carry on through the rest of the pregnancy, we think you’ll be hooked. This is one of the best things you can do for your baby, right up there with prenatal nutrition and checkups.

The well-documented benefits of reading aloud to children and babies, 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! Start this joyful and valuable storytime routine right now, during  Read-Aloud Month, when book lovers everywhere are celebrating with activities to spread the love of reading.

Do you need some tips to get started? Check out this post for a fuller exploration of Jim Trelease’s read-aloud insights.

Nurturing through the senses

deepak-bookWe 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 2016 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.

21492380_sWhat about the sense of touch? Well, a June 2015 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) willKissing Belly 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 collage-style illustrations, and you’ll truly be connecting with your senses and your unborn child.

friends

bubbles

Feelsky

taste

Smellbang