~ S P E C I A L ~ F E A T U R E ~

Eight Baby Read-Aloud Basics

an excerpt from the new book

Fun and Interactive Ways to Help Your Little One
Discover the World of Words

by Reading Recovery Specialists
Caroline J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez


The excerpt below is from the new book, Baby Read-Aloud Basics, a guide to reading to infants that Library Journal calls "groundbreaking."

You might ask yourself, how hard can reading to babies be? It's not hard at all, of course. In fact, reading to baby is often the best moment in a busy parent's day. What's difficult is knowing which books to read when faced with the overwhelming choices in bookstores and libraries. Baby Read-Aloud Basics provides detailed reviews of books for six distinct stages of development, from birth to two years old. These recommendations are a blessing for mothers, fathers, friends and relatives looking for solid advice on what books to expose children to -- and when.

Reading aloud to babies helps them understand the structure of language and facilitates neural connections that prepare baby for lifelong learning. Authors Caroline J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez are Reading Recovery specialists with a combined 50 years of experience helping children with reading disabilities. In Baby Read-Aloud Basics, they pay special attention to bilingual families, demonstrating how reading to baby in any language will help them learn the dominant language when they start school.

The excerpt covers Eight Baby Read-Aloud Basics -- simple things an adult should take into consideration before reading to babies. More information about the book and authors follows the excerpt. Enjoy!

Eight Baby Read-Aloud Basics

by Reading Recovery Specialists
Caroline J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez

Chapter One covered the wide-reaching benefits of reading to your baby. In this chapter, we present a few simple suggestions to help you and your baby begin a journey together that will enrich your lives. Besides the calming and bonding benefits, you'll develop a conversational resonance through everyday ideas and events that children's books inspire. In the very beginning you may feel like it's a one-way monologue, but before you know it, you'll be in a dialogue in which your baby responds to you by locking her eyes in rapt attention on your eyes, your mouth, and the book. She'll wiggle her legs and arms, and breathe faster. In return, you'll read more to her, and the read-aloud dance is underway with all its lifetime benefits of increased vocabulary and language skills.

1. Newborns Need a Quiet Reading Environment

As your baby makes the transition from a uterine environment to our noisy, well-lit, open-air world, many physiological changes are taking place. A newborn's perceptual system does not screen out everything that her eyes see, her ears hear, or her skin feels. Be sensitive to your newborn's needs by providing quiet time when she can listen clearly to your voice as you talk or read to her. When reading to your baby, turn off any competing noises, such as the television, stereo, or radio. In early infancy, it is especially important to prevent over stimulation or stress. During read-alouds, allow your baby to hear only you rhythmic voice without the disturbance of background noises.

2. Newborns are Comforted by the Sound of Your Voice

Initially, right after your child's birth, you have a lot of leeway in what you may select to read to your baby. One parent told us he read aloud from the stock market pages of the newspaper. Since babies are mostly focusing on your voice at the outset, you could read anything aloud. However, since babies love your melodious voice the best choice right after birth might be any kind of rhymes, such as Mother Goose.

Some parents start right out with board books, such as Goodnight Moon, and note that their babies become so accustomed to these books that they continue to request them for the first year or longer. Gradually you will become aware of your baby's favorites and select books that you know he would like. As babies mature, they become pickier and let you know what they like through their body language. Whatever you choose to read, become aware of the effect of the sound of your voice on your baby. Notice your baby's excited movements when you read with enthusiasm or change the pitch of your voice.

3. Hold and Cuddle Your Baby When You Read

The most important thing to remember when reading a book to your infant is that you are providing love, attention, and intimacy while giving important language input. When babies are old enough to begin to choose books and bring them to you to read, often what they really want is to cuddle and be given loving attention.

When you first hold a newborn it can feel awkward, especially before they can hold their heads up. Imagine holding a book and the newborn at the same time. After a little practice, you'll find the most comfortable position, whether it's in your favorite rocker with a "boppy" (a donut-shaped lap pillow often used by nursing mothers) or lying next to your baby on the bed.

4. When Choosing a Book, Allow Your Baby to Be Your Guide

There is no prescription from pediatricians, educators, or psychologists recommending a list of books for each stage of a child's early development. This is a good thing, as we have never encountered identical lists of books from parents we interviewed. Each child is unique and has his own preferences. One size does not fit all. Parents begin early with books they think their child will like and then reread many, many times those that get a favorable reaction. In each of Chapters Three through Eight, we provide detailed reviews of several age-appropriate books with tips for how they can be used to launch rich interactions between you and your baby. You can readily adapt these tips to whatever books you and your baby prefer.

Newborns benefit most from hearing your familiar voice reading poems or books with rhythm and rhyme when they are awake or asleep. After the first two or three months, your baby will react favorably by looking back and forth with interest between your face and the book, wiggling her legs and hands with excitement, or smiling happily. Conversely, if your baby is not enthused about a book she may look away from your face and the book, push the book aside, or fall asleep. By the time your baby is a year or more, she will select the books she wants you to read from the shelf, pile, or basket.

Your choice of books is not as important as making the choice to read to your baby on a regular basis. By making that choice, you will give your baby a powerful boost of language development, the benefits of which will last a lifetime. More importantly, your baby will associate reading with cuddly love and attention.

5. Start Reading at Any Page

You don't have to finish a book, or even start at the beginning. You can go right to the part you know your baby likes best and have fun on one or more pages by dramatizing different parts with a variety of voice inflections and tones. Your baby may even want to switch back and forth between one book and another. Often baby books do not contain stories, but illustrated rhymes or labeled pictures. Skipping around the text is easy in these types of books. If there's a story line, it still doesn't matter if you pick and choose pages that interest your baby.

6. You Don't Have to Read All of the Words in the Book

Sometimes you'll find that your baby prefers that you merely point to the illustrations and name some objects, or that you make up your own words or story as you go along rather than reading what the words on the page say. Your baby will let you know. For example, when you select a favorite book for your baby, if you know from previous readings that your child prefers a certain page, you can turn directly to that page. You can read it in the way your baby loves to hear, perhaps dramatizing certain sentences or words by speaking them more loudly or in a squeaky voice. How will you know what your baby likes best? She may wiggle her arms and legs or gaze at the page with great interest. She might also look at the page longer than other pages.

For a wordless picture book, like Tana Hoban's White on Black, you may dream up anything you want to say about the pictures of simple objects. Your baby will show you which pictures she's most intrigued by. In this interaction with your baby the most important element is listening, observing and following your baby's cues. Your baby will let you know what pages she prefers and how long to remain on a page. Usually, at this stage it's best to remain on a page for only a few seconds.

7. Repeated Readings are Good for Baby's Language Development

As soon as your child can speak in phrases some of the first words you'll hear are "read it again." Hearing language from books repeatedly helps children memorize it. Eight-month-olds can remember certain words that are read to them after two weeks of hearing repeated readings. Reading the same books over and over again may seem an interminable task, but the language benefits as well as your child's joy will keep you going.

Even at birth babies have been shown to prefer hearing books that were read to them in utero. Researchers gave newborns a choice between hearing their mothers read a new book or hearing a book read repeatedly before birth. Using a sucking device, babies responded by increased sucking when they heard the familiar book read to them before birth. Rereading of traditional nursery rhymes starting at birth helps your baby identify and learn the sounds of his language. A good knowledge of sound discrimination forms the basis of later reading and writing skills.

8. Use "Parentese" when Reading and Talking to Your Baby

If you think reading to babies is having a quiet baby on your lap soaking up every word that you read straight from the book, think again. Reading to babies looks and feels very different from reading to older children. The principal difference in reading to babies as opposed to older children is the way you interrelate using your voice and a baby book. This way of talking to newborns is called "parentese."

When parents are in intimate, face-to-face contact with their babies, they speak in a sing-songy, higher-pitched, slower, louder voice. When reading, you'll use the baby book primarily as a vehicle to converse and dialogue with your baby using your parentese voice. You may use none, some, or all of the words in the book to have this kind of conversation.

Studies show that beginning at around five weeks, babies prefer parentese, rather than regular adult conversation. Parentese is the best way for babies to hear and learn language. Studies show that it takes babies twice as long as adults to process information. With parentese you speak more slowly so babies can hear the individual sounds and words in the stream of speech. This helps them distinguish the unique rhythm of the language spoken in the home.

Babies learn language best when parents speak with their parentese voices using face-to-face, personal, baby- directed talk. The more parentese babies hear before the age of two, the more words they'll learn. A large vocabulary will lead to higher intelligence and academic achievement in school. Parentese aids in the process of learning the sounds, grammar, and structure of language necessary for effective speaking, reading, and writing.

About the Authors

Caroline J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez

Caroline Jackson Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez have a combined experience of over fifty years helping thousands of elementary school children with reading difficulties. They have given workshops on read-alouds to thousands of parents of babies, preschoolers, and school age children.

With expertise in the field of emergent literacy and practical experience working directly with parents and babies, they are uniquely qualified to advise new parents on how they can help their babies and toddlers achieve future school success. As reading specialists, Ms. Blakemore and Ms. Ramirez can clearly see by kindergarten which children have been read to regularly. The children who have had books in their lives between birth and five will become the future highest achievers with a lifelong love of learning.

Authors of Literacy Centers for The Primary Classroom (1999, Dominie Press, also published in Australia in 2000, Addison Wesley Longman), they have given dozens of workshops to teachers, preschool directors, and administrators. One of their workshops, given to 250 educators at the San Diego County Department of Education, resulted in several large school districts reaching out to parents of newborns to educate them about the need to read to babies to prepare them for kindergarten.

To contact Caroline and Barbara about workshops, book signings, TV and radio appearances, send e-mail to: authors@readtoyourbaby.com

About the Book

Fun and Interactive Ways to Help Your Little One
Discover the World of Words
by Reading Recovery Specialists
Caroline J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez
Published by Amacom Books
(ISBN 0-8144-7358-X, 246 pages, softcover, $15.00)
Available through this site or directly from Amacom Books
Author's Web Site: Read To Your Baby (readtoyourbaby.com)

~ Winner of the iParenting Media Award ~

"This is a groundbreaking book by Blakemore and Ramirez... If any book were to have all the answers for discovering language with your little one, this would be it; highly recommended for all public libraries."
-- Library Journal (starred review)

"If I were in charge of American parents, my first law would be that all new parents had to read (or listen to) this book. It's not only soundly researched, but also filled with practical strategies that any parent can use."
-- Jim Trelease, author of the million-copy bestseller,
The Read-Aloud Handbook

Introducing your child to a lifelong love of reading can be as easy as A-B-C... if you know the right techniques.

Decades of research have proven the value of reading aloud to children, and the years between birth and age two are arguably the most crucial for language development. As a parent, it's important that you help your baby acquire the foundation they need to speak earlier, read on their own sooner, and benefit from an increased vocabulary and attention span.

Baby Read-Aloud Basics shows you how to establish an effective daily read-aloud routine to take charge of your baby's future understanding and success. Organized around the six stages of early language development from birth to age two, the book provides simple but effective techniques to help you:

  • Make reading aloud an interactive experience -- from intonation and speech patterns to gesture.
  • Select what to read aloud by looking at how much the text of the book repeats, whether it rhymes, and the types of interactive elements it incorporates.
  • Know when to read and how often in order to create a reading routine that's both enjoyable and effective.
  • Ensure your baby gets the right amount of language from a nanny or a caretaker.
  • Effectively incorporate reading in a bilingual home.

Filled with step-by-step instructions, scripted demonstrations, and an extensive list of recommended titles, Baby Read-Aloud Basics gives you all the guidance and information you need to instill a lifelong love of reading and learning, and start your baby along on the road to success.

Copyright 2006 by Caroline J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this file as long as the excerpt is not altered and this copyright notice is intact. Thank you.