by Alex McCall / Douglas County Libraries
It is easy to convince a librarian that speaking, talking, and reading to children from birth is a vital component of early literacy. From day one, babies’ brains develop neural pathways based on their caregivers’ words, intonations, and gestures that lay the foundations for them to read later in life. However, new science is emerging that indicates these pathways begin forming even before birth. Should libraries offer story times and other resources to their youngest patrons- fetuses? At CLELCON22, Pedro Mendez from Denver Public Library made a compelling argument as to why the answer should be a resounding ‘Yes!’.
From about 18 weeks’ gestation, fetuses can hear sounds from inside and outside the womb. The most important of these sounds is the mother’s voice, from which the fetus will develop an understanding of language (Valiani & HadiAlijanvand, 2021). One of the primary purposes of a prenatal story time is to teach adults the importance of this early development and give them the tools needed to begin reading to their baby-to-be. Part of the storytime may focus on selecting quality books for infants (Mendez suggests books with large, high contrast pictures). The storyteller should also emphasize that babies aren’t picky–they will love to listen to whatever their caregiver is reading, from a grocery list to instructions on how to install the car seat, as long as their caregiver is enjoying it!
What would storytime be without a few good songs and rhymes? Often a child’s favorite part of storytime, nursery rhymes, songs and fingerplays add an element of interaction and fun. It turns out that fetuses enjoy a good lullaby, too. Research shows that babies in the third trimester of pregnancy recognize nursery rhymes that their mother has previously said to them (Wright, 2014). Songs and rhymes are excellent ways to develop an understanding of rhythm and tone. The magic of music also extends to Mom–pregnant women who participated in a lullaby program in Ireland felt that they were calmer and more regulated after singing to their child (Carolan et al., 2012).
Other Benefits- Routines and Relationships
By creating a routine before baby arrives, parents can get into the habit of reading without the added stress of sleep deprivation, feeding challenges, and all of the other surprises that come along with the new family member. Even if reading does get put on the back burner for a while after the baby is born (and who can blame them?), it will be easier for parents to resume a routine when they are ready.
What about adoptive parents, foster families, and other caregivers? A good prenatal story time will ensure that these important people in the baby’s life do not miss out just because they are not the ones giving birth. Beyond direct development for the fetus, story times also offer caregivers a refresher course in babies’ needs that they may not receive from other sources. Caregivers will recall nursery rhymes they have not sung since they were children themselves and learn about how to pick age-appropriate books. Prenatal story times empower caregivers from all walks of life to read to their child from the first day their little one is handed to them.
There are many stressors put on families welcoming a new baby into their home- everything from safe sleep practices to tummy time requires foresight, planning, and extra effort to ensure that their little one gets the right start in life. By leading a prenatal storytime, librarians can teach families-to-be how they can incorporate reading and music into their homes without adding any more stress. It can be a fun, welcoming bonding experience for all.
Carolan, M., Barry, M., Gamble, M., Turner, K., & Mascareñas, O. (2012). Experiences of pregnant women attending a lullaby programme in Limerick, Ireland: a qualitative study. Midwifery, 28(3), 321–328. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2011.04.009
Mendez, P. (2022, October 6-7). The Importance of Prenatal Literature: Prenatal Storytime [Conference presentation]. CLELCon 2022, Denver, CO, United States. https://www.clel.org/professional-development/conference/clelcon22-details/
Valiani, M., & HadiAlijanvand, S. (2021). The Effect of Fetus Stimulation Techniques on Newborn Behavior. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research, 26(6), 550–554. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijnmr.IJNMR_142_20
Wright, T. (2014, July 22). UF research shows rhymes can inspire reasoning during the third trimester in the womb. University of Florida News. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://news.ufl.edu/archive/2014/07/uf-research-shows-rhymes-can-inspire-reasoning-during-the-third-trimester-in-the-womb.html#:~:text=Research%20published%20in%20the%20most,until%20just%20prior%20to%20birt
About Alex: After starting my career in Special Education, I jumped into the library world in 2021. I especially love introducing young children and their families to all of the opportunities books offer in storytime.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position or opinion of the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy organization or the individual committee members.