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I am a father of three, and a long-time English teacher in New York. I have seen the benefits of early reading. The ease with which early readers adjust to school and the distinct advantage an early reader has at all levels of education are clear.


One of the blessings (and curses) of parenthood is knowing that the habits we instill in our children at an early age will percolate through adolescence and into adulthood. Children will be poised to deal with the challenges presented in any educational system.

Sharing a book is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways parents can teach the kind of reading habits a child will need to be an early reader and lifelong lover of the written word. It is never too early to begin reading aloud.

Here are a few of the read-aloud practices that have been most effective with my own kids at home. Most of these strategies are geared toward emerging readers, but the strategies can be adjusted to meet the needs of readers at all levels.

Question! Question! Question!

Questions are the catalyst to curiosity, discovery, creativity, and inquiry. Questions are the basis for knowledge acquisition and the key to becoming self-reflective and introspective. Modeling the kind of questions a reader should ask is the key to developing the kind of reader who will better understand what they are reading.

Start with easy questions and move to more and more difficult questions as becomes more familiar with the book. Questions about colors, numbers, letters and words work well for younger children.

Questions about ideas, themes, allusions, structure, and the author’s craft work better for older kids. The answer to the question is never as important as the asking of the question itself – modeling the kind of questions that propel a reader through a text is the key idea here.

The power of repetition

While reading a book again and again may seem a fruitless task to experienced readers, it is an essential task for young ones. The repetition of words, phrases, pictures, and moral lessons builds fluency, word recognition skills, and overall awareness. Repeat readings are vital if you are going to get the most out of your time together

Picture books are meant to be read many times. Take advantage of these books, which are designed to build young readers’ confidence.  After 10 or 15 times through “Goodnight Moon” my daughter, Ellie, was able to finish reading most of the sentences.

Although she is not technically reading, it is more rote memorization, Ellie is practicing and learning at her own pace in a low-stress environment. This is huge for an emergent reader.  With repetition, her brain begins to connect the letters on the page and the sounds of our voices as we read aloud.

Picture/ letter hunt “I’ll bet you can’t find . . .”

My kids and I love Dr. Seuss’ classic, “Wacky Wednesday.” The protagonist wakes up one morning to find that everything is all mixed up. Shoes are on walls, leaves on trees have changed colors, houses are missing front doors and traffic lights have reversed, red for go and green for stop! My kids love finding all of the wacky things wrong on each page.

This idea of hunting for things on the page can be applied to all books. Kids love to go on treasure hunts, and we can use this sense of innate curiosity to lift the level of their reading and get them utilizing good reading habits.

When reading aloud to emergent readers, stop occasionally and design a treasure hunt. You can tailor this activity to meet the needs of your child’s developmental level. Does the child need work with letter recognition? Hunt for specific letters. Is the child working on learning body parts? Hunt for body parts (finding the armpits is Ellie’s favorite!). Is the child learning colors, sight words, punctuation? Hunt for those. Don’t spend too long hunting, though. You don’t want to lose the flow of the narrative.

Creating character voices

Reading aloud takes time and practice, just like anything else. Whatever your experience level, I believe we can all build this skill if we become mindful of the kinds of things that proficient readers do while they read.

Great readers use inflection so that each of the characters’ voices in the story sounds unique. By giving each character a distinct voice the listener can hear their thoughts and feelings and piece together the action of the story.

Look for spots in the text where the writer has made words bigger or smaller so that you can model a softer or LOUDER voice. Any of the Mo Willems’ books are fantastic for practicing. I tend to go over-the-top with my voices, but it makes the reading fun for me as well. 

Choice

Giving young readers the power to choose what they read is a game-changing tactic that is easy to implement. When readers at any level are able to choose what they read, the act of reading seems to take on a whole new level of focus and responsibility. We gain a sense of control over what we read and learn.

Depending on how much time we have, and what kind of mood she is in, I will let Ellie pick 2, 3, 4 or sometimes 5 books per night. Ellie can also choose the order of books. Choosing all of the books before we read also sets a finishing time, otherwise, we might be reading all night!

Use the book’s central characters to reinforce positive behavior, empathy, and social acceptance

The Cat in the Hat” has always been a favorite in my house.

Dr. Seuss opens with pictures of his famous cat looking in through a window on both the inside front and back covers of the book. The pages are easy to skip over since there are no words on them, but I use them strategically to make the protagonist ‘talk’ to my kids.

The cat becomes a kind of mentor, a voice of reason in a world full of blathering adults who tower above, always saying “No!” and “You can’t!” stomping their feet and waving their hands around excitedly all day. The Cat has influence in our house. I use my Cat voice in conversations with Ellie outside of our reading, and she can tell the Cat things she might not share with me. 

This idea of giving the character a ‘life’ outside of the text, has been a massive help to our household. Let’s face it, kids get sick of hearing us drone on and on with the same tired lines — Pick up after yourself, Finish eating your breakfast, Go outside and play, You have to share your toys, Stop fighting with your sister.

All of these parent-isms take on new and fresh meaning when they are delivered by one of your child’s favorite protagonists, and all of these characters can come back every night to check up on them!

Let the child hold, and read the book  

Allowing the reader to hold the book makes the reading experience more personal and engaging. Bring the book in close and let the young reader trace the outline of a character or put their finger underneath a letter they know. Let them point and let them touch.

Allow them to turn the page when you have said the final word on that page. She will listen and watch for that last word on the page, and learn to track the words and focus on the tone and sound of your voice.

I read the book tonight, Daddy!” Ellie says, even though she wasn’t really reading it on her own

She is not going to be able to read the way my 8 and 10-year-old children would, but the fact that she is willing to try makes me very happy! Embrace this opportunity with your young readers at home, for this is their first venture into independent reading territory!

When I hand the book to Ellie I become an acute listener, hanging on her every word. I know how I react is feedback for her. Is she saying the right words with the correct inflection in her voice? Is the story interesting to her audience? I try not to get in the way too much here.

It does not matter if she gets the words wrong or skips pages. The fact that Ellie is going through the process is the important part. I let her read and read and read until she closes the book and I tell her how much I loved her reading and how much I loved the story. Emergent readers need to build confidence and allowing them to read in a stress-free, low-risk environment builds the confidence they will need for school.  

Ditch the Cell Phone

The reading environment you create for your child is almost as important as the reading itself. Remember that the reading is the center point, the focal point. The reader needs to know that there will be nothing to interfere with the reading during those 10 or 20 minutes.

The read-aloud is a sacred time in my house and one that we take very seriously. TVs are shut down. Electronics of any kind are turned off and put away. Cell phones are out of the room and out of earshot. Other family members may join the read aloud, but only if they are going to take it seriously and not interrupt for other things.

Some days, sadly, our read-aloud time ends up being the only 20-30 minutes of the entire day without the hum of the hypnotic screen. It is an oasis of peace, quiet, thought, and reflection. It is a time of sharing, closeness, physical contact, face-to-face smiles, and eyes on each other.

It’s a time I have come to cherish.

In our busy worlds of part-time jobs, overtime, shopping after work, music lessons, dance classes, pick-ups, and drop-offs, it’s nice to know that the read aloud is waiting for us at the end of the day. I’ve made it a priority.

Maybe you can, too.

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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.

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A viral video about car seat safety has parents everywhere cracking up and humming Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

"I like safe kids and I cannot lie," raps Norman Regional Health System pediatric hospitalist Dr. Kate Cook (after prefacing her music video with an apology to her children."I'm a doctor tryin' warn you that recs have changed," she continues.

Dr. Cook's rap video is all about the importance of keeping babies facing backward. It's aptly called "Babies Face Back," and uses humor and parody to drive home car seat recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Switching from rear-facing to forward-facing is a milestone many parents can't wait to reach," Dr. Cook said in a news release about her hilarious video. "But this is one area where you want to delay the transition as long as possible because each one actually reduces the protection to the child."

Last summer the AAP updated its official stance on car seat safety to be more in line with what so many parents were already doing and recommended that kids stay rear-facing for as long as possible. But with so many things to keep track of in life, it is understandable that some parents still don't know about the change. Dr. Cook wants to change that with some cringe-worthy rapping.

The AAP recommends:

  • Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. Many seats are good up to 65 pounds.
  • When children outgrow their car seat they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, between 8 and 12 years old.

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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

Suicide rates for girls and women in the United States have increased 50% since 2000, according to the CDC and new research indicates a growing number of pregnant and postpartum women are dying by suicide and overdose. Suicide rates for boys and men are up, too.

It's clear there is a mental health crisis in America and it is robbing children of their mothers and mothers of their children.

Medical professionals urge people to get help early, but sometimes getting help is not so simple. For many Americans, the life preserver that is mental health care is out of reach when they are drowning.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg just released a plan he hopes could change that and says the neglect of mental health in the United States must end. "Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal," says Buttigieg.

He thinks he can "prevent 1 million deaths of despair by 2028" by giving Americans more access to mental health and addictions services.

In a country where giving birth can put a mother in debt, it's not surprising that while as many as 1 in 5 new moms suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, more than half of new moms who need mental health treatment don't get it. Stigma, childcare and of course costs are factors in why women aren't seeking help when they are struggling.

Buttigieg's plan is interesting because it could remove some of these barriers. He wants to make mental health care more affordable by ensuring everyone has comprehensive coverage for mental health care and by ensuring that everyone can access a free yearly mental health check-up.

That could make getting help more affordable for some moms, and by increasing reimbursement rates for mental health care delivered through telehealth, this plan could help moms get face time with a medical professional without having to deal with finding childcare first.

Estimates from new research suggest that in some parts of America as many as 14% or 30% of maternal deaths are caused by addiction or suicide. Buttigieg's plan aims to reduce those estimates by fighting the addiction and opioid crisis and increasing access to mental health services in underserved communities and for people of color. He also wants to reduce the stigma and increase support for the next generation by requiring "every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses."

These are lofty goals with a lofty price tag. It would cost about $300 billion to do what Buttigieg sets out in his plan and the specifics of how the plan would be funded aren't yet known. Neither is how voters will react to this 18-page plan and whether it will help Buttigieg stand out in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

What we do know is that right now, America is talking about mental health and whether or not that benefits Buttigieg's campaign it will certainly benefit America.

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[Editor's Note: Welcome to It's Science, a Motherly column focusing on evidence-based explanations for the important moments, milestones, and phenomena of motherhood. Because it's not just you—#itsscience.]

If you breastfeed, you know just how magical (and trying) it is, but it has numerous benefits for mama and baby. It is known to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half.

If this wasn't powerful enough, scientists have discovered that babies who are fed breast milk have a stomach pH that promotes the formation of HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells). HAMLET was discovered by chance when researchers were studying the antibacterial properties of breast milk. This is a combination of proteins and lipids found in breast milk that can work together to kill cancer cells, causing them to pull away from healthy cells, shrink and die, leaving the healthy cells unaffected.

According to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, this mechanism may contribute to the protective effect breast milk has against pediatric tumors and leukemia, which accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancer. Other researchers analyzed 18 different studies, finding that "14% to 19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breastfeeding for six months or more."

And recently, doctors in Sweden collaborated with scientists in Prague to find yet another amazing benefit to breast milk. Their research demonstrated that a certain milk sugar called Alpha1H, found only in breast milk, helps in the production of lactose and can transform into a different form that helps break up tumors into microscopic fragments in the body.

Patients who were given a drug based on this milk sugar, rather than a placebo, passed whole tumor fragments in their urine. And there is more laboratory evidence to support that the drug can kill more than 40 different types of cancer cells in animal trials, including brain tumors and colon cancer. These results are inspiring scientists to continue to explore HAMLET as a novel approach to tumor therapy and make Alpha1H available to cancer patients.

Bottom line: If you choose to breastfeed, the breast milk your baby gets from your hard work can be worth every drop of effort.

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