Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries

Supercharge Baby Storytime to Support Social Learning

Baby Storytime at the library starts again in a matter of weeks, so it’s a good time to regroup by reflecting on past programs and Supercharging future program plans with interactive books and activities that support early literacy skills.

For instance, consider activities that involve touch and body part identification, staples in Baby Storytimes everywhere.  Rhymes like These are Baby’s Fingers, songs like Wake Up Toes and books like Where Is Baby’s Belly Button? A Lift-The-Flap Book by Karen Katz, are such fun. They support early literacy skills and the interactions they promote strengthen the bond between caregivers and infants.

That’s not all.  These simple activities could be laying essential groundwork for social learning, specifically the ability to imitate.

According to researchers at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington, touch helps infants make the connection between self and others. They used MED (magnetoencephalography brain imaging) to map where 7-month-old infants’ sense of touch is processed in the brain, not just in response to felt touch to the hand or foot, but also in response to observed touch: seeing someone else touched on the hand or foot.

The findings published in Developmental Science indicate that when 7-month-old  infants’ hands and feet were tapped, specific areas of their somatosensory cortex were activated.  These areas were also activated in response to simply seeing another person’s hand or foot being tapped.

Andrew Meltzoff, Ph.D., psychology professor, lead author of this study and co-director of I-LABS, explained, “Before they have words for the body parts, babies recognize that their hand is like your hand, and their foot is like your foot. The neural body map helps connect babies to other people: The recognition that another person is ‘like me’ may be one of the baby’s first social insights.”

At 7 months of age, infants have the capacity to associate corresponding body parts and that is important for developing the ability to imitate.

In order to imitate, infants need a sense of their own body, an understanding that body parts correspond, and they need to make the same movement that another person is making.  Rhymes, songs and books that encourage caregivers to touch and label babies’ body parts and move those body parts could support this development.

Also, adults could touch and label their own body parts to support babies’ recognition of similarities between ‘me’ and ‘like me’. For instance, suppose a second verse was added to These are Baby’s Fingers as follows:

Photo of the hands and feet of a seated infant.These are baby’s fingers,
And these are baby’s toes,
And this is a baby’s belly button,
Round and round it goes.

These are mommy’s fingers,
And these are mommy’s feet,
And this is mommy’s belly button,
Isn’t mommy neat?

A parent tip could be shared with families and caregivers about the benefits of this simple rhyme:

When we touch and identify body parts in rhymes and songs, babies’ brains register both ‘me’ and ‘like me’.  That helps babies get ready to imitate, which supports social learning.

What we do in Baby Storytime matters.  When we intentionally plan and deliver interactive storytime activities based on research, and articulate the connection between those activities and the social learning and early literacy skills they support, we Supercharge Storytime and provide a richly entertaining and informational experience for babies, families and caregivers.

What books and activities do you include in Baby Storytime that could support infants’ early social learning?

Our guest blogger today is Jan Connell. Jan is a Children’s Librarian at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, in Toledo, Ohio. She is an Ohio Media Mentor Trainer and completed WebJunction’s Supercharged Storytimes course along with a learning group of her colleagues. She thanks Saroj Ghoting for her support and guidance.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: III. Programming Skills.

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