Thursday, July 19, 2018

Putting Bedtime Reading back on the Agenda - Why is it important to read to your kids at bedtime? A ReadItTorial

This week's ReadItTorial was inspired by a tweet from an author who was doing a school visit.

You can see the original tweet below from Jeremy Strong...

Here's a link to the original tweet too: 

Note that the tweet didn't mention the numbers of kids involved (just two classes of 7-9 year olds), nor did the tweet mention whether the author meant 'every night' or just occasionally. It seemed like a sad thing to see though, that potentially of a group of around 30 kids you'd have just 3 sticking their hands up. Though for the age group perhaps it's not surprising. Most parents we polled seemed to have already left bedtime reading behind way before their child reached the age of 7 and none I asked were still reading to their kids at 9 or beyond.

So this business about parents reading to their kids at bedtime...why is it so important and why do we still do it, seemingly against the norm with our ten year old?

Far from being some modern parenting checkbox to tick in order to achieve maximum smugness, it's actually something that has built the foundation of C's reading journey from day one, and something that both of us are reluctant to leave behind. Perhaps for selfish reasons, but there is more to it than that.

As well as the valuable bonding exercise in taking 10 (or more) minutes out of your hectic busy day to just chill out, relax, and read an entertaining story to your child there are many other important things going on there.

1) Your child is associating books and reading with you, and with your love. As soppy as that might sound, the act of sitting down with your child at bedtime to settle them with a story is a caring and nurturing thing to do at any age. In fact aside from a quick peck on the cheek and a check that they've brushed their teeth and washed the marmalade off their faces, it's completely alien to us to imagine what happens in households where a bedtime book isn't a regular part of the bedtime routine. Do kids just put themselves to bed and settle down for self-reading? Do they whip out the tablet for a last game of Fortnite before settling down? Sadly we fear the latter is probably the norm.

2) Bedtime reading really doesn't take that long. Other twitter folk did say that the main reason they don't read bedtime stories to their kids is their absence, or a lack of time to do so.

It takes, what, ten minutes to read through the average 12 spread 32 page less-than-500-words-on-pain-of-death picture book - and unless you're the CIO of a major corporation literally glued to your phone 24/7/365 I sincerely do not believe you do not have ten minutes spare near the end of your day to read aloud to your child.

Perhaps you have alternative things going on, but surely that's not the be all and end all of it, and you can pledge to read to your kids on another night even if not every night? Maybe make a promise to your kids (and yourself) that you'll spend less time refreshing your social media feeds, and more time on stuff like reading to your child at bedtime instead? I think we could all do with dropping the devices a bit more often to get back into 'real' life, right?

Which leads me into...

3) Sharing the duties. OK fair enough, not every household has two (or in some cases any) parents present, but my wife and I have been lucky enough to always share bedtime reading duties equally between us. Even if one of us is absent, the other will take up the slack and read that night instead. This isn't the norm, and we've heard the same thing (sadly) from many other parents we know - that mum is nearly always the one who does the bedtime book, while Dad...dads are getting there but usually read to their kids less. So there's some work to do there, fellas.

Sure enough, we know enough folk that do read to their kids every night (and are, thankfully, still doing so as their child pushes past 9 years old). Obviously writing a children's book blog means that more often than not, bedtime reading is the perfect time to catch up on our backlog of books and with us both in the same place at the same time, it's the best way to get a dual opinion on something that's hit our in-tray.

But weirdly, the books we return to again and again are the ones that we've come to love and treasure as bedtime reads.

For our daughter there's also the aspect of the bedtime book 'dragging out' bedtime a bit longer. Particularly in the summer months it's difficult for her to settle, so having a book read or a chapter of a longer book does actually get her into the right mindset for a good night's sleep. We do notice on the rare occasions that we're all out for the night and it's too late to read to her when we get back that she doesn't settle as quickly, it really does work, honestly.

It's not always easy as kids get older and I'm very aware of the fact that we're on borrowed time when it comes to the bedtime book as our daughter approaches her teens. It'll be a very sad day when the day arrives but by then she'll have her own bedtime routine with self-reading (hopefully) as big a part of that as it is for both of us still (yep, can't settle unless I get a few chapters of something in).

The mix of opinions on Twitter about the initial post, and my followups has been interesting though.

I'm always interested to hear both sides of the argument though. If you don't currently read to your kids at night (assuming they're pre-teens) then I'd love to know why - and if you do, I'd still love to hear from you as well.