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.
But not storytime! Storytime is free! Storytime is easy! And most importantly, storytime gives your children what they crave most of all: YOU!
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.
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.
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!
We 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.
What 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) will 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.
Are 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.
The 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?
There 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 to 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.
Suddenly you’re pulled from your thoughts by a sound like million tinkling bells, and you turn to see an iridescent green cloud billowing out of the laundry-detergent bottle. From inside the cloud emerges a genie! He looks at you kindly, seeing that you’re overwhelmed with household duties.
“O humble, toiling one!” says the genie. “You have been working so very hard! I’m going to give you a beautiful gift.”
A gift! From a genie! What could it be?
“I am going to give you 15 minutes! Fifteen whole minutes to do with whatever you desire.” The genie looks beneficent and proud.
Your face falls. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but really? Just 15 minutes? Accepting your faltering thanks, the genie vanishes back into the detergent bottle and you return to your thoughts.
“What can I do with 15 minutes?” you wonder. “That’s not enough time to do anything! Well, I guess I could eat a whole salted-caramel cupcake, licking the frosting off first and savoring every bite . . . but I’d probably regret that. I could organize my sock and underwear drawer, but 15 minutes would barely make a dent. Hmmm.”
Well, what if we told you that with 15 minutes every day you could do something so powerful, so amazing, so truly magical that it would change your life and the life of your family forever?
Study after study is showing conclusively the incredible benefits to parents and children of having a regular storytime routine. And just 15 minutes a day is all it takes.
“Read?” you say, “I’d rather have the cupcake!” OK, eating a cupcake for 15 minutes every day does sound like fun, but over time the only thing you’ll have to show for it will be on your hips. On the other hand, the rewards of a regular storytime routine can’t be measured, and over time they only grow. For a fun infographic on the many reasons to read aloud for 15 minutes (and unfortunate statistics about how many people don’t) please check out this wonderful poster from ReadAloud.org.
All right, so you’re ready to accept the genie’s gift and pass it on to your child, but where in your day should you carve out that 15 minutes? We suggest you begin your regular reading time at bedtime. There’s been a lot of hoopla lately about the benefits of bedtime stories, and with good reason. Reading for 15 minutes at bedtime not only exposes children to new vocabulary, develops reading and language skills, promotes brain growth, inspires empathy and encourages family bonding.
It also settles children down! We’d like to see a cupcake that can do that!
There is an amazing physiological and biological phenomenon that takes place when families sit down together and snuggle around a book. Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that gets us all riled up, are measurably reduced in both parents and children when they cuddle up together. Meanwhile, Oxytocin, the bonding hormone that makes us melt over babies (and puppies, and all things adorable), increases, making this close family time one crazy-happy 15-minute love-fest!
Better yet, it can then become a soothing sleepy-fest. We’re going to give you our usual advice about when to begin practicing your sacred storytime: even before your baby is born. Experts say that if an expectant mother settles down at the same time each evening, her baby will become conditioned to settle down at that same time. Her heartbeat and breathing will slow down at this time every night, and so will her baby’s. Add a bedtime story to the mix and you have a recipe for a newborn who is sleepy, relaxed, and calmed by the words he knows so well.
And if expectant parents read to their baby for 15 minutes each night during the last trimester, they will see the magic firsthand once the baby is born. Way back in 1986, DeCasper and Spence showed that newborns responded more positively to a familiar rhyme read to them by their mother before birth than to an unfamiliar story, and others have been expanding on these findings ever since (see numerous studies in our Research sidebar list). Most recently (reported on Brain Decoder in July 2015), researchers at the University of Salzburg conducted similar experiments with mothers, as well as strangers, reading nursery rhymes to their babies in the third trimester. They found that the sound of an unfamiliar rhyme read by a stranger increased stress responses in the newborns, but that the familiar rhymes, spoken by either their mother or a stranger, had a calming effect.
Lots of new parents we know have found the same to be true (including those who regularly read our book to their babies in utero!), and there’s a growing body of anecdotal evidence out there for the Googling, but there’s nothing like personal experience. If you’re pregnant, especially in your third trimester, why not give it a try? Snuggle up with your partner tonight, and every night, for just 15 minutes with a bedtime story — especially one that’s rhythmic and rhyming — for your expected little one. Then keep that cozy ritual going when baby arrives, and watch its effects. Does he stop crying? Turn in the direction of your voice? Move his face and body in response to the story?
Well, that’s just the beginning. If you continue that 15 minutes of shared family reading time throughout your child’s life, you won’t need a genie after all. Just a little time, your voice, and a beloved story will create real and lasting magic for your child.
Reach 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!
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.
Reach 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.
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.
Of 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!
After 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!