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!

 

Non-fiction Books Your Kids Will Love

I have been reading to my children since they were born, so I have noticed a real trend in their choices of non-fiction or fiction books. As babies, they wanted us to read non-fiction—books with real pictures of real things in their daily lives while they were getting to know their world.

Now that my oldest is preschool age, she prefers that we read fiction—stories that expand her ideas of whimsy and make-believe worlds, where princesses always live happily ever after and the super heros always win. She has lost interest in non-fiction books.

animal-teeth2Because of the research on the importance of reading non-fiction, I have been trying to find interesting topics for my daughter. When I came across the series of books “What if you had Animal…” (Feet, Teeth, Hair, or Ears) by Sandra Markle and Howard McWilliam, I knew right away she would love them.

The books combine fiction and non-fiction. They have pictures of real animals and information about their feet, teeth, hair or ears. But what makes the books fun is that they also have illustrated pictures of children with the same animal’s attributes. As you can see on this cover, the child has beaver teeth, which of course look hilarious to children.

The series allows children to read non-fiction literature to get facts and dive into a fantasy world at the same time! What a great bridge for readers to find their way back to non-fiction books. The series can be found on the Edmonton Literacy C.O.W. bus!

animal-feetMy daughter absolutely loves these books! We have read them so often that she can tell me what great super power, as she likes to call them, I would have if I had certain animal features. At the playground she commented that she would love to have kangaroo feet to  jump high over the fence and get to the park faster.

Since we have travelled with my daughter several times, she found an easy interest in maps of our country, continent and world. We have also been venturing into the career and cooking sections at the library.

Here are some ways to spark your children’s interest in non-fiction books:

  • Pursue their passions: do they have a love of dinosaurs or big monster vehicles? Use their current interests to encourage them
  • More is more: by offering a variety of non-fiction reading materials, you may find a format they prefer, such as books, magazines, newspapers, or atlases
  • Parents are their children’s best teachers: if you read a variety of literature, both fiction and non-fiction, and talk with your children about what you are reading, it is likely their interests will grow

Below are links to research on the importance of reading non-fiction books:

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec12/vol70/num04/Nonfiction-Reading-Promotes-Student-Success.aspx

http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/non-fiction-why-its-important/

http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1071&context=reading_horizons

http://www.education.com/reference/article/reasons-teaching-nonfiction/

http://uanews.ua.edu/2014/03/ua-matters-the-importance-of-reading-nonfiction-with-children/

Books for Babies Book Giveaways

Hispanic mother and baby at homeBecause of generous funding from the Alberta Government and private donors, the Centre for Family Literacy is able to give a book to every family each week of the Books for Babies program—to keep.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that everyone’s taste in books is a little different, and that babies will be drawn to different things in different periods of their development, but here’s a quick rundown of how I choose the books that we give to the program families.

Week 1: I will almost always choose a board book with nice big photos of faces. Even newborn babies love these books, and it will be years before these simple books lose their appeal. Occasionally I’ll use a book with photographs of animals instead. They won’t be as visually appealing to babies, but if I can convince parents to have fun playing with the book and make animal noises with their babies, then I know it will work out well.

Week 2: I always highlight books with rhymes and language play, so I’ll either choose a rhyming story, an illustrated rhyme (like a lullaby) or a collection of rhymes. When the book focuses on a single rhyme or song, the pictures tend to be more simple, which helps babies to follow along with the rhyme. Rhyme anthologies, on the other hand, tend to be very busy, but parents are more likely to find a rhyme that means something to them, which can be even better.

Week 3: I pick a book that offers something more tactile and kinesthetic for babies to explore. Usually these are touch and feel books; sometimes they are books with flaps.  Sometimes I will go another route entirely and choose a book that you can use in the bath, where all kinds of new sensory experiences, beyond the vinyl pages of the book, surround your baby.

Week 4: I like to give a book with a simple story. Babies are closer to 18 months old before they can appreciate the narrative of a story, so the book should have nice simple pictures, and a clear pattern or rhythm. Sometimes, for an extra challenge, I’ll give a book that won’t really make sense to baby unless the parent brings it to life by acting it out with them.

B4B-unused2There are a lot of good books out there to choose from, but using these categories allows us, each week, to explore different elements of books that appeal to babies. And to increase the odds that gift books will be enjoyed by everyone in the group, I try to find books that offer at least two features that babies are drawn to.

How you share the book with your baby will make as much difference as which book you share with your baby, and we spend more time talking about that at our program. But that’s for another blog.

More about the Books for Babies program

Tip sheets for choosing books for your baby, toddler, or preschool age children

Why Pre-Read New Books for Young Children?

iStock_read2During our Learn Together, Grow Together program, the parents have a 20-minute  session separate from their children.

Last week I began the parent session by talking about different types of books and the different ways to use them. Eventually the conversation evolved into a discussion about the age appropriateness of books.

Children’s books often have a recommended age for use (for example ages 1-3, or 4-8, etc.). However, the parents in our discussion seem to disagree with these age recommendations from time to time.

One mom shared that she had read a book to her three year old son where the main character was throwing objects into a tree—objects like a cat, a boat, and a truck. After the story, the mom said her son was determined to throw large objects into the tree in their yard. The mom said she realized that maybe her child wasn’t ready for this book, as he still didn’t understand the difference between real and make-believe.

Another mom shared that she had read a book, that she thought was age appropriate, to her four year old daughter. However the story actually scared her daughter so much that she had a tough time sleeping that night. The mom said she learned from that experience: spend time previewing children’s books before reading them with her daughter.

Occasionally I have been surprised to find words such as “stupid” or “shut up” in books recommended for younger children, and I certainly wouldn’t want my child to be exposed to those words at an early age.

Just as a parent might want to preview, or research, a movie’s appropriateness for their child, it is also a good idea to preview children’s books. Just because the book has been deemed age appropriate by the publisher doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for your child.

You know your child best; you know what concepts and language they can understand and what they are ready for. You know best what is age appropriate for your child, no matter what age they are in years. There are so many wonderful children’s books available  to share with your child, that it is OK to be picky when choosing them!

More about Learn Together – Grow Together

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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Have Fun and Build Brains Using “Serve and Return”

More brain connections form in the first six years of life than at any other time, and the more you use these connections the stronger they get. Brain connections are built on a foundation of “serve and return” interactions. Serve and return refers to give-and-take —healthy interaction that goes both ways. For example, if your baby “serves” by smiling at you, you “return” by smiling back. By doing this, you are showing baby that you understand them and they matter; you are giving them the feedback they need to learn.

TheBigAnimalMix-upReading a story together is a great example of a serve and return activity, and many have an interactive nature built right into them. On the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus we love The Big Animal Mix-up, a lift-the-flap book by Gareth Edwards and Kanako Usui. It has bright pictures, humour, and a lot of rhythm and rhyme. In the story, Little Bear’s dad tries to teach him about animals: “Hello Little Bear, here’s a story for you, that’s all about animals and what they can do.” Only as the title suggests, they’re all mixed up! He has snakes mixed up with birds, and mice mixed up with whales, now Little Bear (and your child) have to set the record straight.

Here is a bird. It slithers around. And slides through the jungle with a soft hissing sound.”

“Hang on a minute! You made a mistake. If it hisses and slithers it must be a..… [open flap] SNAKE!”

We never tire of this book, but remember that any book can be made interactive by talking about the pictures, having the child help you with the story, asking open-ended questions, and relating the story to real life.

Building brain connections through serve and return has a big impact on the rest of a child’s life, providing the solid foundation needed for language and emotional health. But don’t forget to have fun while doing it!

Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus information and 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:

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

Did You Know Some Children’s Books Can Be Dangerous?

iStock_000001779642MediumWeb

A visit by the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus is not the only service offered by our program. At each visit, a Legacy Library containing approximately 50 books is presented to our community partners. The Legacy Library is a mix of books for preschool children, with an emphasis on Canadian authors and a portion of Aboriginal stories.

Each year, the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus leaves over 5,000 books in communities across Alberta. In addition to all the other criteria for choosing quality children’s books, safety is an important consideration. Since books are not classified as toys, they don’t have the same safety regulations. Following are some hazards we watch out for:

  • Books for babies and toddlers might have choking hazards. Books for young children are made to be so entertaining that sometimes the safety of its pieces is not considered in the design. Any pieces small enough to fit through a paper towel tube are a choking hazard. These pieces are usually fastened to the page with glue that may be toxic, so it’s doubly important to ensure they are securely stuck to the page. Always monitor the child closely if playing with a book of this design.
  • Some books might have lower quality binding and pages. If you can easily pull apart a book at the seams, or take apart the layers of cardboard in a board book page with your fingernails, so can babies.
  • Some books that teach textures will have a fuzzy fabric attached, often on the cover. Don’t be afraid to pinch at the fuzzy material to ensure that it won’t come off and present a hazard, as is often the case.
  • Bath books can be a fun way to introduce reading to a child, but they are often filled with toxic materials. Before each use, check them over for any punctures or tears. If there are any, throw the book away. Repairs might not hold, and the chemicals from any glue or tape used could also be toxic or pose a choking hazard.
  • When buying, consider how easily the book can be cleaned. Books can become very grimy, and little ones want to chew on the books more than anything else. If you can’t clean the book, not only can it grow bacteria but also toxic mould.
  • One more thing to consider is the edges of the book. Are they sharp, or nicely rounded? If the edges are sharp, babies can cut their gums.

Shopping for books with safety in mind may seem a little daunting, but it’s worth the extra time. If you happen to have some books in the house that don’t pass the test, there is no need to throw them out—unless they’re toxic—just be sure to keep them out of the hands of your little ones.

Learn about book safety and more by attending one of our parent workshops, another service we provide. The C.O.W. Bus facilitators will discuss a variety of early literacy topics. If you would like to arrange a C.O.W. Bus visit to your Alberta community, please call the Centre for Family Literacy at 780.421.7323.

2014 C.O.W. Bus schedule 2015 schedule coming soon!

Make a donation to the Legacy Library

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