Author Archives: Renee Bock

About Renee Bock

Renee Bock is a dedicated early childhood educator, who is currently the educational director at Explore+Discover, a social learning center in Manhattan. She has a master’s in early childhood education and more than a decade of experience in the field.

The Great E-Book Debate

The recent New York Times article “Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time or Simply Screen Time?” asked provocative questions about the impact of reading e-books to children under two years old. With the e-book industry growing in leaps and bounds, and more and more titles becoming available all the time, many parents assume that if it’s available on the market it must be good for kids. We owe it to ourselves and especially to our children to consider the possible implications of our practices. Ultimately, we need to ask as a community how e-reading is shaping the experience of young readers.

Boy ReadingThe article captured the crux of the dilemma. On the one hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that children should not have screen time before they’re two. The AAP also says we should read to our children every day. It makes you wonder, do e-books count as “books” or screen time? More importantly, when we read e-books rather than printed books are we nurturing or impeding reading development?

There are no easy answers, as the current research lags behind practice. So it will be years before we begin to articulate impacts on lifelong reading behaviors. A 2013 study of children age three to five at Temple University, however, determined that individuals whose parents read e-books had lower reading comprehension than those who read traditional books. Temple researchers cited “dialogic reading,” or the back and forth text discussion between adult and child, as a factor contributing to reading success. The article also referred to the work of Patricia Kuhl, a director at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, whose research compared language learning in nine-month-old babies when taught by adults vs. DVDs. The DVDs had no impact on learning, while the teachers made lasting impacts.

Where does all this quasi-information leave us as parents and educators? We need to ask ourselves, what am I really teaching when I read to a child, in particular a child under two? Am I mindfully pulling together the building blocks of reading comprehension? Only partially. As a mother of three boys now 12, 13, and 15, and an early childhood educator, my reading goals were twofold: to pass on a lust for literature and develop a loving relationship between us.

There’s no better way than reading to your child to give them a varied and colorful vocabulary, a deep interest in story and ideas, and to build empathy with characters and people. And this covers reading no matter what the medium. If you want a curious child you need to model curiosity yourself and what better way than through sharing a text? The close physical bond of cuddling together over a book (or e-book) sets the groundwork for deep affection. Set aside the guilt. Am I reading enough? Am I reading the right books? And now, am I reading with the right tool? Sharing the wonder is sharing the wonder. Intellectual companionship begins at birth, a child and an adult learning side by side and enjoying the marvels of the world together. Let’s give the research more time to unfold before we start beating ourselves up as we enjoy (e)reading to our kids.

8 Reasons to Read to Your Child Early On

mom readingAs Mayor De Blasio’s Pre-k initiative gets off the ground in New York City, the impact of early learning is becoming increasingly apparent. According to reading specialist Maryanne Wolf, “Learning to read begins the first time an infant is held and read a story.” She also adds that the more talking children hear and the more they are read to, the more words they experience and the more prepared they are for school learning. While many parents know that reading to their kids is important, they aren’t clued into its specific benefits. Here are eight important reasons to read to your child early on:

Expansion of world view. In books (and in conversations) children are exposed to new ideas—they visit far away places, see new things, feel new feelings, and go on cognitive and emotional adventures.

Object identification. Vision, perception, and language work together to connect an object with a word, and then children develop memories of what they’ve seen. Books increase their scopes of reference.

Everything has a name. It is easy for adults to forget that infants and toddlers don’t know a fork is called a fork, a tree is called a tree, and so on. When we talk to children we name their world and expand their universe of concepts. Books do an even better job of catapulting this process through image and story.

Connection between text and image. Beautiful images encourage focus, questioning, and the drive to know more; children begin to use pictures to prompt letter and word recognition, connections with characters, and sequencing skills.

The delight of literary language. The pairing of powerful images with evocative literary language helps to develop children’s minds. Growing up hearing older and/or more complex language allows children to develop an ever-expanding universe of words.

Phonological development. As children hear language they begin to identify different sounds, and learn to connect starting and ending sounds and make rhymes.

Book sense. Experience handling books teaches children the logic of how texts work physically, the direction in which the home language is read, and the rhythm of turning pages.

Letters make words and words make sentences. Children who are read to begin to understand the building blocks of the reading process. They recognize each letter as an object with a sound, each word as a small picture, and multiple words coming together as a sentence with meaning.

Beyond these eight important reasons, reading is just another way to bond with your child. So encourage more talk at home, in your kids’ classes, and in infant and toddler learning centers, so we can expand the minds of these early learners.

4 Fun Kid-Friendly Museums Nearby (Crying Babies Like Art Too!)

20140511_explore-discover-558I’ll never forget the day I walked into NYC’s Frick Collection, excited to explore with my six-month-old baby sitting happily in his stroller—only to be told by the guard that children under ten are not welcome. I thought I heard wrong. How can babies and children be barred from seeing the world’s greatest artistic masterpieces? Today, the policy still stands, and  on The Frick’s website it states that “Children under ten are not admitted to the collection.” But crying babies (and children who act like children) like to experience the beauty of art too! They just appreciate it differently. Denying them access to museums like The Frick Collection puts decorum above the educational mission of one the city’s greatest art collections.

Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers alike benefit greatly from the art museum experience. As young children begin to explore what the world has to offer, these museums open up lots of possibility—for observing color, shape, landscape, faces, patterns, textures, and eventually for developing language. A baby in a stroller, when faced with a a Van Gogh sunflower, will stop, stare, think, and eventually offer a comment—“flower!” What starts as an observation will evolve into a deeper appreciation.

As adults, many of us take the beauty of art for granted. But this beauty is an essential part of life’s curriculum—it attracts us, helps us focus, and inspires learning. Museums nurture budding thinkers, artists, mathematicians and scientists—and it all starts in the stroller. Thankfully, The Frick is isolated in its exclusion of children. Many museums in NYC welcome babies in strollers at all times, and others set aside special times and trained educators to work with parents and babies. Stroller tours, exclusively designed for moms and babies, are becoming more common in art institutions in the city and beyond. Here are four local kid-friendly museums that make the family museum experience a top priority.

The Whitney Museum of American Art offers a monthly stroller tour for parents with children newborn–18 months, where you can spend an hour in the gallery learning about specific exhibitions. These tours are carefully planned so that artwork is protected, educators know the age group, and children are free to be themselves.Kids inside Pergamon Museum listening to audio guide. Berlin, Germany.

The Guggenheim Museum offers a similar program to The Whitney, although it runs less frequently, so make sure to check the schedule for exact timing.

Katonah Museum of Art is a drive from NYC, but really worth the trip. This museum offers weekly Friday morning stroller tours from 9–10am before the museum officially opens. At just $5 a person, the price is equally inviting and snacks are included! Often the exhibits include work created by local children, and they have a highly accessible art studio for children on site.

Storm King is another extremely welcoming art environment for children. A visit to this large-scale sculptural park, with its fresh air and rolling hills, is fun for the whole family. All year long this center remains a visual feast for children and adults alike.

So if you’re looking for a baby-friendly cultural experience where you won’t feel embarrassed when your little one starts crying, these museum stroller tours and outdoor art spaces are just the ticket. They provide a wonderful way meet other parents and give babies a place to be inspired by all of the beauty the world has to offer.

Beyond Twinkle Twinkle: What Do I Sing Next?

Mom Singing to BabyWhen my three sons were little, we spent hours singing together. Songs like Little Black Bull, Leatherwing Bat, Old Blue, and Abiyoyo were just a few of our favorites. Each day, whether my kids were sitting in high chairs or walking down the street, I’d sing and they’d pay attention, giggle, and ask for more. It was a daily ritual and one of the most intimate activities we did together.

New moms and dads may know that singing to their babies is important, but many are stuck singing the same old songs over and over again. Twinkle Twinkle, ABC’s, Wheels on the Bus, and Itsy Bitsy Spider—these are like “old friends” that we learned from our parents and pass along to our own children. But there’s a whole world of children’s folk songs waiting to be discovered that will bring you and your baby hours of fun!

The Seeger family—Pete, Ruth, Peggy, and Michael—is the “first family” of American folksongs for children, and their albums are a treasure trove of songs to sing together. Pete Seeger, who passed away this year at 93, spent a lifetime teaching songs for young children, and his recordings are filled with vibrant melodies, a range of emotions, and rich vocabulary and story. Several recordings focus exclusively on children’s music, such as Pete Seeger Children’s Concert At Carnegie Hall; Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes Little And Big: Animal Folk Songs; Stories and Songs for Little Children; and American Folk Game and Activity Songs for Young Children. I would start with Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes—that was always our favorite!

Here are some other great artists and collections to consider:

Smithsonian Folkways Children’s Music Collection: An assortment of artists, such as the great Ella Jenkins (whose work is worth exploring on its own). You’ll also find songs in Spanish, Yiddish and Swahili. Such a treasure!

Songs from the Old School: A funky, soulful collection by Ivan Ulz, which includes the new favorite tune “Fire Truck” and musical accompaniment to the classic Ruth Krauss book, The Carrot Seed.

Leadbelly Sings for Children: This album features the sounds of classic blues master Leadbelly, who plays the twelve string guitar for adults and little folks too.

Going to the Zoo: Tom Paxton’s wonderful world of soothing kids’ songs for kids, which is also a great book written by Paxton and Karen Lee Schmidt.

Peter and the Wolf: Narrated by David Bowie, this is can’t-miss album is a great way to expose your child to classical music and great storytelling.

So go beyond Twinkle Twinkle the next time you sing to your children—although I wouldn’t erase the classics from your repertoire. Whatever you choose, music is crucial for well being and language development and a simple pleasure your children will enjoy for years to come.

Make Musical Memories: Sing To Your Baby Every Day

The Benefits of Soothing With Song

02.000One of the greatest pleasures parents can have is singing with their babies. This was certainly true in my case. Some of my most vivid memories with my children include singing to my three sons in the nursery. There’s something magical about singing while holding a baby’s gaze and dancing with gusto while they’re in your arms. Aretha Franklin’s Greatest Hits provided many hours of enjoyment in my house, as well as Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and Pete Seeger’s animal songs. I always tried to learn new tunes to keep my boys interested and connected. Ultimately, sing what you love and your baby will love what you sing.


Besides being a fun, intimate experience, soothing your child with song has amazing benefits. If you sing to your baby you will:

  • Nurture brain development when the brain is growing the most
  • Provide visual stimulation to help babies focus
  • Strengthen loving attachments, which is crucial for emotional health and lifelong learning
  • Introduce mathematical rhythm and teach new vocabulary
  • Express mood through melody and expand emotional intelligence through exposure to new words

As children grow and develop, some songs will work better than others. Great baby songs feature repetition and also offer possibilities for hand motions—which is why The Itsy Bitsy Spider works so well. Babies can make eye contact, listen, watch your face and mouth, and observe your hands as you sing. What’s great about these types of songs is that you can make up words, add your own hand movements, and be free with your interpretation. Here are some of my favorite songs to try with babies (but really the choices are endless!):

Moon Moon MoonLaurie Berkner
Here Is A BeehiveRachel Buchman
By’m ByeMike & Peggy Seeger
The Little Black Bull, Pete Seeger
Jelly Man Kelly
, James Taylor,

So sing to your baby every day—whether you’re in the nursery, in the car, on line at the grocery store, or with family and friends around the table. Singing provides lots of enrichment, hours of fun, and meaningful time together.

By Renee Bock, a dedicated early childhood educator and the educational director at Explore+Discover, a social learning center in Manhattan committed to setting the standard for infant and toddler care and education. Learn more about Explore+Discover on Kidz Central Station!

Get Your Toddler Reading!

Get Your Toddler Reading!

Toddlers can be voracious readers. They are also delightful reading companions as they are just starting to request favorites, remember rhymes and even catch your skipped words. Toddlers are interactive partners and when you read together you will get to know your child better and make wonderful memories.

Boy Reading

While our toddlers may be small, don’t forget that they are very capable little people. Here are some things that toddler “readers” can do:

Know How to Look Like A Reader: Toddlers are keen observers of your behavior, including what you do when you read. They know how to hold a book, turn pages, and place it facing upright. They’ll pretend to read to you, and even read to their stuffed animals. Book knowledge starts very young.

Have Opinions: As in all aspects of life, toddlers can have strong opinions about books. Whether it is Curious George, train books or silly rhymes, they will give you cues about what they enjoy. Many toddlers will hook into a book and want you to read it over and over again. This is a great sign, as they actively seek out interests and become agents in their own learning. Honor their requests even after the fiftieth read—you’ll validate and cultivate a lifelong learner.

Learn To Notice: Toddlers can point out details that catch their attention. Whether through gesture or words, they can select one thing from another. These skills of perception are crucial for later learning when they’ll need to zero in visually in math, science or reading. Additionally, if you notice what they notice, you provoke conversation. “Oh, I see the red bird too.” When you listen, observe and respond to your child you are a great teacher.

Great books to hold visual interest include:

Mother Mother I Feel Sick, Send for the Doctor Quick Quick Quick by Remy Charlip
Zoom by Istvan Banyai
Can You See What I See by Walter Wick

Name Things—Toddlers are busy naming things. From simple to complex, children zero in on animals, foods, trucks, etc. Concept books—ABCs, numbers, colors—are perfect for stimulating a toddler’s fascination with naming because the single clear images encourage naming.

Check out some of these books:

Over Under and Through by Tana Hoban (and all of her books)
Growing Colors by Bruce McMillan
Zoo-ology by Joelle Jolivet

Begin to Remember Sequence—Toddlers can start to appreciate books with a beginning, middle and end. In the story of The Three Bears, for example, they might remember the incidents with chairs, beds and porridge and anticipate what’s coming next. Sequencing is a crucial skill for later school learning and one that you should encourage. Offer stories that have memorable and predictable sequences to foster this type of learning.
Books that have clear sequences include:

The Gingerbread Boy, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs all by Paul Galdone
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See by Eric Carle

As your child’s language skills grow, their relationship to literature changes. They understand more and can begin to have empathy with characters that get lost and found, make friends, are scared and exhibit joy. As you get caught up in feelings together you will share one of the most profound early childhood experiences. Treasure the time now, as children grow quickly and soon enough you will long for these treasured snuggly hours reading together.

Renee Bock is a dedicated early childhood educator, who is currently the Educational Director at Explore + Discover, a social learning center in Manhattan. Renee has more than a decade of experience in the field and holds a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College in New York. In her present position, she is helping Explore+Discover open the first of over twenty New York City centers focused on children from 3 months to two years old. She can be reached at Picture above via Rivka Singer.


How Do I Pick A Book For My Baby?

Infants can’t tell us which books they enjoy. But that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from books and from reading with an adult. It does, however, raise a question. How do I pick a book for my baby? The first rule is that there are no rules. If you like the book, you will be more likely to read with a happy, expressive voice that your child will love. The most important thing is that you read to your child every day. Find a cozy spot and settle in for a cuddle. The benefits are real and enormous. As you read, you help your child build vocabulary, grow their listening skills, develop a sense of story and strengthen memory. And by demonstrating your own enjoyment of books, you pass on a love of literature, a gift that lasts forever.

Here are some ideas for selecting a great book for a baby. And remember, you don’t need to limit yourself to board books. Infants love to mouth and explore board books on their own, especially once they can sit. But when it’s your time to read with them, you can select any type of book you’d like.

Here are some Explore+Discover favorites:

Singing books

old-lady300Babies love singing and thankfully they don’t know if we can carry a tune. There are plenty of wonderful songbooks on the market to choose from, such as The Lady with the Alligator Purse by Nadine Bernhard Westcott; There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Tabak; and Fire Truck by Ivan Ulz. If you don’t know the song, search for a recording on the internet. The Ulz tunes are available on his CD: Songs From the Old School. It is fantastic, but there are plenty of other options as well.

Rhyming Books

winkieRhymes are very appealing to babies. They also help them learn language. The classics are classics for a reason. Nursery rhymes offer rich engaging language and have predictable sounds that children can easily remember. After a while, your child will know the rhymes so well they’ll finish a phrase. We especially love Salley Mavor’s Wee Willie Winkie and Jack and Jill. Any nursery rhyme books by Rosemary Wells are also great. And, of course, the Dr. Seuss books such as The Foot Book, Go Dogs Go and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? are always winners.

Face Books

Babies love faces and there are plenty of books that cater to this market. Check out titles by The Global Fund for Children such as Global Babies and Carry Me. Illustrations of babies are interesting too, such as Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers.

Nature Books

Nature Books

Even very young babies love pictures of the outdoors, but these books also teach vocabulary and foster curiosity. The Eyelike Nature series on Stones, Sticks, Snow and Leaves provides a perfect example of books that are great to look at and learn from—all of which interest young children.

Just remember, if you like it then it is the right book for you and your baby. And these books are great for toddlers too. Older children will interact, ask questions and remember more.

Don’t forget to visit your local library for more ideas.

Renee Bock is a dedicated early childhood educator, who is currently the Educational Director at Explore+Discover, a social learning center in Manhattan that is dedicated to setting the standard for infant and toddler care and education. Renee has more than a decade of experience in the field and holds a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College in New York. In her present position, she is helping Explore+Discover open the first of 27 New York City centers focused on children from 3 months to two years old. She can be reach at

Straight Talk on Closing the “Word Gap” In Early Childhood

Straight Talk on Closing the “Word Gap” In Early Childhood

As politicians nationally emphasize the importance of PreK in preparing children for school success, there is a growing movement to focus on the first three years of life, and specifically on bridging what leaders call the “word gap.” This gap refers to the disparity in the number of words learned by children of different economic backgrounds by the time they enter kindergarten and across their lifetimes. It is a critical issue. Research shows that children who start kindergarten with fewer words are never able to catch up to their counterparts with larger vocabularies. Not surprisingly, parents and teachers can have a huge impact on children’s success by simply creating an evolving and engaging dialogue with the children during their first few years of life.

In March, The New York Times focused on the word gap when it published “Providence Talks” (, an article on an initiative spearheaded by Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. The program aims to grow children’s vocabularies from birth to four, particularly in families living in poverty. The process coaches parents so they actually use more words each day, measures word interactions by recording families at home, and ultimately gives children more word power for learning.

The Providence program’s aim is undeniably admirable. But as Claire Lerner, director of parenting resources at Zero To Three, the largest American advocacy organization for infants and toddlers, points out: the number of words children acquire will not by themselves create a “smart and successful” adult. She stresses, “We don’t want parents talking at babies…We want parents talking with babies.”
Lerner’s distinction between talking at and talking with babies reminds us that the dialogue itself, the interactive exchange between adult and child, is really what’s important. Children have a point of view from birth before there is any expressive language. Their gaze indicates engagement and wonder and opens up the door for back-and-forth communication. Parents can foster this communication in simple but important ways. For example, when your child notices a dog on the street, acknowledge this with words. “That’s a big dog. Do you see his black spots? Look at his feet. His nails are really long.” When we recognize a child’s fascination, we can model our own in return and become partners in observation, using language to present new words and ideas. The child’s interest lays the groundwork so next time they see a dog they’ll be able to retrieve those ideas. Some word interactions carry more weight than others.
mom readingerica
Providence Talks is just one of several initiatives underway across the United States aimed at growing vocabularies of very young children. To learn more you can visit:
Providence Talks at
Too Small to Fail at
The Thirty Million Words Initiative at

Renee Bock is a dedicated early childhood educator, who is currently the Educational Director at Explore+Discover, a social learning center in Manhattan that is dedicated to setting the standard for infant and toddler care and education. Renee has more than a decade of experience in the field and holds a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College in New York. In her present position, she is helping Explore+Discover open the first of 27 New York City centers focused on children from 3 months to two years old. She can be reach at

Touring an Infant Toddler Center: Questions for the Director

Touring an Infant Toddler Center: Questions for the Director

When touring a child care center, most of us feel unprepared to assess the quality of education and care provided to children. We all want a center that compliments and even enhances what we teach children at home; we want individualized love and attention, a clean, safe place, a home away from home. We want to be sure that caretakers are professional and the center provides families with knowledge about raising children and how to fill our days with growing experiences.

As an educator, and a mother of three boys, I have had the opportunity to be a parent, teacher and Director at many centers. Here is what I’d ask when visiting an infant/toddler or preschool center:

1. Embrace the Mission — Does my family share the center’s vision of children and educational values?

The most important aspect in selecting a center is finding a place that shares your family’s educational outlook, a place where you feel at home philosophically. Do you believe that play and friendship are central to learning? Do you think it is important to do worksheets and learn to read before three? The school’s mission determines how children spend their days and what they learn. Make sure you embrace the mission before you sign your contract.
On your tour ask the following question:

  • What is the school’s mission and how does it impact what the children do everyday?

2. Professional Background — Are teachers prepared to work with children of this age?

Teacher preparation is the single greatest indicator of a professional educational environment, one that is safe, nurturing and sets appropriate goals for students. Teachers must understand child development and have an understanding of best practices. They must have experience taking care of very young children, and be able to love and relate to them no matter what the mood or need.

On your tour ask the following question:

  • Do Head Teachers have a Master’s in Early Childhood Education?

3. Accesibility — Are Administrators and Teachers available to me?
As a parent, you will have many questions, concerns, and hopefully compliments to give at the center. You must be sure that when you need to talk to someone, the staff is available either in person, by phone, via email or able to make an appointment within 24 hours.  Before you sign your contract, meet the Director and make sure you feel comfortable with their expertise and ability to support your family.

On your tour ask the following question:

  • If I have a concern who do I speak to first and how do I reach them?

4. Intention — Teachers should work with a plan, set goals, and have a mindful approach to all of their interactions with children and materials.

There are several ways you can determine if the school has a culture of intentionality. When visiting the classrooms, does every object seem to have its own place? Are materials presented to children in an orderly, relaxed manner? Do teachers seem to be thinking with the children, considering what they do and say? Are they listening and observing as they work?

On your tour ask the following questions:

  • Do teachers keep a plan book? What is recorded there?
  • Do the teaching teams meet weekly with administrators? What do they discuss?
  • Do teachers document the children’s work? Are there artifacts that keep track of children’s work and growth over time?

5. Tone — Do adults in the center listen to children and speak with respect at all times?
When visiting the center take note of how teachers listen and how they speak to children. Children need to hear their own thoughts, to process what is going on around them, and have time to contemplate. There should be a mix of engagement and auditory space throughout the day.
When teachers speak to children, they should use a natural voice. They shouldn’t speak too fast, loud, in angry tones, or silly voices. Young children should be treated like they have important ideas to share, and are competent, creative people with greatness inside them.
Teachers and administrators should speak to each other with respect, as children are impacted by emotions of adults around them.

On your tour ask the following question:

  • What is your approach to listening to children? Can you describe how teachers should talk to children?

It can be challenging to select your first center, as you entrust strangers with your most precious and incredible child. Ask as many questions as you can, call the Director and reconnect until you are comfortable. The center should teach and support the whole family and elevate the learning for everyone.

Renee Bock is a dedicated early childhood educator, who is currently the Educational Director at Explore+Discover, a social learning center in Manhattan that is dedicated to setting the standard for infant and toddler care and education. Renee has more than a decade of experience in the field and holds a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College in New York. In her present position, she is helping Explore+Discover open the first of 27 New York City centers focused on children from 3 months to two years old. She can be reach at