Reading roundup

Reading MumDear readers, we can’t help noticing the search terms that bring so many of you to The Reading Womb. The question most asked by far is some variation of, “What should I read to my baby in the womb?” We’re thrilled to see that reading to babies prenatally has become a mainstream practice among expectant parents! And clearly, families are thirsting for more information.

So in response to your requests, here’s another roundup of  books and authors perfectly suited to reading to your baby before birth.

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

Martin-CarleAuthor Bill Martin, Jr. and iconic illustrator Eric Carle have collaborated to create a much-loved collection of rhyming books whose simple text and engaging illustrations will capture the attention of babies and adults alike. There are three titles with a similar catchy chorus repeated throughout each book, just perfect for in utero reading: Polar Bear Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, and Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, what do you hear?

I hear a lion roaring in my ear!

Lion, Lion what do you hear?

I hear a hippopotamus snorting in my ear!

ChickaAnother favorite, also written by Bill Martin, Jr., is a rollicking and playful interpretation of the childhood chant, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

A told B and B told C,

“I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree!” . . .

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!

Will there be enough room?

Prolific author and illustrator Sandra Boynton has created many enjoyable rhyming books for young children. Her whimsical text and lovable characters create a fun reading experience for baby and grownups alike. From the popular Moo, Baa, La La La: “A cow says Moo. A sheep says Baa. Three singing pigs say La La La!”

BoyntonBoynton’s Tickle Time is bound to become a family favorite. Listen: “If you’re feeling blue and you don’t know what to do, there’s nothing like a tickle time to make you feel like new.”

Mem Fox has a way with words, and she’s created many books that should be at the center of your in utero reading experience. Her Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, The Magic Hat, and A Giraffe in the Bath are favorites that all have the rhyme, rhythm, and repetition that your baby will remember and grow to love.

A giraffe in the bath—does that make you laugh? Or a frog in the flour? Or a sheep in the shower? An owl with the flu? Or a roo on the loo? A crocodile with style—does that make you smile?

Of course, anything by Dr. Seuss will do the trick. You may have read these favorites as a child: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham . . . and the list goes on.

KublerAnnie Kubler specializes in bringing popular rhymes to life with her charming and colorful illustrations. Everyone knows the words to If You’re Happy and You Know It, I’m a Little Teapot and Pat-a-Cake, but with her sweet babies and bright palette  Ms. Kubler has given the traditional children’s rhymes new life.

Family BumpSo, you’ve got some books and now you’re ready to get started! Watch for our next post, which will be full of practical tips about how to make your prenatal reading experience effective and powerful.

And if you are a parent who has benefited from the beautiful and bonding experience of reading to your baby before birth, we’d love to hear your story!  Please send your stories, photos or videos and we’ll include them on on our blog to inspire other expectant parents to read to their child in the womb! From everything we’ve heard, these little ones turn out to be pretty special—early talkers who want to read everything they can get their hands on. But we’re not surprised. We at the Reading Womb have long known that it’s never too early to read to your baby!

Pathways to language

Lev Vygotsky is certainly not a household name, but if you are a parent who talks and talks to your baby, you have intuitively stumbled upon the groundbreaking research territory of this brilliant cognitive theorist. Vygotsky’s study of babies and young children in the early 20th century led him to conclude that the best learning takes place when the learner is guided and supported while taking on something new by what he called “a more knowledgeable other.” Parents help their children construct their knowledge of language by introducing them to new words, and by modeling intonation and expression of voice, facial expression, and hand gestures. So, just by talking and talking, you are drawing your child along in his language learning and cognitive development, supporting his acquisition of new words, and introducing him to all the benefits of communicating with other people.

Of course, this communication can start even before your child is born. We know that babies can hear voices from inside the womb, and it is the mother’s voice that is heard most often and most clearly. During the last trimester, your baby will become familiar with the unique intonation, melody, and cadence of your voice. Research shows that the baby in the womb responds to repetition and rhythm, so by reading a poetic story you will be introducing your child to the beauty of language, and to the exciting world of human interaction. Once your baby is born, you can enrich his auditory experience by pointing out illustrations and objects that will help him to assign a visual image to the words he has become familiar with.

Reading a rhythmic story to a baby in the womb is also important to his brain development, building the foundation for future speaking, reading, and thinking. Here’s the amazing science that explains why. Months before birth, a baby is tuned in to his mother’s voice and the rhythmic sound of her heartbeat. The developing nerves in the baby’s ears are connected to his brain, and the stimulation caused by sounds creates new neural pathways as the baby grows. When sounds are repetitive, rhythmic, and familiar, the pathways are defined and strengthened. So by reading a story or poem over and over again, you are creating and reinforcing pathways in your baby’s brain, and these will lay the groundwork for continued learning and development. The research shows definitively that babies who are read a rhythmic story regularly in the last trimester, remember and are soothed by the same story after birth!

If you’ve followed our blog and podcasts, you know we’ve spoken a lot about the detriments of babies’ interacting with an artificial device such as a tablet, phone or computer monitor (see Interactive? Parts 1 and 2). And recently,  more evidence supporting the importance of human vs. electronic interaction was provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which reviewed hundreds of research studies done since 1999 on the effects of TV on babies and toddlers. Consider the following statement from the AAP:

“Pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years. Although certain television programs may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant caregivers (e.g., child care providers) for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Therefore, exposing such young children to television programs should be discouraged.”

There is no doubt: when it comes to your child’s language learning and cognitive development, nothing comes close to the rich and loving interactions your child shares with you and the other “more knowledgeable others” in his life. So keep talking and talking to your baby, before and after birth. You’ll be glad you did . . . and your new friend Lev Vygotsky would be so proud!