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!

 

 

 

Let’s make it a movement!

Dear readers,

FutureThe recent upsurge of interest you’ve shown in the benefits of in utero reading has been very exciting for us to watch, as has been the continuing stream of scientific research into the subject.

Now we’re asking ourselves: What will transform this interest into a movement? And we think the answer is: lots more anecdotal evidence from parents themselves, not to mention grandparents and others closely involved in the pregnancy and birth.

So we’re putting out a call, urging you more strongly than ever to give this practice a try,  to add to the body of informal research and watch how the movement grows. Will the next generation be even more sensitive, curious, and intelligent than the last?

HappyTo make it really easy for you, we’re offering a crazy discount on our beautiful board book, Can’t Wait to Show You, created specially for reading to the baby in the womb.

From now until August 10, use promo code 2V39994M for a full $5 off every purchase on Amazon!

And don’t be shy about reporting your experiences with us! You can share your stories, maybe even your before-and-after photos, via a blog comment, email, Facebook, Twitter, or Amazon review.

Now, just in case you need more motivation to overcome a bit of skepticism, or even a feeling of awkwardness about reading to an unseen listener, here is a quick review of the benefits of reading to babies before and after birth. . .

FamilyAn abundance of research over the last several years has shown that babies in the third trimester of pregnancy can hear and recognize words spoken by their mother (and father and others, too), and remember them after birth. There is conclusive and compelling evidence showing that the benefits of reading to your baby before birth are immediate and long-lasting.

Your baby will become familiar with your unique voice: Research shows that babies recognize the voice of their mother at birth and can distinguish their mother’s voice from that of a stranger.

LoveBonding with your baby prenatally benefits his future health and emotional well-being: When a pregnant woman feels love for her expected child in the womb, she releases endorphins (“feel good” hormones), which trigger the same hormone release in the baby. The result is a baby who has unhindered physical, cognitive, and neurological growth, and who is born with a general sense of safety and well-being.

When you take time to relax and read, your baby relaxes, too: When an expectant mother’s heartbeat and breathing slow down, her baby responds physiologically, endocrinologically, and neurologically. These responses have a positive effect on the baby’s growth and development.

Your baby will begin to learn language: Hearing speech patterns and rhythms in the womb begins to teach babies their primary language.

RaptA familiar, rhythmic story will soothe your newborn: Newborn babies show a clear preference for the rhythm and melody of a song or poem that they heard regularly from the womb. Babies actually remember a rhythmic poem or story that they heard during the last trimester for up to four weeks after birth, and they’re measurably calmed by that familiar story.

The more words your baby hears, the better adjusted and more successful she will be in life: There is a direct correlation between the amount that parents talk to babies and their academic and social success. The more words a baby hears in the early years, the more advanced her language and literacy development will be in the future.

SharingReading to your child before and after birth strengthens family and social bonds: Establishing a routine around reading creates a sacred, centered, regular time devoted to you and your child. This helps expectant parents and siblings develop a relationship with the baby before birth, easing the transition into parenthood and siblinghood. In the bigger picture, family reading helps establish a culture in which literacy and language are a priority.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents read to their baby as early as possible: Establishing a regular reading routine before birth is one of the very best things parents can do for their children, and at last there’s a book especially designed for the purpose! Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, has all the research-recommended ingredients for inspiration and success:

  • The rollicking rhythm and rhymes are easy to read and will be soothing music to baby’s ears.
  • Visual appeal for the newborn: This bright and colorful board book will capture baby’s attention, and the chunky design and easy-to-grasp pages are baby-friendly.Enjoy
  • The sweet verses and illustrations allow the expectant mother to celebrate this time of joyful anticipation.
  • As a fun, unique bonus, this sturdy board book, made in the USA, is uniquely shaped to rest comfortably over the pregnant belly and then over the newborn’s belly when he or she arrives!

Happy Daddy-to-Be Day!

Preg DadThere’s no better way to for us to inspire you, the expectant father, to read to your baby before birth than for you to hear from fellow daddies who have experienced the magic of in-utero reading firsthand. We just happen to have some amazing stories from a couple of incredible dads-to-be who  bonded with their expected child by reading to Mommy’s baby bump. We’ll wow you with their stories first, and then tell you all about the evidence supporting this practice and also how to begin!

Meet Everett Bowes. He’s a first-time father who, as you can see from the photo below, is truly enjoying the benefits of having read to his son before he was born. Everett heard about the benefits of prenatal storytime, and…well you can hear it from him:

Early in my wife’s pregnancy we heard about the benefits of reading to a baby still in the womb. . . . I read to Emerson every day. In fact, I often read to him multiple times per day. When he was just a few weeks old I read it to him for the first time outside the womb. We were shocked at his response. He seemed to recognize the story immediately, including all of my silly Everett Bowesaccents for the different characters. He made sounds and waved his arms excitedly as we read. Babies his age don’t smile like this, yet he wouldn’t stop smiling, squealing, and waving. We couldn’t believe how clearly he recognized the story. This is one of our most treasured memories.

See the whole beautiful Storehouse story here.

Everett’s story is an amazing example of an exciting trend. More and more expectant fathers are bonding with their sons and daughters before birth through the power of their voice. And in that incredible moment when their newborn first responds to Daddy’s voice and a familiar story or song, the baby/daddy bond comes to life.

Here’s another one. Thanks to Brigid Hubberman of the Family Reading Partnership in Ithaca, New York, for sharing this wonderful anecdote about a dad she knows who regularly read The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle to his baby in utero. She told us:

Hungry CaterpillarAfter a long and difficult labor, when baby was finally born by C-section, the new dad found himself exhausted, alone and panicked in the recovery room with a shrieking new baby. Looking down he felt the words well up, and found himself say to the baby, “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.” Immediately, the baby quieted down and looked into her father’s eyes as he told the story of the caterpillar that turned into a butterfly. There is no doubt that this baby was soothed by the familiarity and comfort of her father’s voice reading (by heart) a story that was already her own.

Almost convinced? Well, here’s the research part. You’ve probably heard of Dr. Sears, the world-renowned pediatrician who wrote Keys to Becoming a Father. He says, “Studies have shown that babies whose fathers talked to them before birth attended more to their father’s voices soon after birth, perhaps indicating that the sound of the father’s voice had been imprinted on the mind of the preborn baby.”

Daddy and BabyAccording to Dr. Sears, “Some researchers suspect that the preborn baby actually may hear the father’s voice better than the mother’s, because the amniotic fluid transmits the resonant low-pitched male voice more easily than a higher feminine voice.” So there’s the scientific evidence you might have needed to know that your baby will hear and learn your voice from inside Mommy’s tummy. (More about this fascinating research on the sidebar of our blog if you are interested.)

After reading all that, we’re certain that you are chomping at the bit to get started, right? So, how does a dad begin? First he should designate a special and regular time each day to snuggle up to his expectant partner and her belly. (Make sure to ask her first!) Choose a story that is rhythmic and repetitive; the research says that babies respond best to stories with an inherent beat. (We have some excellent suggestions in our Reading Roundup post.)

Read the same story or poem each time and we promise that your unique daddy voice and the story will soon become familiar to your baby. Also, there is some evidence that it may help the acoustics if you keep your mouth right up close to the belly.Reading Daughter

Once your baby is born, the magic will begin. She will reward her daddy for his efforts by becoming immediately calmed and soothed as he reads the story she’s already come to love. What an incredible connection you will have created with your child!

Reading to an unseen listener may feel odd 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 as you can see, you won’t be alone. Many dads are jumping on the prenatal-reading bandwagon. If a father reads to his unborn child every night, he will have a special opportunity to bond with his child and establish a routine that can be continued long after the child is born.

For some specific instructions from an actual dad, please check out this awesome blog post from Dad’s Adventure.

And you must check out Daddy Elvin Freyte’s blog, Majendome. He’s started a powerful movement to inspire fathers around the globe to embrace this practice.

Bedtime StoryNow you’ve heard the stories and seen the evidence that supports the power of reading to your baby in utero. The rewards will continue throughout your child’s lifetime as you establish a Daddy/baby storytime that will continue for years to come.

So go ahead, Daddy-to-be — read to your baby! When he is born and you say hello, he’ll be thinking, “Hey, I know you!” And when you share the story he’s heard so many times before, your little one will become an alert and attentive audience, captivated by his daddy’s voice, the voice that is yours and yours alone.