Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Why I Don't Believe In A Book At Bedtime - Tamsyn Murray

I'm sure you've seen the headlines - bedtime reading is dead. OK, so maybe not quite dead, but seriously ailing. Only one in three parents read to their children every night, claims a new survey by Harris Interactive in the USA and a UK study commissioned by Pearson last year claims that more than one in six parents never reads to their child before bed. Fewer of us are spending bedtime exploring new worlds and having adventures with our children than ever before and, if that's true, I find it a little depressing. You might be surprised that I'm only slightly downhearted by the findings and here's why: I don't believe in a book at bedtime.

I have two children; one is eighteen years old and the other is a toddler, nineteen months old. Both love books and stories; my daughter first learned to read from Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell. By the time my son arrived, I was a writer myself and had access to a lot of lovely pictures books, so it was only natural that he would become interested in books from an early age. But I very rarely read him a bedtime story.

Before you all stop talking to me and I get forced to hand in my writerly membership card, there's a good reason for this; we don't do books at bedtime because we do them all day. There's a big box of utterly fabulous picture books in our living room and my son has always been encouraged to understand that they are his. He takes them out of the box, he puts them back in. He mountaineers on them, often unsuccessfully. He sits on the floor and leafs through them, babbling away to himself. The pages are dog-eared and torn. We play Spot The Book, where I spread out all the books and he brings me whichever one I ask for, one after another. And, of course, we read them together; at breakfast, through the morning, in the afternoon and sometimes in the evening. Books and stories are part of our everyday lives, they're not a special treat reserved just for bedtime.

So that's why I'm not necessarily a fan of initiatives that call for more bedtime reading. Don't get me wrong, it's a good start and I'm well aware how busy parents are. But if you make books a part of your everyday life, you stand a much better chance of fostering a love of stories that will last a long time, with all the benefits that conveys. I've even come up with a slogan: A book is for life, not just for bedtime.

So what do you think? Who's with me?

10 comments:

Jan Jones said...

Oh, I so agree. It was much the same with my two. In addition, whenever we went out even on the shortest journey, I made sure all of us had books to read in waiting rooms, on trains, in the car...

First thing my now grown-up children ALWAYS check is that they have a book with them.

I'd say, "a book is for sanity, not just for bedtime"

Stroppy Author said...

Totally agree that books are for all times of the day. But for those people who *dont'* share books with their children all day, the prompt to do it at a specific time might mean the kids get some exposure to books rather than none. Of course, it doesn't matter whether it's at bedtime as far as the book component is concerned. But as a way of getting the parent to interact in a one-to-one, generous, attention-giving way with the child, last thing at night is a good time as it heals any harms of the day. It's impossible to read a story to a child you're cross with, so it's about more than the reading.

Ann Turnbull said...

I'm so glad you said this, Tamsyn - for years I've thought I was the only one! I can't actually remember ever reading my children a bedtime story, though I may have done. We just read books together a lot, any time. But I suppose the feeling behind the campaign is that parents may be out at work and bedtime might be their only chance.

Sue Purkiss said...

I agree with Stroppy. It doesn't have to be one or the other, does it? We had books about all the time, but the before-bedtime one was special: a sort of calming ritual.

CatherineAnn Minnock said...

I've got no idea about kids (I'm a teenager) and reading them stories, but I personally cannot go to sleep until I've read part of a book. I have piles of them by my bed. I think it's to do with the brain getting in to patterns, but for whatever reason I can lie awake for four hours i I don't read, and two pages of Harry Potter sends me right off! (Not in a boring way...)

Lydia Syson said...

I agree that bedtime reading is particularly special and habit-forming, and that can only be a good thing. And as a parent, I dread giving up the excuse I've had for the last sixteen and a half years to lie down for a while each evening.

Savita Kalhan said...

I was never read to and bedtime, but books were a big part of my life when I was growing up. I read to my son when he was little - during the day and at bedtime, Now that he's fifteen, he doesn't need me to and I have to say that I do miss it. He's a big reader, but rarely at bedtime. Sadly, from what he tells me, the whole of his year group rarely picks up a book. Tragic.

kathryn evans said...

I don't agree. I still read to my 13 year old son at bedtime - I knowhe's probably too old but despite growing up ion a book filled household with a family that practically live off books, the closest he get sto reading a book voluntarily is the screfix catalogue...but he loves bedtime story. I'm no fool, I know it's because he has no other ditractiosn and he's holding on to me before sleep for just that little bit longer, but it's precious. For reluctant readers it's a way to gift them story. I vote for books at bedtime!

Stroppy Author said...

He's not too old, Kathryn! I read to big bint every night until the night before she started at Oxford. And still sometimes when she came home. I read to her the night before her 21st birthday.

Becky said...

I don't think it has to be one thing or the other. Why not both? I agree that it's much better if you can make books a part of your everyday life, but there's absolutely no reason why a bedtime story shouldn't be part of that. And better a bedtime story than nothing at all.

It does frighten me to think that some children are never read to though. I'm not saying that everyone ought to love reading because there are those who will never enjoy it, regardless of whether they were read to as a child or not. But everyone deserves the chance to find out. It's not nice to think that there are children out there who might have loved reading and will never find out.