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!

Happy Mother’s Day in the golden age of early literacy

Mom-to-be, you sure have a lot to celebrate in May. First, even if you’re still carrying your little bundle on the inside on Mother’s Day, you know very well that you’re already a mother and deserve to be fussed over and pampered and given breakfast in bed (it could happen!).

Second, you have the good fortune to become a parent during this golden age of early literacy, when an abundance of research findings and expert advice about reading to babies right from birth is being offered by nonprofit groups, libraries, and government agencies. And now, more and more, that includes information about “early-early literacy.” Yes, by reading, talking, and singing to your baby before birth, you’re laying the foundation for future language and literacy skills, cognitive development and, best of all, a sweet, strong mother–child bond.

We rejoiced a few months ago when a New York Times article so prominently pointed out the benefits of reading to babies in the womb. Then we jumped up and down when we learned about all the library story hours being created just for pregnant moms. We just love all this further confirmation that reading to babies before birth is an idea whose time has come. But do you need a little more information, Mom-to-be, to be convinced of the power of reading aloud to a baby you can’t even see yet? We’ve got lots to offer!

Compelling research shows that the mother’s voice plays a crucial role in babies’ growth and development in the womb. Long before you hold your baby in your arms, you begin nurturing him through your unique voice. As you read aloud you’ll find yourself feeling more calm as your heartbeat and breathing slow down, and you’ll immediately pass this relaxation to your baby. You’ll both feel connected, soothed, and peaceful; just like that, you’re already forming a deep bond.

To get yourself up to speed on the whys and wherefores of in utero reading, please check out the studies listed in our sidebar. For starters, here’s a quick summary of the classic research:

  • Babies in utero can recognize, and show a strong preference for, their mother’s voice over the voice of a stranger. See this study.
  • Newborn babies remember and show attentiveness to nursery rhymes that were read to them by their mother during the last trimester of pregnancy. Check it out here.
  • Babies in utero can distinguish between words spoken in their mother’s language and in other languages. Read this article.

These and many more discoveries assure us that a baby in the last trimester is hearing, responding to, and remembering what he’s exposed to from inside the womb. Your baby is already familiar with the melody and cadence of your voice, and this interaction is stimulating the auditory cortex, which plays a large role in developing his brain.

On top of that, research and anecdotal evidence strongly suggest that newborn babies are soothed by a rhythmic and repetitive story or song they heard regularly during the last trimester. If your new baby is fussy, you can hold him close and read a poem or story you’ve practiced repeatedly—he’ll immediately be stilled by the familiar sounds. How reassuring would it be to have another way to comfort your newborn at your fingertips?

So start now, while you’re still practicing to be a mother, by reading to your little one even before birth. Soon you’ll see his face light up when he hears you in person! Until then, you can know he’s already listening and responding to the sweet sound of his mother’s voice.

If you’re the loved one of a mom-to-be, there’s still time to get her started with her own copy of Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be. For our Mother’s Day Special, just enter promo code Mom2Bday on Amazon for 20% off through May 31, 2017.

Joy to the world!

64887254_sAre you expecting an extra-special little present this holiday season or in the months to come? Are you all aglow from something much more exciting than Jack Frost nipping at your nose? We know you can’t wait to cherish this precious gift, and we want to tell you how you can start making a real connection with your little one even before she arrives. Read aloud to her right now!

Babies in the third trimester can already hear very well, and studies (check out the research links in the sidebar) show that they recognize their mother’s voice, and newborns remember and show attentiveness to nursery rhymes that were read to them by their mother during the last trimester of pregnancy. The baby becomes familiar with the rhythm of the lines, and with the unique melody of the reader’s voice, and responds to the sound after she’s born. Yes, you really will be bonding with her well before birth, and she’ll be soothed by these same stories as a newborn.

Bedtime StoryThe power of regular storytime for families is well researched and documented. Reading to children from the very beginning has benefits that range from strengthening family bonds, to teaching empathy and social skills, to enhancing cognitive and language development. Parents who start reading to baby regularly before birth make storytime into a favorite nightly ritual, and it’s much easier for them to keep up the habit when their newborn arrives and their lives turn upside-down!

What book should I read to my baby in the womb?

grinchThere are so many wonderful books to choose from! Any Dr. Seuss book, for instance, has the jaunty rhythms and catchy rhymes that are the easiest for babies to pick up on from inside the womb. We listed other suggestions in this post a few years back.

But we have to say that there’s only one book that includes not only rhythm and rhyme, but a story that describes the experience of the expectant mom herself. Our beautiful board book, Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, rejoices in all the little things she’ll soon be introducing Feelto her baby’s wondering eyes, ears, nose, and mouth — exploring all five senses and the joys of play, friends, and love. It’s quite a moving experience for an expectant mother, and of course Daddy and other family members can share it with her.

We were touched and honored to receive this Amazon review recently that voices one reader’s appreciation of our book’s special point of view…

This book is very cute, and I will live up to every word once my son is here. It will be good to tell him that I’ve read the book to him while he was in mommy’s belly and now we get to do all the things together.

Establishing a regular reading routine before birth is one of the very best things parents can do for their children, and Can’t Wait to Show You has all the research-recommended, parent-tested ingredients for inspiration and success:

  • The rollicking rhythm and rhymes are easy to read and will be soothing music to baby’s ears.
  • There’s visual appeal for the newborn: the bright and colorful illustrations will capture baby’s attention, and the chunky design and easy-to-grasp pages are baby-friendly.
  • 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 around the newborn when he arrives!

Happy Holidays, parents-to-be, and all those who are awaiting their bundle of joy with them! Our gift to you: Use promo code TS9XQC38 at checkout on Amazon for 20% off Can’t Wait to Show You until midnight on January 5, 2017, the end of the 12 Days of Christmas.

 

“Making Books Part of a Healthy Childhood”

17730593_sReach out for your favorite book. Reach out to a child and share a story together. Reach out to thousands of parents and give them free books to share with their children. Reach out to pediatricians and nurses across the country to educate them about the benefits to children of a regular storytime, and train them to teach this to their patients. Reach Out and Read!

Thanks to the nonprofit organization Reach Out and Read, receiving a picture book has become a regular part of many a child’s first well-baby visit. ROR “builds on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers to develop critical early reading skills in children, beginning in infancy.” It’s become mainstream practice for pediatricians to give books, right along with checkups, to young patients in over 5,000 Reach Out and Read program sites in the U.S. Participating doctors and nurses have provided almost 7 million books to children and families nationwide!

Reach Out and Read Washington State
Reach Out and Read Washington State

The best part is that not only are doctors and nurses providing the first book to families who may not otherwise have access to them, but they also dispense invaluable advice about the benefits of adopting a storytime routine right from the start. Reach Out and Read actively trains health care practitioners so that they can share with patients the most recent research and practices in reading aloud to children, as well as specific instructions to begin reading, talking and singing to babies as a regular part of raising a healthy child.

This wonderful organization has been reaching out for over 25 years! But most recently some major wind has been added to their sails by a strong public recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, our country’s largest and most respected group of children’s healthcare professionals. As we reported in our June 2014 post, the AAP said that parents should read to their babies as early as possible, that reading is an “essential” element of doctor visits, and that the benefits and implications for brain development, language acquisition, and family bonding, among others, are boundless. Pediatricians were urged to convey the message that reading regularly with children is paramount to their health and well-being.

None of this was surprising to the folks at ROR, but the AAP’s public recommendation inspired the creation of a dream team of literacy advocates that further empowered their mission. This powerhouse collaborative includes not only ROR and the AAP but also Too Small to Fail, a Clinton Foundation initiative, and Scholastic Books, one of the leaders in the children’s book industry. This collaborative has been educating the public about the importance for children of early exposure to language and literacy. Their work has already had a powerful impact on parents, educators, literacy advocates, medical professionals, and policymakers across the country and around the globe.

123rfReach Out and Read is an “evidence-based” organization that has piloted many of its own studies to lend to the body of research supporting this practice. One such study, published in the journal Pediatrics in May 2004, found a direct correlation between the number of ROR interactions a family was exposed to during well-child visits and the number of literacy-centered activities that took place in a child’s home. They found that even “a modest literacy intervention such as ROR can have a significant impact on a child’s home literacy environment,” and that children who had a great deal of ROR interaction reported that reading was one of their favorite activities.

Just last month, the organization began another very exciting pilot study with families of babies in the NICU at Boston City Medical Center to discover the impact that regular read-aloud time has on premature infants. Previous research has shown that “premature infants are exposed to less language in utero and after birth than term infants” and that “early language exposure is essential for normal language development.” In the study, ROR and professionals at the Boston City Medical center will provide literacy-centered education and interaction for the first five years of each child’s life and measure the child’s engagement with books and reading.

Graham's Foundation
Graham’s Foundation

This exciting pilot study builds on a recent discovery that babies in the NICU develop the language and auditory centers in their brains more quickly when their mothers read to them regularly. As found by previous studies we’ve reported here, babies learn language from their mother during the last trimester, but babies born too soon are deprived of this essential developmental period. However, it appears that these premature infants can catch up to their full-term counterparts when they hear stories, lullabies and songs for a few hours each day. By having parents read to premature babies, and then throughout their childhood, ROR hopes to add to their growing body of evidence about the positive effects that shared family storytime has on a child’s growth, development and well-being.

ReadingOf course, we at the Reading Womb always want to take it a step further! Many family practices that utilize ROR include obstetrics, and maybe someday they will also educate expectant parents about the importance of reading aloud to babies in the womb. In addition to all the benefits of in utero reading that we regularly touch upon here, the practice offers valuable support to new parents who want to incorporate storytime into their newborn’s daily schedule. All parents want to do what’s best for their baby, but when she finally arrives they may find themselves overwhelmed by all their new responsibilities. Three (or more) months of rehearsal would be a huge help!

AfterAfter a period of practicing reading to their baby in utero, during that time of relatively quiet anticipation before their lives change so dramatically, reading aloud to their newborn will be one of the few tasks that new parents will feel competent in. They can 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 benefits.

Thank you for the great work that you do, Reach Out and Read, and the precious gift you’re giving to families. Your reach extends far and wide!