Reading to Babies – It’s Easier than You Think!

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

Mother Reading to Baby_1070336402When you suggest that it’s never too early to start reading to children, parents of newborn bundles of joy may look at you with shock-widened eyes (though that might just be due to lack of sleep). “Owen can’t see the pictures yet.” “Riley won’t understand what I’m reading, can’t I just sing?” “Ava can’t sit up or hold a book yet.”

Pediatricians and educators stress that you can read absolutely anything to an infant; what matters is that they hear language and inflection, and that adults are interacting with them using language. While it’s true that you really can read anything to a baby, once they are beginning to grab the book and really engage, it’s time to trade out the morning newspaper and your Dickens novel for age-appropriate material.

Here are the kinds of books I recommend parents and librarians share with babies and toddlers.

  • Books with photographs of people — especially babies — and animals
  • Interactive books like touch and feel, lift the flap, slide and pull, and follow the line
  • Books with basic concepts and vocabulary: ABCs, 123s, emotions, opposites, things around the house, etc.
  • Nursery rhyme and song books
  • Books with very, very short stories
  • Books you love

That all sounds easy enough, and maybe you are comfortable sharing those suggestions with parents. But the idea of hosting a storytime for the littlest patrons may sound more daunting. “How will the babies sit still for storytime?” “If the babies aren’t interacting, won’t the parents judge me?” “What will I do to engage babies for half an hour?!”

Have no fear! The babies won’t judge any of us and neither will those tired, grateful parents. If your library does not host a baby storytime, how might you start one?

My very first foray into storytime was for toddler storytime offered at a children’s book shop where I worked. We read board books out loud, the babies crawled around, and the parents bought board books to take home (hopefully the copies their little ones had sampled and found delicious). This was an entirely new concept for me; I hadn’t encountered baby and toddler storytimes in my local library or in my graduate program. But here was this completely game store owner reading and singing in front of 30+ parents and babies twice a week in her magical (albeit cramped) shop. One day she was out sick, and it became my turn. That’s when I came to appreciate how much we learn by example and that reading to a large group of babies is really no big deal.

Here are the basics I learned. Pick one of each of these three types of books:

  1. Start with a very familiar book like “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by Bill Martin, Jr. or “Barnyard Dance” by Sandra Boynton. If you luck out, many parents will know these books and chant along with you. Now you are more comfortable.
  2. You can just talk your way through a book of shapes or colors, while encouraging babies to touch and feel. Talk and point, while describing the pictures. “What is the doggie doing? What color is his ball?” Books must be short and don’t need a plot. In fact, sometimes it’s better if they are not “stories.”
  3. Sing the nursery rhymes! Song books capture babies’ attention and the parents often know the songs so they’ll help you by singing along. Even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, parents will keep coming back and they won’t report you to local authorities.

Reading to Babies_341582651Once I was in the children’s library and performing regular baby storytimes, I expanded on that three-book format to include fingerplay rhymes, bounces, songs, puppets, instruments, and even a circle march for early walkers. The key is to alternate activities. Begin with the same song each week. Read the longest book first. Follow it with a fingerplay repeated twice and then a lap bounce. Read another book. Do some egg shaker rhymes and songs. Read another book. Rhyme. Sing. Done! Truthfully, it’s too much to expect a baby or toddler storytime to last more than 20 minutes. The attention span just isn’t there, even with songs.

Many days, the babies call the shots. Your storytime may dissolve into a happy session of crawling and singing. That’s okay! One of the main purposes of library storytime is to model reading, singing, talking, and playing to caregivers. Even a mom with a third child or a seasoned grandparent will find something new to take away from your time together and try at home. Baby storytime gives parents a break from being alone with their little ones. Friendships form, learning happens, literacy begins, and hopefully they check out books. One library where I worked provided 30 copies of each board book so parents could read along with the librarian or at their own pace. It was lovely.

Your youngest patrons can be an enthusiastic, appreciative audience, and they’re waiting for you to take the plunge! Consider giving baby storytime a try at your public library. If you already provide baby storytimes, what wisdom can you share with the rest of us?

Here are some additional resources:

  • “Mother Goose on the Loose,” by Betsy Diamant-Cohen (there are a few books in the series)
  • “Reading to Babies, Toddlers, and Twos,” by Susan Straub and K.J. Dell’Antonia
  • The Jbrary channel on YouTube has a wealth of videos demonstrating songs, rhymes, and fingerplays you can use in your own storytime.

No Dogs Allowed

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

shutterstock_97865519I’ll never forget the childhood trauma induced by the Peanuts animated feature “Snoopy Come Home.” Before the uncontrollable sobbing begins, the major theme/gag involves Snoopy learning of all the places he can’t go: the beach, bus, hospital, and yes, the library.

“No Dogs Allowed” policies are definitely needed in public places, as there are multiple liability issues. As an animal-lover, though, I like that hotels, restaurants, and other businesses seem to be embracing dog culture more and more. But every time I see it, I wonder how these establishments get away with it. Apparently corporate “service dogs only” policies are subject to local enforcement.

In my experience, you have to tread carefully when introducing animals into library environments.

While I’ve worked at libraries that participated in Take Your Dog to Work Day and even allowed staff to bring their dogs to work regularly, this may or may not fly in your community. Similarly, we all know the stories about resident library cats, many of which eventually get evicted.

Early in my career, a regular would bring his dog with him to the library almost daily to pick up books and chat with the staff. The dog was older, leashed, and mild-mannered. They generally visited first thing in the morning when the library was usually pretty empty. shutterstock_211047994But everything changed one day when another regular witnessed this act and became outraged, proclaiming that this revered institution was turning into a kennel. I’m sure you’ve encountered similar Jekyll and Hyde scenarios, where your best friend—a vocal library supporter—can become your worst enemy, threatening to report you to the director, library board, county commissioners, etc.

Not everyone is into animals, and some are downright afraid. Furthermore, allergies present mild to life-threatening problems for many people. Shared public spaces need to be sensitive to these issues. And public libraries are different from retail in that patrons often spend longer periods of time in relatively close quarters.

Behavior policies need to include wording for dogs in the library and unattended dogs outside the library. Unless it’s a service animal, patrons should not bring them inside. It’s also a bad idea to permit patrons to leave animals tied outside, even for a minute or two. We need to look out for the health and safety of pets and patrons, alike.

shutterstock_247398190With all of this being said, how can you jump on the bandwagon and invite furry friends into your library? The keys to success are: make the animal’s presence predictable (and therefore avoidable); limit the amount of time and the location to minimize allergens; and utilize certified therapy animals.

Many public libraries host therapy dog programs for reluctant readers. Practicing reading aloud to a dog can help alleviate the stress that accompanies reading aloud in school. And I recall at least one parent who brought their child not just to get over this fear of reading aloud, but also to alleviate a fear of dogs.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have long recognized the soothing effects of companion animals. And I know of many academic libraries that regularly incorporate therapy dog sessions during finals week.

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Therapy dog programs are a much easier sell because the predictability factor is coupled with shared liability with the certifying organization. Service animals—even those in training—know how to behave. Alas, Snoopy didn’t.

Oftentimes, “animal-friendly” translates to friendly all-around, which is something all libraries aspire to be. With lots of science and studies to back you up on the “why” and solid policies to enforce the “how,” perhaps you can develop your own program.

 

Further Reading:

Sit, Stay, Heal

Therapy Dogs Work Wonders for Struggling Readers

Dog Therapy 101

Studying for Exams Just Got More Relaxing (PDF)

 

stephaniecampbell

Stephanie

Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.

Pull, Pop, Pet, Bite… How Do YOU Board Book?

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

shutterstock_384472549.jpgSelecting board books for public libraries can be tricky. Every time I am asked to work on a collection aimed at babies and toddlers for a library, I have to pose detailed questions. Do you want pull tabs? Pop-ups? Lift-the-flap? Only sturdy flaps? Die-cuts? Wheels? Padded cover? Finger puppets? Lap-size board? Noises? Touch and feel? Scratch and sniff? (Just kidding about that last one, but they DO get published sometimes!) When selecting, we can include or exclude certain features, using terms like “novelty” and “pop-up,” but those filters only address a limited number of details. Many libraries I work with automatically say “yes” to flaps but “no” to fuzz.

Here’s the thing: collection development philosophy dictates the kinds of board books a library selects—even those intended for babies. Many libraries choose to exclude all of the features listed above, which is certainly the way to go if the goal is to make those board books last. Or so you’d think… While interactive features are generally considered to shorten the shelf-life of board books, they can be critical for stimulating and capturing the attention of young children.

Book-ImageIn her wonderful book “Reading with Babies, Toddlers, and Twos,” Susan Straub writes, “The importance of touch and feel to an infant cannot be overemphasized.” She goes on to explain, “Dragging your baby’s hand across a ‘bunny’s’ fur or a ‘chick’s’ feathers is a lovely feeling for you both. Each furry or feathery swatch prompts you to say something about it. What do you tell your baby?” We emphasize to families that talking with their babies is part of reading and a critical early literacy skill, and these kinds of books can be an important tool. Some parents, especially those with infants, tell us they are at a loss for what to say to their babies. Books like these invite conversation and help develop vocabulary. Parents can teach their children words prompted from their own experience, even in a language other than the one in which the book is written.

Lift-the-flap, tabs, and pop-ups offer the interactive excitement of making something happen in the story. Whoa, autonomy! Magic! They also provide the very young an opportunity to practice patience, manual dexterity, and fine motor skills.

shutterstock_222765934In my opinion, many of the bestselling picture books that publishers choose to release in board book form are not at all geared to the audience. Maybe your three-year-old can’t be trusted with paper pages and picture books offer a sturdier alternative. Okay, I’ll give you that. But otherwise, many of the titles that don’t include interactive features are not actually suitable for babies. This puts caregivers in the position of trying to make storytime stimulating, while using books that aren’t up to the task. Worse, caregivers who don’t have access to interactive titles often give up reading to their babies altogether, bemoaning the inability of their little ones to sit still for a book. Our job as librarians is to encourage parents and kids to find the books they love, so we need to offer them engaging experiences that encourage reading and learning.

When I was a children’s librarian at a public library, our general rule of thumb was that a board book gets about five circs, after which it’s trashed. It didn’t matter if the title was smooth and featureless; it got chewed up by happy, teething readers. So if you’re shutterstock_27090169-with-invisible-borderanticipating such a short shelf-life, you might as well get something fuzzy, or otherwise tactile, to entice and interest the babies for whom the stories are intended. In the grand scheme of a library’s overall budget, board books are a small-ticket item.

At the same public library, we also had a large, rotating collection of Book Babies storytime tubs, with lots of these sorts of books that were non-circulating. Each tub contained 30 copies of a board book title. Three tubs went to each branch each week, allowing for communal reading of interactive books during storytime. This allowed the librarian to demonstrate different ways of using these special books. And, wonderfully, the library had more interactive titles available for families to take home.

shutterstock_311950931Speaking librarian to librarian, my advice is if a library is really embracing programs for babies and the ALA’s Every Child Ready to Read program, it’s worth considering interactive titles.

How does your library do board books?

 

Gwen Vanderhage - 2.5 x 3

Gwen

After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.