Bedtime stories are a cherished part of our childhood memories. But these days we’re so busy that many of our own children don’t have this special experience. Less than half of today’s children go to bed having been read a bedtime story: fifty-two percent of parents just turn off the light and leave the room, with TV often being the child’s last activity of the day.
Childhood experts believe bedtime stories are vitally important for these reasons:
Studies have repeatedly shown how encouraging early reading leads to improved language and literacy, which leads to academic success and social/emotional wellbeing through to adulthood and beyond. It’s never too early to start – the Bookstart scheme has shown that parents who introduce their babies to books give them a head start over their peers throughout primary school. Apart from helping their reading, sharing a bedtime story with your child improves their motor skills, through learning to turn the pages, and their memory. It also enhances their emotional and social development.
Babies and toddlers thrive on routine, and the bedtime routine is no exception. Child psychologist Dr Tanya Byron says “Reading a bedtime story is a great way of helping a child get a decent night’s sleep, as it ensures their mind has settled down. The closeness to a parent and the rhythmic sound of a bedtime story being read act as the child’s sleep cues”. Studies have found that often, baby and toddler sleep problems are caused by inconsistent and ineffective bedtime routines.
3) Physical contact
Nothing beats a cuddle with the person you love most in the world. The bedtime story helps you make sure your child gets their snuggle quota, especially if you are unable to be physically close at other times of the day because you’re working or caring for your other children.
Often after reading a story, young children may talk about things that have been worrying them, as they are now relaxed and feel in a safe environment. You can encourage this by asking your toddler how the characters in the story might be feeling, and relating those feelings to your child’s own experience. Or you can use stories to explore challenges your child is facing, e.g. the arrival of a new baby, the start at nursery, a series of hospital appointments.
Don’t forget, it’s not just your toddler who benefits from bedtime stories. For many parents, the knowledge that however hard their day has been, there will be a period of close, quiet, shared attention and emotion, makes the bedtime story the most magical time of day.
So have a browse through your children’s bookcase and reap the many benefits of the bedtime story!
It’s never too early to start reading with your child. The Bookstart scheme (which provides free books at three key stages before a child starts school) has shown that parents who introduce their babies to books give them a head start and advantage over their peers throughout primary school. Young babies love the warmth of your company and the sound and rhythm of your voice, long before they can understand the words. Babies can start to learn to enjoy books from birth as you show them brightly coloured pictures and name the objects or sing a rhyme about the picture.
Once your baby becomes a toddler, you’ll find that books become ever more important. Let them pick the stories they want you to read to them – often they’ll want their favourite books over and over, but this is important as they grow and learn. Link what is happening in the story to your child’s own experience: “Look, there’s a train. Do you remember we went on a train the other day – where did we go?” As your child gets older, ask them to describe what is happening in the story, to help develop their own storytelling skills.
Studies have shown, time and time again, how early encouragement of reading leads to improved language and literacy, which in turns leads to academic success and lifelong social and emotional wellbeing.
It’s a heart-wrenching statistic – over half of teachers say they have seen at least one child start school having never been read a story before. The odds are stacked against such children succeeding in life – parental encouragement of reading is the most important predictor of literacy, more so than social class, household income, family size and parental education.
Here are four tips to encourage an early love of reading
1) Start early – from birth and make reading aloud part of every day
2) Be a good role model. Let children see you read to learn information (e.g. a recipe) and see you reading for pleasure. That includes Dads, too – fathers’ reading habits can have substantial influence on their children’s ability to read, their levels of interest and their reading choices.
3) Have a wide variety of books always available to your children. Wherever possible, choose a children’s bookshelf where the books face forwards as toddlers select books by looking at their covers.
4) Join the library and visit regularly. Encourage your child to choose what books they would like to take out.
Encouraging an early love of reading provides the best possible foundation for lifelong success and happiness. Curling up together and sharing a book is a hugely rewarding activity that creates a lasting bond and lays down precious childhood memories.