World of Babies

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Steve Ember. This week on our program, we explore the world of babies.

About four million babies are born each year in the United States. Some mothers give birth at home. But most babies are born in hospitals or birthing centers.

Traditionally, new parents might have read a book or two about babies. But most of their advice probably came from their own parents.

Today the newest, and smallest, Americans are at the heart of many industries. Some needs are still the same. Babies still need diapers to cover their bottoms. But diapers are just one thing on the shopping list.

Babies and young children are big business. They have many needs, judging by one book from Parents Magazine. The book is called “Parents Baby Gear: Everything You Need to Clothe, Feed, Transport, Protect, Entertain and Care for Your Baby from Birth to Age Three."

There is enough advice to fill more than one hundred seventy pages, from the right clothes to the right toys to the right car safety seats. There is even advice about how to choose a three-wheeled bicycle.

Parents now have more choices of equipment to help keep their child safe. One example is the baby monitor. This device lets a parent listen to a child sleeping or playing in another part of the house.

Another example is the automobile safety seat. In the past, babies often rode in the arms of adults. Or they wore adult seat belts.

Now, all fifty states require that babies under eighteen months of age ride in safety seats to protect them. Some states require special seats for children up to a few years old.

There are booster seats for older children who are still not big enough to wear seat belts.

Safety seats have reduced the number of children killed or injured in road accidents. But special care is needed to make sure that the safety seat is placed correctly in a vehicle.

There is no shortage of advice about pregnancy and raising children. Radio and television programs and Web sites provide all kinds of advice. There are many books, magazines and videos. Parents can get suggestions from publications with names like “Parents,” “Parent and Child,” “Parenting” and “Exceptional Parenting.”

A number of magazines in the United States began as small publications created at home by mothers. These women wanted to share information about having and raising children.

Two teachers from the Washington, D.C., area started one such a publication in nineteen eighty-two. Deborah Benke and Ann Byrne each had young children at the time. They and some friends produced the first copies of Washington Parent from their homes.

Educators, doctors and mental health experts wrote stories about caring for babies and children. Each month, someone produced a list of local events of interest to families. Soon libraries and stores asked for copies. So did doctors offices and hospitals.

Over time, Washington Parent kept growing. Today, this publication started by friends is thick with stories, color pictures and advertisements.

Not all publications for parents were started by mothers. In nineteen seventy-nine, Jack Bierman became interested in establishing a parents magazine for the Los Angeles area. At the time, Mr. Bierman was studying journalism and heading a college newspaper. He was not a father yet. But he said friends with children showed him how hard it was for parents to get important safety advice.

The next year, he and other writers started a publication. It was called Pony Ride: The Magazine for Parents in Southern California. It started small. It had just eleven pages. Mr. Bierman had ten thousand copies published. He and his other writers took copies to libraries, stores and offices of children’s doctors.

But there were still copies left. So Jack Bierman placed the remaining ones on cars. He knew that many of the cars belonged to parents. How did he know? He chose the parking area of the Los Angeles Zoo.

In nineteen eighty-three, Pony Ride was renamed. It took a more businesslike name: L.A. Parent. Two years later, Mr. Bierman and other publishers established a trade group, Parenting Publications of America.

More than one hundred local publications in the United States, Canada and Australia belong to this organization. The group brings publishers together to develop guidelines for their industry. Jack Bierman also created an organization that offers suggestions about children’s products.

Children also have lots they can read. The Children’s Book Council, a trade group, says four thousand to five thousand new children's books are published in the United States each year. These include picture books and young adult literature, and everything in between.

Two books that have been popular for many years are “Pat the Bunny” and "Goodnight Moon." "Pat the Bunny," by Dorothy Kunhardt, contains soft material that feels like a real rabbit.

A rabbit also stars in “Goodnight Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown. The rabbit is in bed. Before it goes to sleep, it says good night its room, the moon and more...

In many homes, books compete for time with electronics. Even children too young for school often play computer games. Some games are designed to be educational. Some parents also buy videos like the “Baby Einstein” series.

This German nursery rhyme is from a language video in the “Baby Einstein” series.

But Americans are still buying many traditional toys for their children.

The Toy Industry Association says dolls topped the popularity list of traditional toys in two thousand three. Then came toys for babies and children under school age. Arts, crafts, games, puzzles and sports and outdoor toys followed.

Parents can choose to spend a lot of money on toys. Two little girls who live in Virginia are proof that children often like the simplest things best.

Daisy Bracken is two years old. She plays with dolls and likes to throw balls. Fiona McMichael is three. She likes to pull her wagon around. She fills it with other toys.

Then there is one-year-old Benjamin Watson of Encino, California. One of his favorite toys is very soft, but a lot bigger than him. Benjamin likes to play with the family dog, a yellow Labrador retriever named Crouton.

Our program was written by Benjamin's grandmother, also known as Jerilyn Watson. Caty Weaver was our producer. I’m Faith Lapidus.

Before we go, a correction to our program last week on books about the immigrant experience: We said that Sandra Cisneros was the only one of the four writers we talked about who was born in the United States. So was Francisco Goldman, although he also lived in Guatemala as a child.

I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.