One of the best moments I had while my son, Ben, was in the NICU for 68 days – and we all know those moments can be few and far between – was when his nurse suggested I read a book to him. For some of you, reading to your baby would be a no-brainer, but for for me, it was truly a Godsend.
This was one of those first excruciating days when I had yet to hold my sweet boy. I was still so uncertain about what I could, and could not, do for him. Still so utterly terrified he was not going to make it, that my hands, my mind, my heart, clung to that book like a lifeline, willing my baby to be okay. A book symbolized everything that was normal and right to me and I decided to take it as a sign that he was going to be okay.
As a children’s librarian, I have read many books to other people’s children. Reading this first book to my own child was something I had fantasized about even before becoming pregnant. While I never dreamed my baby would be in an isolette, and I in a wheelchair, this was the best storytime I have ever experienced.
Speaking of storytime, have you ever brought your child to storytime at the library? Or maybe its called story hour where you live. Regardless of the name, its a program offered by most public libraries where someone – hopefully a very entertaining someone – reads stories, and sings and/or dances, with a group of children. Storytimes are usually offered for children of all ages, including babies. If you are a new mom, like me, this is a wonderful opportunity to get out with your baby, learn some great songs and bouncing rhymes, and connect with other moms in your area. Best of all, its free!
It should come as no surprise to you, then, that bringing Ben to his first storytime was something I looked forward to as much as I did any of his “firsts.” Would you be surprised, though, if I told you storytime has provided the perfect opportunity to work on some of his developmental delays, such as sitting? As of 14-months of age, Ben is not only unable to sit unassisted, he really, really, really does not like to sit. However, when he is in storytime, he is so entertained by all that is going on, he will sit with me the whole time. It also helps for him to just be around other kids who then act as models for him.
However, if you are concerned that a library’s traditional storytime may not be right for your child, you may want to inquire about libraries in your area that offer sensory storytimes. These storytimes are geared towards children who have a hard time in large groups, and/or are on the autism spectrum, and/or have sensory integration issues. Sensory storytimes may not be as widely available in your area as traditional storytimes, but your local library may know of other libraries around that do offer them.
Although storytimes are typically offered throughout the year, libraries host a wide array of fun, free, programs for kids during the summer. Not just storytimes, but also a variety of talented children’s performers, from magicians to musicians, crafts, lego clubs and museum visits. And a lot of the events happen in the evening, which is convenient for working parents. Many libraries also participate in a statewide summer reading program that rewards kids with prizes for how much they read (or are read to) over the summer. Overall, your local public library is one of the coolest places you and your kids can go to on hot, summer afternoons. Even if there aren’t programs going on, there are plenty of books, games, computers and toys for children of all ages.
Still, the best storytimes, as I discovered that day in the NICU, are the ones that happen between you and your child. In fact, you do not even need an actual book. If you are like me and have read some of the classic books, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, at least one thousand times, you can always just tell the story to your baby or child, perhaps using your hands and fingers to illustrate how the caterpillar grows and transforms into a butterfly. It does not even matter if you tell the story word for word. Kids will always prefer the way “mom tells it best” or “dad tells it best.” Or maybe they will take turns telling you the story! And even where you tell the story does not matter. A wheelchair and an isolette work just fine.
What are you and your child’s favorite books to read together?