I recently measured the happiness levels of my daily activities. This is a practice I learned from Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar. I had been enlightened by this book a couple of years ago. Since becoming a mother my daily life has drastically changed so I wanted to re-test myself. Tal Ben-Shahar helps you measure the pleasure and meaning that you get from everything in your life, from the mundane to the special. It helped me understand the happiness I gain from unexpected sources such as doing laundry, washing dishes or writing blogs… 😉
This time around I had a new activity that topped my happiness chart–reading books with my 21-month-old daughter (well, not exactly a new activity since I have been doing it from birth). My father recently gave me my baby birth record which I didn’t even know existed. In it there was a chart of baby Jesse’s favorite activities:
As you can see, under favorite games and toys my mother simply wrote “books”.
Some of my best memories of childhood were curling up with my mother, reading books. I must be passing my favorite babyhood pastime on to my daughter as well.
The other morning my 17-month-old niece was over to play. Little cousin looked interested in one of our books so I sat her on my lap and began to read to her. Suddenly my daughter became very concerned and started to pace back and forth, acting upset. It took me a minute to realize that she was jealous. Then, she was not content to sit next to us, she wanted to be the one on mommy’s lap with her cousin sitting beside. It was special to me to realize that since I have not seen her act this way about other activities, our reading time must be sacred to her.
What is so sweet about reading books together that both of us love it so much?
We snuggle up together on the couch.
We read calm, happy books about nature , family or cars .
It is interactive. I speak in a gentle voice and my daughter turns the pages, points at things and talks to me about them. Sometimes we keep going back to the page with all the pretty butterflies…
Basically we decide to put life on pause and we meditate together on the simple concepts of life–the beauty of life.
It’s amazing the comfort and bond a book can foster and this bond and love of books enhances each of our lives.
I can recommend books that explain why reading to your children is essential for their development (see below). But if you really want to know the truth, we just do it because we love it!
Here are some of our favorite books to cuddle with and remind us how special life and love is:
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Of course this is everyone’s favorite baby book because the little bunny has many of the same things as us–a bed, a light, a moon out the window. This is our special bedtime book along with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. & John Archambault. Another favorite that we love so much I nick-named my daughter after it! (Her nick-name is Chickee, sometimes “Chickee Boom Boom”). This was also the first book that she knew what was coming next and said “Oh no!” along with me as I read it, when all the letters are about to fall out of the coconut tree.
Mama Mama by Jean Marzollo. A sweet book that reminds mommies that all the little things we do every day are really important. The book has pictures of jungle animal mamas cleaning, feeding, carrying and taking care of their babies.
What is Green? by Kate Endle. My daughter loves books about colors as she is learning different colors. This book has pretty little cut-out pictures of everyday objects, grouped by color.
Animal Babies by Charles Reasoner. It seems that every baby learns animal sounds as part of their first vocabulary. This is our favorite but there are many books like this and we love them all.
…And of course many more. My daughter loves to poke through the basket in the children’s room at OWL for new selections!
Further reading materials on the science behind reading to children:
Straight Talk About Reading: How Parents Can Make a Difference During the Early Years by Susan L. Hall & Louisa C. Moats. The authors say that reading to your children raises their self-esteem, builds their vocabulary and develops their background knowledge about a variety of topics, among many other things.
For Reading Out Loud! A Guide to Sharing Books with Children by Margaret Mary Kimmel & Elizabeth Segel. One thing I thought was sweet and interesting about this book was that it compares reading with babies to breast-feeding! Both have physical and emotional closeness, attentiveness to the child and the fulfillment of a child’s needs.
Growing a Reader from Birth: Your Child’s Path from Language to Literacy by Dr. Diane McGuinness. She outlines the different stages children go through as they experience language and books.
Baby & Toddler Play: 170+ fun activities to help your child learn through play by Wendy S. Masi & Roni Cohen Leiderman and the Gymboree Corporation Staff. This book has lots of fun games to play with your child at their different stages of development. It even has interesting books you can make yourself, like a book of different textures. The authors also mention a study that showed reading to babies improves their receptive vocabularies so much that 18-month-olds who had been frequently read to as babies had vocabularies that had increased 40% since babyhood, whereas the non-reading 18-month-olds’ vocabularies had only increased 16%. Wow!
As I have been learning to be a mother, my friends who are well-seasoned mothers have taught me that my baby’s moods are often mirrors of my own. When I’m getting stressed out and notice that the household mood is getting cranky, one of the best things I have found to do is to take our respite and reboot ourselves, snuggled up in the corner of the couch, with our little happy books about the moon, butterflies, tractors, and all the other fun things in life.
Jesse and Chickee are drawing with crayons on their window-panes– pictures of Christmas trees and snowflakes!