The Five Series I Most Look Forward to Reading with My Daughter
Growing Bookworms Newsletter: September 18

Does It Matter If You Read to Your Kids at Bedtime (Specifically)?

The Guardian recently reported, in an article by Liz Bury, on a study that found that "only 13% of parents read to their kids at night every day of the week." The title of the article is:

"Children's bedtime stories on the wane, according to survey"

It's a brief article, but says:

"A poll of 2,000 mothers with children aged 0-7 years, carried out by the clothing and homeware retailer Littlewoods, highlighted the extent of the change. Only 64% of respondents said they read their children bedtime stories, even though 91% were themselves read bedtime stories when young."

Participants said things like that they were too stressed, or didn't have time to read to their kids before bed, even though they think it's important. This part is sad: "Only 13% of respondents read a story to their children every night, but 75% recall being read to every night when they were kids."

I shared this link on my Facebook page with a sigh, and my friend Jennifer remarked that she would have to answer no to the question, because she tends to read to her kids at other times, rather than at bedtime. Which got me thinking that perhaps this survey wasn't really asking the right question. (To be fair, the survey was focused on whether bedtime reading was on the decline, more so than bigger picture questions. So it was the right question for them, but not for me.)

RAM1_shadowI've been helping the organization Read Aloud to spread their message, which is: Read Aloud for 15 Minutes. Every Child. Every Parent. Every Day. This is delightfully concrete, and I've been happy to share it. But I still see people saying: "But I want to read for more than 15 minutes." Or, "I can't read every day." 

ReadAloudMantraTo me, the right message is something like:

Read aloud to your child whenever you can, as often as you can, for as long as you can.

For many families, bedtime is the easiest time for reading aloud, because you have a routine in place, and it's relatively straightforward to make reading aloud part of that. This is great when it works. But if you can’t read at night without falling asleep after 5 minutes, or you have different kids of different ages, and you're working on the older kids' homework, and you just can’t fit the reading in then, ok. Find another time.

It doesn’t matter if you read in the morning before breakfast, or after lunch during quiet time, or before bed. It matters that you:

  • Always have books around that you can read to your child, whether they are your family’s own books or library books.
  • Try to say yes when your child asks you to read aloud.
  • Make reading part of your daily routine, no matter how busy that routine is, by fitting it in somewhere.
  • Keep reading together fun!
  • Keep reading aloud to your child even after your child can read to herself, for as long as she will let you.

These are the important things. These are things that you can do as a parent that will make a difference in your child’s happiness now, and future success later.

In my house, I tend to let read aloud time be dictated by what my daughter requests. Sometimes she wants to read a couple of books before even heading down for breakfast. Often she asks her babysitter to read to her after lunch, in the time period that she used to nap. If a new picture book arrives in the mail, she’ll usually want to read it right then. Same for times when she arrives home from the library with new books. I can't always say yes to reading at any particular minute, but I try to say yes as frequently as possible. 

We do usually read to her at bedtime. Mostly my husband does the nighttime reading these days, because my daughter in a major “daddy phase.” I’ll often sit nearby and read my own books, so we’re still together. But sometimes she falls asleep on her own before we get to the bedtime reading, and, well, there isn’t any. Especially if we’re out somewhere, and she falls asleep on the way home (sound familiar, anyone?). But most of the time, she’s been read to at some other point during the day. Some days she’s probably been read to at 5 or 6 points during the day. So I figure that what we’re doing is working for us, and I don’t get too hung up about the occasional missed night.

I know that I'm lucky because I work from home, and can sneak in extra reading time during the day. I'm lucky because I have other people who read to my daughter, too, and because I only have to worry about one child's schedule. I realize that it's going to get harder as my daughter gets older, and has homework and activities. But I'm going to try to keep this mantra in my head:

Read aloud to your child whenever you can, as often as you can, for as long as you can.

I'm going to try to seize, and appreciate, those moments, regardless of what time of day they occur. 

How about you? Does your family read before bed, or at other times, or both? 

 © 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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