It’s customary in this household, (as I am sure it is in many), for the bedtime routine to be completed with the sharing of a book. From a very early age, my children have been relishing in turning cardboard pages, fingering colourful illustrations, and admittedly sometimes even chewing on corners, before they could grasp what those squiggly black shapes were truly all about. Literacy is something I believe in strongly, and so it has delighted me to share with each and every one of my brood the wonders of reading, and books themselves.
A few years ago, when my husband had just deployed for a six month tour of duty, a friend bought an interactive talking photo album for my then-youngest son. The idea behind the book was that we could slot pictures of all the important people in his life between the strong plastic pages, and even accompany these images with a recorded voice message from the person in question. Predictably, the latter proved more difficult than the former as I lost count of the number of people who replayed their message and demanded, horrified, “Do I really sound like THAT?!”
As a military family, we find that we are usually a long way from home with little opportunity for the children to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, and close friends. My oldest two are now of an age where an occasional visit, a phone call and a good Skype session are enough to keep those that are faraway prevalent in their minds. However, my 18 month old often finds those re-encounters with long forgotten grown-ups far too terrifying for words, and so he peers out sullenly from behind his mass of blonde curls and offers none.
Remembering that electronic book and the value that we found in it, I formulated my own similar idea; a homemade (sans-voice-recording) alternative, which can be easily put together with some photographs, basic word processing software, and a colour printer. For those who are keen on this idea but lack a printer, a tube of glue and some prints would work just as well. Babies learn through repetition and what better way to enforce the important but sometimes absent people in their lives than with their very own book about their family?!
It took me a couple of hours to select suitable photographs of the immediate family and then arrange them into an order that would make sense – first my Brainy Baby himself, followed by his parents, siblings, grandparents, then aunts and uncles. Even more people can be added as you see fit, but for a young child it is probably best to start out simple.
After importing a photograph into a blank Word document, I added the relevant name below the picture in bold, easy to read text, before experimenting with colour and frames. As an extra touch, I also included a couple of images/objects with each photo that could be equated to the person, e.g. a teddy bear and a bottle for BB, a slide for his park-mad older brother, and a pair of familiar looking boots for Daddy. It is important to make sure that any added decorative extras do not detract away from the main image, so it’s best to curtail any big ambitions at this point.
I positioned two pages back to back inside a plastic wallet, which I then taped closed at the top to prevent grabby little hands from accessing the paper inside. You may wish to laminate your book for added durability, however, I can promise after rigorous quality control testing that plastic wallets more than suffice!
The wallets were tied together using two pipe cleaners with the ends wound repeatedly around to hide sharp edges. For a younger baby, or a child who is prone to fiddle, I recommend the use of ribbon. Also, it goes without saying that for safety reasons your Brainy Baby should never be left alone with their new book.
After pyjamas had been donned and bedtime milk snaffled, I sat my son down to examine Mummy’s latest creation. He was immediately interested by the curious play-thing, and spent a while studying the pictures I had added to the front cover.
For his first perusal, I simply watched before becoming involved. The second time round, I pointed to each picture and clearly stated the name of the person. He seemed to enjoy pointing to the images himself and then attempting to repeat the names that matched the faces. My BB’s language development is really coming on lately, and he was happy to undertake the challenges that longer, more complex words such as ‘grandpa’ provided him with.
Certain images he recognised immediately, much to my relief. I am not certain that my emotionally-fragile, hormonally-imbalanced self could have taken it had my youngest failed to identify his own mother!
After three or four times of ‘reading’ our book, I decided to get Daddy involved in order to see just how much of this new information my son had absorbed. He sat with Daddy and pointed out the pictures, showing off his attempts at their names, and was thrilled with the praise he received each time he succeeded.
This is certainly a cheap and easy to create activity that can benefit all babies, whether the important people in their lives are predominantly near or far. Even showing pictures of the Nana that your child sees every other afternoon will aid visual recognition, language development, and the growth of that lovely baby-sized grey matter. Should your child particularly enjoy this activity then you could always expand your homemade library to include pets, food, items of clothing, and more. The possibilities are limitless, until you run out of ink.
However, be careful regarding your image selection process, because even the sweetest of babies can be judgemental when it comes down to fashion faux pas and bad hair days…
What can I say? The smallest critics are often the harshest.