What to Expect When You Read to a Baby

BabyCry

What if you have never seen anybody read to a baby before? What if all you can find are vague assertions that this is something you need to do, but you can’t find more details or instructions? What if YouTube is only showing you more and more videos of cats? How will you know what to expect? It may be comforting to know that babies can be different, such as the little guy in the photo who cries every time a story is finished.

Here are some helpful guidelines to get you started:

  1. Babies do not have much of an attention span. That’s normal. Sharing books for just a few minutes at a time when you have their attention is more helpful than sharing books for any length of time when they are hungry, fussy, or sleepy.
  1. Babies under 3 months don’t understand much. Not a lot interests them. They can’t even be bothered to hold a book. Don’t be discouraged. They mostly enjoy hearing your voice, so you can read whatever you want, or tell your own stories.
  1. Babies like simple pictures. If a picture is busy your baby will probably find it confusing. They also like photographs more than drawings and they like pictures of faces more than almost anything else.
  1. Babies are not born knowing how books work; so don’t expect them to start leafing through novels like a pro. They will probably start by holding the book and tasting it.
  1. Once they start opening and closing books on their own, or turning the pages, they will probably want to keep doing that. So if you were expecting to read books from start to finish, it can be frustrating.

This doesn’t make reading with babies sound very exciting, but really all this means is that you need a different approach. You will need to get used to talking about the pictures, and telling your own stories. Play with the books and play with your baby. Have fun sharing photo albums with your baby and making noises when you see pictures of animals and machines.

Reading with babies is very different than reading with older children, and having an idea of what is an age-appropriate reaction for a baby can make the difference between enjoying the experience and thinking that something is wrong.

Books for Babies Edmonton program schedule:

hashtag: #books_for_babies

A Peek at Books for Babies

Happy Baby

At Books for Babies we do our best to welcome everyone and keep things fun and friendly. We set up on the floor with blankets to create a soft and safe place for babies to relax and explore. Many of the older babies feel comfortable enough to check out the space and meet the other babies and families, but they quickly lose confidence if they lose sight of mom or dad!

The Books for Babies program promotes healthy family relationships; it is designed around how babies learn and the role their family members play in that process. We focus on activities like book sharing and talking and singing together, but babies are really learning all the time in response to their experiences, their relationships, and their surroundings.

What that means to our program is that sometimes our discussions and information sharing have to take a back seat to the needs of the babies in the group. After all, babies need to feel comfortable and cared for, or they will let you know in a way that makes it very hard to do anything else! We calm them and keep them engaged by looking into their eyes, responding to their coos and cries, and holding them when they need to be held. After all, nobody likes to be ignored.

Every few minutes, we give the babies our undivided attention and sing rhymes together. Not only is this fun for the babies, but it also helps to keep the babies calm. And, an hour is a long time for a baby to hold it together in a busy group, so we stop mid-way through the program to give everyone a break.

There’s a lot going on in Books for Babies, but I hope this gives you an idea of what the program looks like… from the babies’ perspective at least.

Books for Babies Edmonton program schedule:

hashtag: #books_for_babies

Baby’s Favourite Book

(0 – 6 months)

Did you know your baby can have a favourite book? Long before they can talk or read, and even before they can turn the pages, babies will show a preference for certain books. And what they like best might surprise you.

We like all different kinds of books as adults; they might put us inside an adventure or romance, they might help us put our lawnmower back together, or maybe they help us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. Young babies, on the other hand, they like pictures of faces.

Yep, almost as much as they like to stare up into your eyes, a book with nice big photos (not drawings) of faces will hold a baby’s attention for sometimes minutes at a time. Baby can’t see very far away, so hold the book roughly 12 inches away from them while you cuddle or play on the floor.

The book won’t do all of the work for you. These books typically have little to nothing to read in them, and what’s written is not very exciting. So, instead of reading to your baby, play with the book and your baby, talk about the pictures, and have some goofy fun. Watch and listen for your baby’s reaction, she will tell you what she likes, and when she’s had enough.

One of my favourite books of this type is What’s On My Head! by Margaret Miller. The photos are clear and not too busy. It’s a good size for when babies begin to hold things. And, it’s silly:

• Does the baby like her hat?

• Who wrapped this little girl up like a present?

• Why is there a duck on that baby’s head?

This book raises a lot of questions and doesn’t offer many answers. Still, it is fun to explore with your baby for at least as long as his little attention span holds out.

Books for Babies Edmonton program schedule:

hashtag: #books_for_babies

Babies Touching Books… with Bunnies

family with baby read book 2

When I first started facilitating the Books for Babies program, I was struck by the thought, “Wow, there are a lot of board books about bunnies.” And if the combination of books, babies, and bunnies rings any bells for you, there is a good chance you’re thinking of Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny, which has been in print since 1940 and is one of the best selling children’s books of all time.

Pat-the-BunnyPat the Bunny was actually one of the first interactive books for children. Instead of telling a story, it is more of a collection of things you can do with your toddler. You can try on mommy’s ring by putting your finger through a hole in the page, look into a mirror, flip through a smaller book inside the book, and of course, pat the bunny’s (fake) fur. This also makes it one of the first “touch and feel” books.

Fast-forward 75 years and there are a lot of touch and feel books for children, and a lot of them feature bunnies. I won’t try to explain all the bunnies, but there are good reasons why these interactive touch and feel books are so popular with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Bunny_book1.  Babies and toddlers are busy exploring and learning about the world around them, and many things are not as smooth as the pages of a book. The added dimension of texture in a touch and feel book helps our little ones connect what they are seeing in the book with things they have discovered around the house, or on any trips you have taken together outside the home. Babies around 4 – 6 months old are especially drawn to things they can distinguish by touch (and taste) because their vision started out quite blurry. The more things they feel, the easier it is for them to understand the difference between textures, which makes things easier to recognize by touch.

2.  Babies and toddlers find these books so engaging because they are learning to control the fine movements of their hands and fingers. This might not sound very exciting, but if you can remember the excitement of learning a musical instrument, or the satisfaction of getting better at a sport, think of how satisfying it must be to go from near-random flailing to actually willing your fingers to explore something that catches your eye.

3.  While our tiny human friends are busy exploring their environments, they have an easier time remembering and identifying things they can associate with more than one of their senses. So if you are sharing a book with your child that features an actually fuzzy bunny, they get to see the bunny, hear you talk about the bunny, and also feel how soft the bunny is.

Sensory exploration is an important part of child development. So as gimmicky as these books might appear, they offer quite a range of experiences to growing children, and even when they enter school, many kids will still gravitate towards the books that offer them something different to touch. This bias is quite strong in young children and for good reason.

 

Books for Babies program schedule:

http://www.famlit.ca/programs_and_projects/programs/babies.shtml

hashtag: #books_for_babies

Confessions of a Baby Whisperer

whisperer3

What does it mean for someone to be good with babies? I have gotten that flattering feedback from families that I have worked with (and several friends and family members), and it always makes me smile and wonder a bit. It’s true that I know better than to pinch a baby when I hold them, but I don’t think that there is anything in particular about me that would make me good with babies.

Some people are surprised to find out that I don’t even have a baby of my own. I adore my nieces and nephew, but I honestly haven’t had any of them in my care for more than a few hours at a time. So, most of what I’ve learned about babies, I have learned through spending time with families in our programs and being curious.

Large-scale population studies have lead to schedules of developmental milestones for babies. And some of the most popular parenting guides break these findings down into a week-by-week, or even day-by-day, guide of what to expect. These can be helpful to get a general idea of when behaviours and physical changes are likely to first appear. However, if your baby is not developing “typically,” those resources can become a source of stress for many people. I recommend talking to your family doctor, pediatrician or a public health nurse if you have any concerns about your child’s development.

No matter how much outside research you do, or who you talk to, your baby will surprise you. Each baby is unique. If you ever meet a parent of twins (or triplets) who suggests otherwise, I would be very surprised. This can be incredibly humbling to people who have spent years working with babies in health care and child care settings, or to parents who have a number of older children.

As perplexing (and sometimes infuriating) as it can be, getting to know your baby on a person-to-person basis is one of the most valuable and rewarding things that I can imagine. And when it comes down to it, it’s that specialized knowledge that parents and caregivers get from forging a relationship with a baby that will be invaluable if any kind of outside help is needed. We can get hints of what to expect from friends, family members, and all sorts of other sources, but being good with babies, in my opinion, has more to do with having a sense of wonder and respect for these brave little creatures.

And for the record: I’ve never actually called myself a baby whisperer. If I were going to brag, I would only say that the babies who smiled at me when we met outnumber the babies who cried.

We have Books for Babies programs starting soon at various locations around Edmonton. I hope to meet you and your baby there.

Program schedule:

http://www.famlit.ca/programs_and_projects/programs/babies.shtml

hashtag: #books_for_babies

Books for Babies for Dads

Among the programs that we offer across the city, in partnership with an incredible group of community agencies, there are a few Books for Babies programs that we advertise as Dads groups. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that the rest of our programs are Moms groups, or that fathers aren’t welcome at all of our programs. We see dads in all of our locations, just not all of the time. Let me paint you a picture.

Imagine you are a new father looking for programs you can attend with your baby. Maybe you see a posting online or hear from a friend about a program that you would like to try out. You clear your schedule, bundle up your baby, and take a stroll down to your local library or community centre. You come into a room with blankets spread on the floor, snack ready on a side table, families with infants all around, and not another dad in sight.

We know there are dads who wouldn’t even blink before making themselves comfortable on the blankets and striking up a conversation with the people around them. They are outgoing people who thrive in any kind of social situation, and when the program wraps up they will probably invite everyone to meet at the park next week. And they’ll bring snack!

On the other hand, we know there are lots of dads who don’t want to be the only father in the room, and won’t come back a second time if they are. It can be uncomfortable in the same way that being the only mom in a room full of dads can be uncomfortable. As facilitators we try to make our programs welcoming and comfortable for everyone, but even though all parents have something in common and can learn from one another, sometimes dads just want to talk to other dads, just like moms will sometimes jump at the chance to talk with other moms.

That is why we offer these programs – so that all dads can come and feel comfortable in the group. It is the same Books for Babies program in the same format. And just like always, you can meet other families with young children, pick up a few tips about book sharing, sing some rhymes, get free books, and if you have any questions there are lots of us there to help.

We have a program for dads starting at the beginning of November and it is already close to capacity, but if you look at our program schedule (see link below), there are already a few booked for the new year. If you are a father with a baby, I hope to see you there.

http://www.famlit.ca/programs_and_projects/programs/babies.shtml

hashtag: #books_for_babies

School for Babies

I like it when 3-BLOGThe fall season signals back to school for children and adults of all ages and in all sorts of schools. And while it’s probably true that someone somewhere is making lots of money running a school for babies, I am not that guy.

I don’t want to intimidate you with frightening statistics and insist that you need my help. I’m also not about to tell you an elaborate story about how I’ve divined the secret to making your baby a genius. Those would be lies, and I want to encourage you to think very carefully if you meet anyone who tries to sell you a story like that.

The things that we discuss in Books for Babies are pretty tame by comparison, but no less amazing if you think about what babies learn and how much there is to learn about babies. Babies are born into a life they know nothing about, and you are almost perfect strangers to one another. It’s pretty incredible if you think about how well you know them, and how much they understand about their world, by the time they are only a year old.

The trick, if you want to call it that, is that almost everything babies learn, they learn through relationships with the people they care about and who care about them. This is why we can say that parents (and other family members) are children’s first and best teachers. Babies are born wanting to understand the things around them, and they learn by watching and interacting with the important people who share their life.

Everything you do with or near your baby helps them learn about the things that are most relevant to them. If books are a part of your life, babies will want to understand them and want to be part of that experience. It’s the same reason you often see babies reaching for their parents cell phones, and why so many parents have that fond memory of the brief period when their toddler loved nothing more than to vacuum the carpet.

If you’d like to chat about how book sharing can benefit you and your baby, sing rhymes, get free books, and meet other parents, then I welcome you and your baby to join us at Books for Babies, or leave a comment below.

There is more information about the program and a full schedule of upcoming groups on our website: famlit.ca

 

hashtag: #books_for_babies

Another Way to Enjoy Books

There is something very special about hearing a story. For many people, it summons warm memories of snuggling up with mom or dad and a book at bedtime, overhearing adult family members share stories around the kitchen table, or telling ghost stories around the fire.

What’s more, hearing a book read aloud can go a long way to making the many benefits of reading accessible to even struggling or “reluctant” readers. Vocabulary can improve, comprehension goes up, and a book can be enjoyed that might have been too challenging for them to read alone. Even for fluent readers, there is a lot to like about hearing stories out loud.

I can only remember hearing a few books on tape as a child. But a few years ago, I discovered that the wait list for audiobooks is often significantly shorter than the wait list for print copies. Ever since then I’ve enjoyed listening to dozens of short stories and novels. I still like to sit with an actual book when I get the chance, but here’s a list of a few more things that I especially like about audiobooks:

  • I can listen to books in my car, on my phone, online, on cd (yes, I still own and use a Discman)… so, just about everywhere.
  • I can listen to books at times when it would be impossible (or super dangerous) to read them (while driving).
  • On nights when I am too tired to even read a few pages before I go to sleep, I can still put on my headphones, close my eyes and listen to a story instead.
  • Some books are performed as a radio drama with a full cast of voice actors and sound effects. Sometimes authors narrate their own stories, that’s pretty cool too.

So, whether you are considering things that you can do together as a family, or if you’re tired of the long commute into work and back everyday, consider trying out an audiobook. And if you’re feeling up to it, grab a glass of water and read a book to someone you love.

 

 

It’s Not Whether You Win or Lose, It’s How You Play the Game

Games are a wonderful way for families to play and learn together. Unfortunately, not all games are well suited for young children and even the “Junior” versions of some board games are not intended for toddlers or preschool aged children. Patience is a fine virtue, but if you can get young children involved earlier, it can be a wonderful opportunity for them to build motor, social, emotional and intellectual skills.

Your first consideration should be safety. A lot of games come with small pieces, and you want to think about what your options are before the pieces in question are swallowed. Can you switch out the pieces with something bigger that would work just as well? Can you switch up the rules or how the game is played so that the pieces aren’t even necessary? For example, you might be able to keep score with a pad and paper instead of moving placeholders.

In terms of motor skills, a lot of games have a hands-on element that is perfect for developing fine motor coordination. Playing Dominos or Jenga by the rules might work well for an older child, but a younger child can still use the blocks and tiles for building, stacking, and balancing. For older children with better motor control, Scrabble tiles and playing cards provide a more challenging building experience.

The very act of playing with the physical pieces helps children to make connections with a lot of abstract concepts. Dice can be a great way to practice counting. Playing cards can be sorted by colour, suit or face value. Recognizing the labels on game boards or building words with Scrabble tiles help children to learn and practice spelling. Learning to think abstractly comes with time, and it starts with concrete real world experiences.

Speaking of which, rules can be tricky, and ideas like sportsmanship and fair play take some time to learn. You can expect most children to go through a phase where they only want to win. They will either want to ignore rules or make up their own on the fly. That’s normal, and they are learning how rules work in the process. In a similar fashion, older children are often incredibly strict about the rules, which can be very frustrating for their younger siblings. Be patient, and try to emphasize the fun and excitement of the game. Being the first across the winning line is exciting, but if you’re just as excited about your “2nd winner” and “3rd winner” you can encourage them to keep trying. If the game is only fun when you win, then it can be hard to convince anyone to play again. On the flip side, if they are having fun they will be very engaged, want to keep playing and learn all kinds of skills and information in the process.

Why Lullabies Work

Parents and other caregivers have been using lullabies to sooth babies and put them to sleep for generations, because, usually, they work. They are not magic spells but there are a number of things going on, when we sing lullabies, that help to soothe and comfort babies.

  1. Your beautiful voice – you might not like it, but babies are in love with the voices of their close family members. It won’t last forever, but at least for a few years your baby would rather listen to the voices of his parents, siblings, and other caregivers than anything else.
  2. Your rhythm – babies can actually hear before they are even born, and the steady rhythm of mom’s breathing and heartbeat have made a big impact on your baby. Any regular rhythm (especially ones similar to a heartbeat) will put babies at ease, perhaps reminding them of simpler times before they were born and everything became strange and new.
  3. Your excellent taste – when you sing the songs and rhymes that you like, your baby can hear it in your voice and see it in both your facial expressions and your body language. If you are happy with your repertoire, your baby will love the experience.
  4. Your love of “the classics” – babies really are not trendsetters; they tend to like hearing the same things over and over again. If you are consistent in what you sing to your baby, they will appreciate the familiarity and feel more comfortable as a result. When you want to relax, you fall back on your favourites; you don’t charge into new and unfamiliar styles, and babies are no different. Speaking of which, if you regularly sing a song to an unborn baby, they will remember the song after birth and you can bet they will be fond of it.
  5. Your expert delivery – this is not rocket science. Gentler, slower, quieter tunes are usually more relaxing than songs that are aggressive, fast, and loud. I say “usually” because if your baby is used to hearing something loud and fast, she might be soothed by that instead.

So whether you sing traditional lullabies, the latest pop favourites, or the jingle from that terrible commercial that you just cannot get out of your head, you can probably make them work for you and your baby if you keep even a few of the above in mind.

And on those nights when lullabies don’t work, when you’ve sung everything you can think of, and tried everything that you can imagine to calm them down, and they just keep screaming… that’s when you need to sing for you. Your heart will slow down to match the beat of the song. Your breathing will slow down and your body will relax. It won’t solve everything, but you will be calmer which is good for you and for your baby.