Audiobooks for Babies?

A few months back, one of our participants in Books for Babies asked if audiobooks could be helpful for a baby.

This is a great question because we always talk about how much a baby enjoys being talked to and sung to. And how starting around 18-24 months, a baby begins to understand stories that have a narrative.

However, even though they love the sound of language, a baby is still particular about which voices they will listen to. And while they love face-to-face interaction, a disembodied voice is usually ignored at best and a distraction at worst.

We take voices for granted, and listening to the radio, or talking on the phone seems normal to us. But have you ever tried talking to a toddler on the phone? As much as they might love you, you can usually only keep their attention for a few seconds before they drop the phone or start pressing buttons. They don’t find the experience engaging, even though you are talking directly to them.

Video chat works much better—it’s still not as great as face-to-face conversation—but you’re not nearly as likely to be abandoned mid-conversation, or at least not as quickly.

Listening to stories is similar. Without pictures to connect to the story, or some kind of related object to explore while you tell the story, your toddler will often lose interest quickly. (Don’t forget that we’re talking about an older baby here.)

So, as much as I personally enjoy audiobooks, it’s not something I would recommend trying with a baby or young child. It’s just too much to expect them to pay attention to a story that is being told by someone who isn’t in the room with them, about someone they haven’t met, doing something that they can’t even see.

But don’t take my word for it, experiment! Use the voice recorder on your phone and record yourself reading a book. Sit down with your baby and the book and turn the pages while you play the recording. Watch how your child reacts. Another time, sit down together without the book and listen to the recording together. What does your baby do this time? These are both very different experiences than sharing a book with your child in real-time, responding to them, and inviting their participation in the process.

Talking to Babies in Different Languages

We work with mothers, fathers, grandparents, and caregivers from a number of countries and backgrounds. Together they speak more than 60 languages, and for many of these families, that means that more than one language is being spoken at home.

Children born into these homes are incredibly fortunate. There are many benefits to being able to speak more than one language. Languages create connections between generations, between cultures, and between places all around the world. And having more connections to our world and the people in it is a wonderful gift.

So, how can babies best learn more than one language?

The first part is easy: they need to learn from people. Face-to-face interaction is by far the best way for babies to learn new languages. Videos, apps, and recordings will not help babies. Video chat is the only exception. The second part is that, when they are old enough to speak, they have to use the new language regularly.

When I first started in this field, there were concerns about confusing babies with different languages, so recommendations were quite rigid. But research from the last 10 years  suggests that babies are not that easy to confuse, so you can explore an approach to multiple languages that works best for you and your family.

Here is an excellent guide from Nexus Health in Ontario. It discusses the benefits, different  strategies, and ways children learn multiple languages: “When children speak more than one language”.

Whether you are fluent in one language or can speak in many, have fun singing and talking with your babies. I promise that they want to hear from you.

Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more resources and tip sheets for parents.

 

Show your Baby You Love Reading Too

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The best way for your baby to learn is through positive one-on-one interactions with the people they know and love. However, it’s not the only way that she can figure things out.

Your baby is always watching you, listening to you, and even smelling you. Even when your baby is outside of that sweet spot of face-to-face interaction, she is still trying to understand what is going on, and she pays special attention to what you and the rest of your family are doing.

All the important people in your baby’s life are role models for how to be human. And if you need proof of how much your baby is trying to be like you, just think of how quickly she picks up on your bad habits. You are not trying to teach her those things, but if she sees you’re staying up late, she wants to be awake with you. If she sees you on your smartphone a lot, your baby will want almost nothing more than to hold your phone in her tiny hands.

Under the age of two, children do not judge for themselves what is good or bad, they accept everything as normal. During this early stage, your baby understands how the world is supposed to work by what you do at home.

Now think about how much reading you do for yourself. Of course, cuddling up and sharing a board book is helpful to your baby, but what kind of a message are you giving her if she never sees you reading anything else?

A 2011 survey of families in the UK found that young people who see their mother and father read a lot are more likely to:

  • identify themselves as readers,
  • enjoy reading,
  • read frequently
  • have positive attitudes towards reading

National Literacy Trust, 2012

You are not only teaching your baby what things are called and how things work, you are modelling the attitudes that she will adopt for herself as she grows older. If you want your baby to enjoy books and value reading, make sure that you show her that. Your baby is very good at reading your expressions and body language. If you look like you’re having fun or you’re doing something interesting, then she will want that to be a part of her life too.

If you’d like to learn more tips to help your baby grow up to love reading, check out our  Books for Babies program!

A Book: What’s in it for Baby and You?

I like it when 3-BLOGWhen I started working for the Centre for Family Literacy, I worked with one program that served families with children 0 – 6 years old and another that served families with children 3-5 years old, and storytelling was a go-to activity for capturing the attention of preschool children and keeping them engaged. I loved it, and for years I wouldn’t read any book silently to myself because it was so much more fun to read them aloud.

And then I took on the Books for Babies program, and all my storytelling skills fell flat. Not entirely flat, but the stories written in books were obviously not written for babies. Babies have a much shorter attention span, a limited experience of the world, and only the beginnings of an understanding of what a story is.

So, when we talk about sharing books with babies, reading the words in the books is pretty far down the list of what we are going to do with the books when we share them. We want to help babies understand how books work, what they can do with them, and how the books relate to their world in a way that they can understand.

We will need to get creative, and we will need to experiment to find out what your babies respond to now. I’ll get us started with some ideas, but please add your own in the comments by clicking on the talk bubble at the top of this blog.

Remember:

  • You’re probably not trying to teach your babies to read, but you are helping them to build a relationship with books.
  • The following are prompts for you. Your babies might be able to do some of the things in these lists, but we’ll start by trying to capture their interest.
  • Try only a couple of ideas at a time. You are testing for their reaction, but you already know their patience is limited for trying new things.

Books as pictures

  1. What is this a picture of?
  2. What sound does it make?
  3. What colour is it?
  4. What shape is it?
  5. What would it feel like?
  6. What would it taste like?
  7. Do we have one of those?
  8. How does it make you feel?
  9. Where did you last see one of those? Could you go see one of those?
  10. What does that remind you of?
  11. What does it look like upside-down?
  12. That person/animal/robot looks just like/nothing like you.

Books as objects

  1. Pile them up.
  2. Line them up.
  3. Knock them down.
  4. Open and close them.
  5. Turn the pages back and forth.
  6. Shake them.
  7. Spin them.
  8. Slide them around.

Books as prompts

  1. Does it remind you of a song or rhyme?
  2. Does it remind you of another story?
  3. Does it remind you of your father/grandmother/guinea pig/etc.?
  4. Is there an idea for something to eat?
  5. Is there an idea for something to do?
  6. Can you pretend to do/be that?
  7. Act out this story together, with puppets and toys, or on our own.

When there’s a face

  1. Peek-a-boo!
  2. Make that same face/expression.
  3. Make up a name and backstory for this character.

If you would like more information about books and babies, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for tip sheets, a link to Flit the fun family literacy app, and program information for Edmonton.

Bedtime Reading for Babies

Bedtime story-blogYour baby loves routines. Though he or she might also like your stand-up comedy routine, I’m talking about everyday routines—like bath time, meal time, and bedtime. Your baby works hard to understand what is going on around her, so anything familiar and predictable will help her feel less like she has been stranded in a random and uncaring universe. Cuddling up and sharing a book, or a few books, at bedtime is a great routine to help your baby feel safe and loved, form a relationship with books, and settle down to sleep.

Settling down to sleep doesn’t just happen. We’ve all had restless nights, even before baby came, and sleep doesn’t come any easier for your baby. Having a bedtime routine teaches her a strategy for resting her mind and relaxing her body in preparation for sleep. She’s honestly not going to figure it out on her own, but if you have a routine in place, and follow it as often as you can, your baby will recognize it as familiar, find comfort in the predictability, and be that much easier to soothe to sleep.

Cuddling together to explore a book can be a very helpful tool to relax your baby. Your closeness is key. When you hold her in your arms to share a book, your baby can feel you, smell you, and hear your voice, and she will feel safe and loved. By deliberately slowing your pace, speaking in a more soothing tone of voice, and using more gentle movements, you can calm her further and bring her that much closer to sleep. Like reading, preparing for sleep is best learned when you do it together.

As your baby grows, she will become less and less willing to slow down, and by solidifying that bedtime routine early, you will be giving future you a much easier time. Baby will associate bedtime reading with all of those positive emotions you shared while snuggling together with a book when she was younger. She will fight sleep a little less, and you’ll be giving your baby a strong foundation in her literacy development at the same time.

The more you share books together, the more your baby will understand what those things are for and what can be done with them. By finding regular and positive ways to share books, you teach your baby about all she can get and experience from books. But even the best book will be ignored by your baby unless you show her that it is worthwhile by sharing and enjoying it together.

So take care of yourselves and your babies. And if you haven’t started already, make a bedtime story with your baby part of her daily routine!

Please check our Books for Babies program schedule on the Centre for Family Literacy website for opportunities to learn more with us!

 

Conversations with Babies

Baby loveThere are behaviours that babies are born with, like reflexes and how they are naturally drawn toward faces, but if you want your baby to grow up into someone who can tell you things and understand the things you tell them, then you need to talk with them.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you chat with your baby:

  • Babies aren’t very talkative to start, but they are excellent listeners
  • Share your thoughts with your baby, talk about the things you are doing, or tell stories
  • Even before their first words, leave room for them to respond, and reply to their babbles and coos to help them learn about the pattern of conversation
  • Speak and sing to your babies in however many languages you speak. Babies are super good at picking up additional languages if they are learning them from the people in their lives
  • Babies don’t always want to talk. If they look like they’ve had enough, give them a break
  • On the other hand, don’t ignore your baby when they’re trying to talk to you. When you respond, you are letting them know they’re on the right track for developing speech
  • Maintain eye contact and use facial expressions
  • Babies are using cues from your lips and mouth to learn about the sounds coming out of your face. They are simultaneusly learning to lip read!
  • Use expression in your voice, as much as your baby loves you and your voice, there is still such a thing as too boring

An extra note about that last point. You’ve probably noticed that people sound different when they talk to babies. They’ll use a high energy sing-song voice that usually makes babies smile. There are studies that show this helps babies to recognize the differences between different speech sounds, which is pretty cool. You might try to tone it down, but there’s evidence that we all do it on some level.

On another level, it’s one of the many ways that you can show your baby that you are engaging with them personally. You are reinforcing that back and forth communication with your baby is foundational for language development and brain development in general.

What works best for you? Does your baby particularly like entries from your old high school diary, or your celebrity impressions? Let us know in the comments!

You might also be interested in a Books for Babies program offered by the Centre for Family Literacy in Edmonton. Here’s a link to the webpage.

Simple Ways to Entertain your Baby with a Book

When I talk about which books are age appropriate for babies, I am less concerned about what is in the book and more interested in what we can do with the book. A great example of this is books that require our imagination to make sense of what the pictures are telling us, which is not something babies are very good at. That doesn’t mean these types of books are inappropriate for babies.

Monkey & MeFor example, Emily Gravett’s Monkey and Me depicts a young girl acting out the motions that we associate with different zoo animals. Even if your baby is very familiar with elephants, a picture of a girl hunched over with her arm stretched out in front of her face is probably not going to make your baby think of elephants. Even with pictures of the girl in mulitple poses, your baby will not know that one pose is meant to transition into the other.

However, if you make those motions yourself, and you make your best elephant trumpet noises, and you flap your hands beside your head like big ears… well, your baby still might not be thinking of elephants and that’s okay, you’ve just transformed a confusing picture into a fun and engaging interaction.

Pete's a PizzaI think William Steig’s Pete’s a Pizza can work beautifully for this. Of course your baby won’t understand from the story how Pete’s parents pretending to make him into a pizza can cheer him up when he’s feeling down. The connection between managing emotions and imaginary food preparation are more than a little abstract. But if you gently massage your baby, roll them back and forth like dough, and tickle them as you make your way through the book, it will probably become a favourite nonetheless.

This won’t work with every book, but when you notice the book you are sharing lends itself to different actions, take the cue to bring the book to life, and see how your baby likes it.

For information about the Books for Babies program, or to find the Edmonton program schedule, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website program page.

For more information about sharing books with your baby, your toddler, or your preschool aged children, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website resources page.

 

How to Add the Fun of a Scavenger Hunt into Everyday Activities

I’m sure there are many sticklers who would argue that what I’m suggesting here is not a real scavenger hunt, but let’s skip past the dictionary definitions and focus on how you can incorporate the fun of a scavenger hunt into everyday activities.

Dad & daughter

YOU CAN SEARCH FOR ANYTHING

You can make a list of specific things to find, or try to see how many things you can find that fit a certain category. Personally, I’m a fan of categories and descriptions because they are great for developing vocabulary and they require a lot less preparation. Here are a few examples:

  • colours
  • sounds
  • shapes
  • words or letters (or things that start with a letter or sound)
  • movements (things that roll, fly, bounce, walk, slide, never move…)
  • sizes (what things are huge? what can you find with a magnifying glass?)
  • textures
  • groups of things (things found in pairs, 3s, 4s, 5s…)
  • things that fit a theme (tools, animals, plants, wet things, things that rhyme…)

YOU CAN SEARCH ANYWHERE

Really, anywhere:

  • outside (what do you notice: walking down the street, on the bus, in the park, around a pond, at the zoo…)
  • at home (in a particular room or searching the whole house)
  • in other buildings (the garage, the grocery store, a greenhouse, the library, the post office…)
  • in books, magazines, and newspapers (newspapers are great for finding words and letters, and you might be amazed how many things they can remember seeing in the books you have shared together)
  • in your imagination (very handy when you run out of things to spot on long car rides)
  • in the garbage (maybe you’re learning about recycling or composting?)

YOU DON’T NEED A LIST

While traditionally you start by handing out copies of a written list, a lot of young children don’t find that very helpful—most often you are reading the list to them. You can also use pictures with, or instead of, words, but that takes time; you are probably only going to do that for special occasions or with things you use all the time (like turning your grocery list into a scavenger hunt).

Some people like checking things off on a list, but I don’t understand the appeal myself. Instead, if you want to keep track of what you find in your search, you can draw together, take pictures, use the voice recorder on your phone, collect the items themselves in a bag/box/backpack/basket (half the fun is remembering where the things you collected came from), or scribe for them (they will love seeing their words in print).

Or, you can skip the list altogether. Just pick a category or theme and go exploring together to see what you can find, or take turns deciding what you’re going to look for next.

CONSIDER YOUR AUDIENCE

It’s easy to be overwhelmed if you think that a scavenger hunt needs to play out like the script to a blockbuster movie or an episode of a reality TV show. I’m not saying that wouldn’t add to the appeal, but young children are natural explorers. They will notice all kinds of things that you never thought to look for, and they bring a level of excitement to “let’s go find things that are red” that you rarely get from older kids or teenagers.

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS AGAIN?

  • It’s fun!
  • You can encourage the children to be more observant and methodical. Often children forget to look everywhere, or they take a running approach to everything. By looking for things together, you can teach them some helpful strategies, like how to slow down or form a plan before you start looking.
  • We are building vocabulary! If your little one is starting to read, then circling all the words they recognize by sight on a newspaper page is great practice.
  • As exciting as it can be, this can also be really relaxing. How often do you take the time to look for shapes in the clouds? Or really listen to all the sounds in your neighbourhood?
  • There are all kinds of categories, themes, and ideas that you can explore with these kinds of activities, so you’re helping them develop a broader, deeper, and more coherent worldview.
  • If you are missing a few things (your keys for example) this can be a sneaky way to recruit some help. I’m kidding, but not really. If you approach everyday tasks in a playful manner, you can keep the kids engaged, help them learn, still get everything you need done, and have fun doing it.

If you are interested in family literacy resources, or programs in Edmonton, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website at www.famlit.ca

Baby’s Taste in Art

Baby & Book6

Let’s talk about which pictures babies prefer, and how books with photographs and books that use illustrations stack up.

Photos in Books Drawings in
Books
Babies are naturally drawn to faces. YES! Sometimes
Babies want bold contrasting colours. Sometimes YES!
Babies crave familiar people and objects. YES! Sometimes
Babies desire simple images. Sometimes More often

Of course, these are trends rather than rules. A particularly well-crafted image will appeal to babies regardless of what kind it is, and it’s more important to try to hit as many of these marks as you can.

How important each of these elements is depends on the age of the baby.

  • Newborn babies have terrible vision, so unless things are bright and bold they won’t easily notice them
  • Over the first 6 months, their vision improves so that they can see most things held at arm’s length (or about 12 inches)
  • Between 6 and 18 months, the muscles used to bend the lens of the eye to focus light get stronger and stronger, making it possible to see fine details in pictures and focus on things that are father away

In general, babies will prefer photographs because they show things closely resembling real things they have seen. Familiar images are comforting, and it is actually kind of exciting for babies when they recognize the things they see in books. Sometimes you won’t know if they will like a book until you try sharing it with your baby, but if you can recognize at a glance what you are looking at, then your baby will probably like it.

If you would like to know more about books for babies, go the the Resources pages on the Centre for Family Literacy website to find tips sheets, or the Program page to find a Books for Babies program.

Books – and Tunes – for Babies

Hispanic mother and baby at homeA great way to keep the interest of a baby when you’re reading with them, or a child of any age really, is to add some rhythm or melody to your book sharing.

The rhyme and repetition in many childrens’ books makes this easy in many cases, and if you have a rhyming book, a quick search on Youtube can sometimes give you a few different musical styles to choose from. Beyond that, there are many books that are meant to be sung with verses, choruses, and sometimes even music or information for where you can find the music online.

Don’t worry about your singing voice, I promise your baby doesn’t mind if you’re out of key or can’t really carry a tune, and it’s perfectly fine if you would rather settle into more of a chant than a full-on melody.

Even when the book does not rhyme, sometimes a picture can give you an idea for a song or a rhyme to sing, adding a little extra fun to your book sharing time. For example, a book might feature an animal, and there are a lot of songs and rhymes about animals. It’s okay if the animal song or rhyme you want to sing doesn’t exactly match the plot of the story for 2 big reasons:

  1. Babies don’t have the longest attention spans; you probably won’t get through more than a few pages of the book anyway
  2. We want our child to be able to relate the things they see in books, and the words they hear, to other things that they know. If you are reading Runaway Bunny with your toddler and they start singing Sleeping Bunnies, you’ll know that they are making those connections, and you can tell everyone how brilliant your child is.

You won’t always feel like singing, and your child might not always be receptive to it. Think of it as one more tool that you can use to make book sharing more fun for you and your baby.

If you would like to learn more about sharing books, songs, and play with your baby, you’ll find tip sheets on the Centre for Family Literacy website, you can try our free Flit app with family literacy activities to do with your little ones, or better yet, find a Books for Babies program near you and come have some fun with us!