Ah, that new-book smell!

When Susan’s youngest son was around three years old, he made a pronouncement that is beautiful music to any teacher or mother’s ears. He had been sitting among a pile of his favorite titles, Polar Bear, Polar Bear by Eric Carle, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff, Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, and the classic Pat the Bunny. Engulfed by books, with his favorite, an oversized Richard Scarry book called Busy, Busy Town open on his little lap, he announced “I love books!” Then, holding the book close up to his face, he added rapturously, “They smell so gooood.”

Although this same little fellow had been known to chew and lick books during his toddler years, we should not dismiss the message in his innocent wisdom. For children, reading is without a doubt a multisensory experience.

In this age of digital books and e-readers one can’t help but wonder, will the children of the future ever know that wonderful smell of a new book, the sturdy feel of a hardcover novel, or the soft sound of turning pages? Will the clichés “that was a real page turner” or “he always has his nose in a book” become obsolete? And what will become of the scratchy Daddy’s beard and soft bunny fur of Pat the Bunny? It’s just not the same, is it? The image of Susan’s young son smelling a Kindle comes to mind. Hmmm.

Think of the books you loved when you were a child. Do you remember reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish over and over, always finding something new in each whimsical Dr. Seuss illustration? And what about Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, with its full-spread illustrations, artistically placed text, and adorable ducklings marching across each page?

Every children’s picture book has its own unique design and reflects the thoughtfulness and inspiration of its author and illustrator. We are left wondering what the result will be when these well-loved titles are transferred to a digital format. Will the tangible, tactile, and multisensory qualities get lost in translation?

Chris Van Allsburg, author and illustrator of many favorite children’s books, including The Polar Express, said “on a digital platform they all get ground into the same thing.” He is referring to the uniformity of text and illustration on an e-reader, which imposes a standard font and page size. The thought of each picture book illustration being the same shape and size, shrunk or stretched to fit a standard screen, is a little unsettling for any children’s book enthusiast, or for anyone who treasures the idiosyncrasies each author and illustrator bring to a story.

Now, I’m sure you’ll agree that all reading is good reading, and that there may be times when an e-reader is appropriate for children. When traveling, for example, it might not be practical for a family to bring a child’s collection of favorite books. An e-reader would make it convenient to continue an established reading routine even on vacation. The future of digital reading in classrooms is also an exciting possibility; volumes of books could be made available to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to read them. And if you’re reading to your baby in the womb, she won’t know the difference! From inside the womb, an e-book sounds just like the traditional one. Uploading a fun selection of rhyming and rhythmic stories to share with your expected child would be quick and easy, and if this is what you need to get started, then go right ahead.

But once the baby is born, and she’s snuggled on your lap to hear that familiar story, your Kindle or Nook is just going to look like a rectangular hunk of plastic. Of course, the familiar story read by your unique voice will calm and sooth your baby, and that’s always a good thing. However, by sharing a real book with your newborn, a book with turning pages and bright illustrations, you will get both her auditory and her visual attention. You’ll also be setting her up with those prereading skills that we mentioned in earlier blogs, such as holding a book right-side-up and reading from left to right, to name a few.

Again, all reading is good reading. But if you want the very best reading experience for your baby in the womb or your newborn, there’s no substitute for a real, touchable, hearable, smellable book. It’s the total sensory experience that just might lead your child to joyfully exclaim someday, “I love books!”


Yes, expectant Mum, you can celebrate Mother’s Day, too!

16638831_sDuring your last trimester, it really does become obvious that your bump is not just a bump, that your little son or daughter is in there, ready to be born and meet you. You have felt him twist and poke you from inside and watched your belly roll and wave. You’ve seen his little nose and toes on the ultrasound — he’s already a perfect little person, cozy in his warm, safe space. Yes, you are a mother, and you have lots to celebrate on this holiday dedicated to you.

You’re so eager to meet this little one who has been close to you for months! What will it be like to hold him and see his face for the very first time? The last months of pregnancy are exciting, and as your belly grows larger, so does your love for your baby, who will be arriving very soon. It’s so hard to wait, isn’t it?

24446382_sBut here’s the incredible news. You may not yet know your baby, but your baby definitely knows you! He knows the rhythms of your body, your waking and sleeping cycles, when and what you eat, when you’re active or still, and most importantly, he knows your voice . . . intimately.

Compelling new research shows that your voice plays as crucial a role in your baby’s growth and development as the healthy foods you’ve been eating all these past months. So although you have to wait a bit to hold your baby in your arms, you can begin nurturing him immediately, through the magical power of your unique voice.

Special Mother’s Day Gift! You or your expectant loved one can try reading in utero with our beautiful board book created specially for the purpose. Click here  and enter promo code W49ZZ9DQ  to get Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be for $3 off until May 31, 2015.

Researchers at Harvard University Medical School recently reported their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finding that an expectant mother’s voice plays a vital role in the development of the language centers in a baby’s brain. According to the study, a mother’s voice provides “the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development.”

Preg ReadNot only does talking to your bump help you to bond with your little one, but it actually helps his brain to grow!

If you’ve been following the Reading Womb blog, then you’re familiar with all the previous studies that show the importance of a mother’s voice on the developing child in utero. Here’s a quick summary of a few of them:

  • 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.

990240_sThese and many related 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.

But wait — there’s more! Research and lots of anecdotal evidence — including from our readers — strongly suggest that newborn babies are soothed and calmed by a rhythmic and repetitive story (or song) they heard regularly during the last trimester.

When your baby is born he leaves the soothing environment of the womb, with its predictable, rhythmic sounds. But if you hold him close and read a poem or story you’ve practiced with repeatedly, he will immediately be stilled by the familiar beat and by the beauty of your unique voice, the voice he has known and loved for months. Wouldn’t it give you a little extra confidence to have one more way of comforting your new baby?

25961883_sSo celebrate Mother’s Day by talking, singing, and reading to your baby even before birth. Soon enough, you will see your little one’s face light up when he hears you in person! Until then, you can know that he already knows and responds to the sweet sound of his Mummy’s voice.

As an added bonus, you can be sure that by talking to your baby now, you are laying the foundation for future language and literacy skills, cognitive development and, best of all, a sweet, strong mother-and-child bond.

The perfect gift for your expectant loved one

15265325_sIs there a budding family on your holiday list? An excited pregnant someone and/or her partner? If someone you love is expecting a baby, there’s one present that gives the gifts of parental bonding, early learning, and joyful anticipation all rolled into one: a book to read to the baby in the womb.

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

PandaThe Bear books, including and Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?  and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle, are an excellent example of the type of story that’s perfect for reading to babies before and after birth. The poetic meter and repetitious verse will create the neural pathways in baby’s brain that will lay the foundation for future language learning. Author Bill Martin Jr. and illustrator Eric Carle have collaborated to create many other books with beautiful illustrations that will engage babies and adults alike.

ThingsOf course, Dr. Seuss has dozens of rhyming books, whose whimsical verses and illustrations have been charming us for generations now. Consider The Cat in the Hat or The Lorax.

And then there’s the beloved Sandra Boynton, the author and illustrator of many fun and melodic board books, including The Going to Bed Book and Moo Baa La La La. These books, with their lively illustrations and all-around silliness, are bound to become cherished additions to your child’s story repertoire.Going to Bed

With so many wonderful choices, it shouldn’t be hard to find a book that you enjoy reading aloud as much as your baby loves hearing. Keep in mind that these are the stories that your little one will become familiar with and will request again and again once she’s born. Right now, your baby is a captive audience, snuggled up all safe and warm in your “reading womb.” She waits to hear the beautiful sound of your voice and the beloved story, a magical combination that she’ll respond to and that research shows will help her cognitive and language development.

Featured Image -- 925Still can’t decide? Well, it just so happens there’s already a book that’s supported by research and expressly designed for reading to babies in utero and after they’re born. This critically acclaimed book was recently honored with a prestigious gold medal from the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and has been inspiring expectant parents all over the globe to begin reading aloud to their babies before birth. Can’t Wait to Show you has become a beloved family favorite, a cherished storytime staple, and a beautiful little book that has sparked an incredible phenomenon of bonding with babies, prenatally and beyond, through language and literacy.

how-to-use-belly-booksNow, just for our dear readers, we’re offering a holiday special: $3 off the regular price on Amazon! Just enter promo code 6KIVA96K at checkout. And please, whether this copy is for yourself or for a loved one, we’d LOVE you to share your experience with your Belly Book. By email, on Facebook, or with an Amazon review, please give us your before-and-after pictures and stories. Thank you and Happy Holidays!


When learning begins

A while back we mentioned the TED Talk, “What We Learn Before We’re Born,” given by Annie Murphy Paul in July 2011 and posted on TED.com in November. Today we want to focus in on this excellent presentation and highlight the bits that really excite us as advocates of reading to babies in utero.

Annie Murphy Paul and Son Gus

Ms. Paul is a science writer for The New York Times and TIME Magazine, and she’s written a book, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives. In her talk she explains the emerging scientific field called fetal origins, which studies the ways that health and well-being are affected by one’s experience in the womb.

Many elements of a pregnant mother’s environment, from the foods she eats to the stressful situations she encounters, can have lasting effects on her growing baby’s future adaptation to its world. But, says Ms. Paul, “one of the most fascinating insights I took from this work is that we’re all learning about the world even before we enter it.”

And that includes, of course, learning language! She discusses some of the research findings that we’ve talked about here, such as this one from way back in 1985, in which researchers had 16 pregnant mothers read Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat to their bellies twice a day for the last 6 weeks of pregnancy. When the babies were born, they showed by sucking response that they much preferred to hear their mothers read the familiar Dr. Seuss story than one they hadn’t heard from the womb.

Ms. Paul also mentioned this favorite study of ours that found that newborns cry in the accent of their mother’s language. Her comment on the implications of this is fascinating:

Now, why would this kind of fetal learning be useful? It may have evolved to aid the baby’s survival. From the moment of birth, the baby responds most to the voice of the person who is most likely to care for it—its mother. It even makes its cries sound like the mother’s language, which may further endear the baby to the mother, and which may give the baby a head start in the critical task of learning how to understand and speak its native language.

We love the attention that Annie Murphy Paul is bringing to the subject of fetal origins and learning. Even though there’s a wealth of scientific evidence (just check out our Research links to the right!) to show that babies begin absorbing elements of language in utero, there’s nothing like a lively, engaging speaker—who’s a mother herself—bringing science home to our everyday lives. Ms. Paul explains all the research in a cozy, comfortable manner that is easily accessible to us nonscientific types, and her message couldn’t be any clearer: Babies in the womb are paying attention! Your expected child is a captive audience who is poised, listening and ready to learn, and it is you, the expectant parent, who is your child’s very first teacher. Any teacher worth her salt knows the importance of reading aloud to children and its powerful impact on language and literacy development.

Annie Murphy Paul concludes her talk, “Learning is one of life’s most essential activities, and it begins much earlier than we ever imagined.” So very true, Annie, and we’re sure you’ll agree . . . it’s never too early to read to your baby!

Beyond the Traditional Family, Part 1

Although the majority of babies are still raised in a traditional mother/father household, we know there are many strong families that represent unique variations on the parenting theme. Lots of homes include extended family members who are heavily involved in raising the child. A single parent might be helped out by a best friend or roommate. More and more kids are raised by two mommies or two daddies, perhaps with a surrogate mother. And siblings can contribute substantially to the care of baby brothers and sisters.

With the agreement of the expectant mother, anyone who intends to take a large part in caring for the coming baby can also begin reading to it before it’s born. He or she can start the bonding process early and, after the birth, experience the newborn’s response to the familiar voice and story. This will help soothe both baby and grownup when they spend time together without the birth mother, whose voice would naturally be best known to the baby.

Probably the most notable co-caregivers today are grandparents, and especially grandmothers. It’s cool to be a grandma now! When Goldie Hawn first became a grandmother, she balked at the title because “It’s a word that has so many connotations of old age and decrepitude.” Her son gave her the nickname Glam-ma and it stuck—and became a fashionable term. The phenomenon of grandbaby showers is becoming widespread, as a way of honoring the initiation into grandparenthood and, more practically, to help prospective grandparents prepare their homes for the visiting baby and even for childcare.

Substantial childcare on the part of grandparents has become a fact of life under the present economic conditions that force so many parents to work fulltime. A University of Toronto study found that close to 7% of all American grandparents provide extensive caregiving—of 30 or more hours a week—while not being the primary caregivers. According to the Pew Research Center, 1 in 10 children in the U.S. now lives with a grandparent, and in 41% of these households the grandparent is the primary caregiver.

So, go ahead, Nana and Pop-pop! Start snuggling up with your daughter(/in-law) and reading a rhythmic story, maybe something comical or that gives you the warm-fuzzies. Billy Crystal wrote his well-known I Already Know I Love You, addressed to his coming grandchild, when his daughter was expecting. This poem of loving anticipation might appeal to any prospective grandfather. Anne Bowen’s I Loved You Before You Were Born is told from the grandmother’s perspective, as is Karen Hill’s Grandmother’s Book of Promises. Or choose your favorite poetry—anything rhythmic, with or without rhyme, that adds to your joy in this experience.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we discuss Savvy Aunties of all kinds, baby’s big brother or sister, and other caregivers who go beyond the traditional family.

Everybody’s talkin’ at me

The findings couldn’t be clearer: The more words your baby is exposed to before age three, the better she will do in school. Children from vocabulary-rich households are definitely more successful both academically and socially than children from households where there is little talk.

Your baby is also tuned into language prenatally, and although she can’t attach meaning to the words, she can hear a variety of speech sounds, rhythms, and intonations from inside the womb. By talking to your unborn baby you will be helping her build a strong foundation for learning to speak, listen, and eventually read.

Consider the innovative research done by Drs. Betty Hart and Todd Risley at the University of Kansas in 1995. They followed 42 families and observed the language interactions between parents and their children, beginning when they were infants and continuing until they entered grade school. What they discovered was that in families where there was a great deal of talk, children performed well in school and, conversely, that in families where there was little talk, children were often struggling.

Other studies have since provided evidence that children who are exposed to rich vocabulary and language not only become better readers, but also excel socially. Those children who were not frequently exposed to spoken language presented a huge disadvantage in following directions, learning routines, and making friends. As a matter of fact, more than half of children with limited vocabularies at age three will have trouble learning to read later on.

There is no better place or time to start talking to your baby than when she is in your womb. The words you say now will contribute to your child’s language development. Once she’s born, you can help your baby to make a visual connection to the words she has heard, but for now, the best thing you can do is just talk, talk, talk. Dr. Risley says that it doesn’t matter what you say; all talk is good talk. However, the research does say that reading something rhyming and rhythmic will help your baby to remember the words she hears, giving her a head start for building her own oral language.

When your child is born, you will support her acquisition of new words by pointing out illustrations in books, and adding facial expressions and gestures. Your baby is already on the way to becoming a reader! And even better, you have created a close relationship with your child by sharing and enjoying language together. The words you’ve introduced your baby to in utero are the seeds that will eventually grow into the give-and-take of real conversation.

By exposing your child to words from the very beginning, not only will you promote her success as a reader and a student, but you’ll give her the tools to communicate and so develop close and meaningful relationships . . . in the family, in school, and beyond.

Check out this great Reading Rockets webcast, From Babbling to Books, for more info on Hart & Risley.