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.

 

 

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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For National Library Week, we celebrate our preliteracy champions!

It’s been five whole years since we published our twin posts, Libraries, Our Early-Literacy Champions, Part 1 and Part 2. We needed back-to-back posts to report on all the exciting initiatives that libraries had been rolling out at that time to promote reading to babies right from birth.

We naturally took the opportunity back then to point out that all the benefits of this practice listed by the American Library Association and others are enhanced if parents start reading to their babies even before birth. One library-affiliated group we gushed about, the Family Reading Partnership in New York state, had already established a program specifically to encourage reading to babies in the womb—and Waiting for Baby is still going strong.

North Liberty, Iowa, Library Read to the Bump Program

Well, five years later, we’re thrilled to find an explosion of library programs for expectant parents! First, watch this video about the Read to the Bump program in North Liberty, Iowa. Now check out that library’s fabulous page about its Womb Literacy (be still our hearts!) program, and don’t miss the info on the adorable Waddle Walk fundraiser mentioned in the video. And hey, pregnant storytime seems to be big in Iowa; here’s Iowa City Library’s wonderful Belly Babies page. Our nation’s capital is showing the way forward, too: DC Public Library’s STAR (sing, talk and read to baby) program includes the Expecting a Baby stage in its reading-level guide and book lists. You get the picture, and there are probably many more great examples springing up all over.

Mother’s Day Early Bird Special! Enter promo code Mom2Bday on Amazon for 20% off Can’t Wait to Show You through May 31, 2017.

Particularly exciting for us at the Reading Womb is the Early Literacy Initiative at the Esperanza Acosta Moreno branch of the El Paso, Texas, library. This program is dedicated to educating expectant mothers “on the impact of prenatal reading while developing a routine to jumpstart your child’s literacy. The library provides all of the materials necessary to introduce children to words and music essentially through prenatal storytime,” including our very own Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be. We could not be more proud and honored!

The most important aspect of this distinction is that the initiative was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission for 2017. We never knew about this pilot program until its lovely coordinator quietly put in her grant-funded order for a supply of books. 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 foster and fund programs to teach young families about the practice?

Yes, 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 begin at birth but before birth, and that means early literacy work should now include pre-birth literacy, or, as we like to call it, preliteracy.

But the nice thing is that no “work” is required for expectant parents—just cozy, snuggly reading time with the baby bump. Although you can’t yet see your little one, she is raptly listening to and learning from your words. You don’t have to think about how those words are laying the foundation for her social and cognitive development. You’ll feel the love flowing through your words, and so will she—maybe even more if you practice amid the good vibrations at your local library.

So check out your library—does it offer prenatal story hour yet? If not, make the suggestion, and send your children’s librarian the link to this post!

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