A few weeks ago, I was having coffee at an outdoor café . You know the kind – with rolling green grass and large umbrellas that’s kid friendly and where there are always little ones running around. I watched as a group of mothers with babies and toddlers of various ages placed blankets on the floor and sat down. They all had the same book, which they paged through with their children. As one mother read a few pages, the other mothers pointed out pictures or words to their children. A baby book club.
A study conducted at Brown University School of Medicine in the US, revealed that 18- to 25-month-olds whose parent read to them regularly, could say and understand more words than the children whose parents hadn’t read to them. Research also shows that reading aloud to your baby or toddler stimulates his imagination and expands his understanding of the world. It also helps him develop language and listening skills.
Caryn Childs, a former teacher and now a Body Talk practitioner, has had some experience with children’s book clubs. She explains that when you read to your children, you engage the five senses:
Your child looks at the words and pictures, and may even follow your finger as you read along the line. “But sight is also a subtle sense and also represents the ability for us to see clearly, the past, present and future. It gives us the capacity to ‘see the truth’ for ‘clear-sightedness’ to ‘have vision’ and to ‘avoid’ what could be dangerous.”
Listening to a parent, teacher or caregiver reading doesn’t represent just the capacity to hear, but to listen. Here, your child tunes into the tone of voice and you can change your tone to represent the different characters
Siting on your lap, or next to you, engages smell, says Caryn. The smell of you, the room, the grass, the trees. “How often do we associate smell with a memory,” she asks, adding that smell is the first sense that picks up fear and danger or processes feelings of contentment and happiness. “The nose, or smell, represents self-recognition. By sitting on your mom’s lap or cuddling with Dad, a feeling of acceptance is created. We are all the same as we read this book. We are all listening, we are all enthralled, we are all equally delighted in hearing this story and having this time set aside just for us. This makes your child feel loved and fosters a sense of belonging.”
Your child touching the book, or stroking your arm, is important, as this helps create a bond of trust and calm interactions. This stillness, says Caryn, is so vital when so much of our lives is not calm, but rushed and hectic. “We show caring and love through our hands, either through service or touch. This provides emotional nourishment for the soul. How often do we tell our children to be careful with a book or turn the pages gently? We are naturally teaching them care and respect.”
Perhaps he’s drinking while reading, or his fingers are in his mouth. “The mouth is not just about taking in nourishment, but is also about taking in new ideas. It’s about communication, vulnerability and sensitivity,” says Caryn.
Reading, says Caryn, helps your child build vocabulary, and helps him to learn how to listen and understand, to use his imagination and create a moral compass, as stories are a great way to illustrate the subtleties of acceptance and unacceptable behaviours. “Parents are such important educators of their children. They are the example the children will emulate and follow. Reading starts conversations and talking about the stories from different perspectives and helps children become more open-minded.”
Children are never too young to start appreciating books. They may not understand the words, but the intimacy with parents, friends and peers that is created, is immeasurable.
How to start a baby book club:
- Try to have the babies and toddlers around a similar age. Between 13 and 24 months of age is a good time to start.
- Work out your aims for the book club. You may all want to have the same book that all the kids have and read it together, or you may want to each put in a few book that go into rotation.
- Decide how often you want to meet. You may want to meet one afternoon a month, or more often.
- Decide how long you want the book club to be. Two hours usually offers some time for you your to catch up with your friends and read, but is short enough for little ones not to become too restless.
- It’s great to have one or two mothers read the story to the group. The sillier the reader, the better to encourage interaction from the children.
- You can invite participation by asking questions, such as “What does the dog say?”, “Do you see the cat?”, “Where is your nose?” ect.
- Remember that older toddlers find the familiar routine of reading reassuring and calming, and the same goes for familiar books. You may find that they will ask for the same book over and over again, as this helps them make sense of what is being read, as well as reinforcing new words.
- The great thing about a baby book club is that it grows with your child, as your babies and toddlers get older, so do their book choices and tastes – fostering a lifelong appreciation of books, as well as friendship.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.