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?

 

Do you speak Parentese?

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.

Supercharge your parentese: read aloud!

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.

The perfect time to learn

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!

 

 

 

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!

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