Making Book Sharing Time Count

Family reading in bed.You may have heard that we should be reading to children every day. Some articles will even urge parents to read to their children a minimum of 15 minutes or half an hour every day. This isn’t bad advice, and it’s not even a bad target to shoot for, but I’m not sure how realistic it is for everybody. I would argue that quality matters more than quantity when it comes to sharing books.

Babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and the rest of us learn best when we are comfortable and happy. If you try to share books with children when they are tired, in pain, hungry, or otherwise uncomfortable, they will probably resist and quickly become frustrated with your attempts. Our brains operate very differently when we’re scared or upset, and learning necessarily takes a backseat to the desire to feel safe again. So, if your goal is to give your children a lifelong love of reading, do not insist on book sharing when your children have clearly had enough. You want them to associate book sharing with good feelings and not fighting and tears.

Those moments when you can spend one-on-one time with your children are very special, and as much as our organization exists to promote literacy, books are not the only thing that children need. So don’t be too concerned if they don’t want to read all of the time. Playing together, snuggling, making weird noises, and exploring the community are all valuable and worthy pursuits. Add to that all of your daily meals, sleep, work and errands, and some days you might be lucky to find 5 minutes to read together, and that’s still incredibly valuable.

One last thing: asking young children, and especially babies, to pay attention for a long time is often asking too much. If your book sharing time is split up into 15 one-minute chunks, that is no less valuable than one 15-minute session. Look for when the reading opportunities present themselves rather than try to force it to happen at any particular time.

Whether you are reading to calm your children and get them ready to sleep, or to goof around and have some fun, you want book sharing to be a positive experience for both you and your children. That way no matter how often you actually get the chance to read together, it will be something that you both look forward to and benefit from.

Books for Babies Edmonton program schedule

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Water-proof Literacy

Bath BookNot all books will disintegrate, or expand and warp into funny shapes when you submerge them in water. Wait! There’s more. Before you start tossing your books into the sink, I’m specifically referring to bath books, the vinyl counterpart to board boards.

Vinyl bath books are great for babies and toddlers for a number of reasons, and they aren’t just for the bath.

  1. Your baby can learn to push the pages back and forth, or grab a whole page with their fist fairly early in their development. Vinyl and cloth books do have an edge over board books here, in how little they weigh and how easily they can be explored.
  1. Whether your baby is chewing on the book, drooling on it, or exploring the book with sticky fingers, vinyl books will withstand the moisture and are easy to clean.
  1. Quite often we keep books in one room of the house, or only take books out at bedtime. Bath books, by their very nature, invite you to bring reading into places that you might not immediately think of sharing a book. Babies and toddlers best learn how books are relevant to them when they can explore them at multiple times and  places throughout their day. You don’t need to read with your babies for hours on end, but those extra few minutes at bath time will add up.

As wonderful as vinyl books are, they do come with a few special considerations:

  1. The pages can sometimes be sharp, so check the edges of the book before giving it to your child. If your baby is going to be chewing on the book, and they probably will, you do not want them to get hurt in the process.
  1. If the book is damaged, water and other debris can seep inside punctures and tears and start to grow inside of the pages, and you probably do not want your baby to be playing with anything that grows in dark wet places. So regularly check your bath books to make sure they are still water tight.

Bonus tip:

Vinyl books are not the only waterproof books out there. You might also find a book, like Indestructibles™ with paper-like pages that are made from a special kind of plastic fiber. They are incredibly durable, as the name suggests.

Books for Babies Edmonton program schedule

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Introducing Babies to the Classics

B4B

With both gift giving guides and “Best of 2015″ articles flying at us from every direction, I think it’s safe to say that you are going to see at least a few lists of recommended book titles at this time of year.

But rather than try to convince you that I know which specific books are going to work best for you and your baby, I am going to ask you to think about which books meant the most to you when you were very young. While most of us will have no memories going quite that far back, maybe there is another family member you could ask. Or even if you can only remember the books you enjoyed as a preschooler or from your first few years of school, those books could do the trick if you remember them fondly.

In Books for Babies, we talk about a number of different aspects of books that will appeal to babies, but sometimes nothing will matter more to a baby than the things that are important to you. They can see it in your face and hear it in your voice when you are sharing a story that is special to you. They might not even understand what you’re talking about, but they can be irresistibly drawn to that kind of genuine warmth and care.

That, in my opinion, is what will make a book a classic to your child. And while nostalgia probably isn’t the best measure of literary greatness, it is a perfect demonstration of how we learn everything through relationships.

If you ever ask someone about their favourite book, they will probably defend it as if they are defending a part of themselves. That doesn’t just happen. That kind of bonding is very similar to the bonding that happens between close friends. By sharing books with babies, we are teaching them to relate to books in a way that connects to them personally.

I know not everyone has had a positive experience with books in their past, so I won’t try to tell you that a best-of list is not a useful tool. We even have our own lists of recommended books available on our website.

But don’t limit yourself to books either. If there is a family story or memory that you hold close, that is a perfect gift to share with your baby, even if it was never written down.

Books for Babies Edmonton program schedule

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Clean Books for Babies

Baby-Chew-Book2
Most everyone knows they should wash their baby’s clothes, bedding, and toys. We sterilize the bottles and of course bathe baby himself. But for some reason, we aren’t always mindful that his books might need cleaning too.

If your baby is creating conditions for things to grow in and on the books (and he probably is), then you need to think about baby’s health. Likewise, if there is a sick and contagious someone enjoying a book, you probably want to disinfect that book before you give it to your baby to enjoy. Another benefit of keeping your baby’s books clean is that it can help keep them in good condition so they can grow with your child.

So, what do you do? Unless we’re talking about bath books or cloth books, you can’t wash them in the same way that you would wash clothes or toys.

There are different options for cleaning books and toys that babies put into their mouths, but the most accessible and most affordable way is with a mild bleach solution. Here is the formula you’ll find on most health resources:

Add 15 mL (1 Tablespoon) household bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite) to 4 Litres (1 gallon) of cool water.

I want everybody in Books for Babies to know that the books I bring to the group are safe for babies to chew on; I clean all of my sample books after each session. Even so, a gallon of cleaning solution is too much even for me, especially since the solution will only be effective for about a week before you need to mix up a new batch. So if you want to make a small batch, that works out to a little less than a 1/4 teaspoon of bleach in 2 cups of water.

Some final tips:

  • Put the solution in a spray bottle to avoid spills.
  • Use the solution with a clean cloth to wipe down board books (they’re water resistant, not waterproof).
  • Let the books dry before putting them away.
  • If you are laundering cloth books, use the delicate cycle and let them hang to dry.
  • While it’s true that vinegar and similar cleaners can kill germs, the conditions needed for them to be effective as disinfectants are not friendly to books (see: not waterproof).

 

Books for Babies Edmonton program schedule:

hashtag: #books_for_babies

 

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:

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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:

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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:

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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