The Guardian printed a short article yesterday about the decline in parents reading their children, aged 0-7 years, bedtime stories, based on the results of a survey run by Littlewoods. I checked it out even though these kinds of news stories are so common nowadays that it might seem more newsworthy to print one that reveals that most parents do read to their children and have books in their house.
The basic facts are as follows:
- 2,000 mums were interviewed
- 64% read to their children
- 13% did not read to their child(ren) every night
- 75% of these admitted that they were read to every night by their parents when they were young.
The key information that I took from this is that nearly two-thirds of parents surveyed DID read to their children, even if they couldn’t be perfect about it every night.
Celebrate, don’t negate
At this point, when we are worrying so much about children having books in the house at all, it seems a little churlish to berate parents for managing only three nights a week. We all know that reading to or with your child is a very important activity, beneficial not only to their educational development but also to their emotional needs but not everyone can manage this. So perhaps we should turn this news story on its head and celebrate, instead, that parents are making an effort. In a perfect world it would be great if we were all reading every night to our children but at that point would we start dictating the amount of time that is acceptable? The books that we should read?
In today’s society, parents are constantly coming under fire for failing their children in some way or other. Unsurprisingly one of the main reasons parents in the Littlewoods survey gave for not reading every night to their children was stress, so discovering yet another weakness in their parenting skillset won’t help matters.
Let the games begin
Another major obstacle was getting children to pay attention to books. Apparently, many find other distractions such as television, video games and toys more fun than books.
Holly has an iPod – something I held out on allowing her for ages because I didn’t want her to turn away from books to easier entertainment. In fact, when she was seven I remember people telling me that I was being cruel when I revealed that instead of playing on a Nintendo DS she was designing her own to pretend-play with – drawing the pictures and creating the games. I felt that was more creative and quite sweet! Someone told me that playing with a Nintendo DS games can be educational – eg you can learn to look after your own ‘animals’. I commented that since we have two cats at home, she gets plenty of real practice with them – she doesn’t need a video game!
However, for her tenth birthday I relented and her nana and grandpa gave her an iPod for her birthday. Holding out for so long did have its benefits though – it made the present extra special. And, while she does like to play on it (a lot!), she still loves her bedtime stories and enjoys reading by herself too. Perhaps we instilled the reading bug in her early enough for technology not to present a threat but a part of me thinks that some people just don’t like reading much. In which case, should we be forcing them?
I asked Holly about this. I told her about the results of the survey and she said, with the typical bluntness of childhood, ‘If kids don’t want to read then it’s not important. If it’s because they just sit in front of the telly then turn the telly off and say you want to spend time with them. Kids love it when parents want to spend time with them as it makes them feel loved and wanted. It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that they are spending time together. Books aren’t everything.’
Read for pleasure, not pain and gain
I am not sure I agree with the ‘it’s not important for children to read’ statement and wondered how I was going to include this in a blog that is about sharing a love of reading! But I realized that Holly had a good point. As adults we are constantly striving to ensure our children achieve academically and that we nurture their talents and ability. This is extremely important of course but perhaps we are losing sight of something that matters more: that whatever we do together, be it sharing bedtime stories or playing games or going on walks, should be a chance to enjoy being in each other’s company. If reading becomes a chore for parents or children or both then a battle begins and avoidance can ensue. Childhood rushes past very quickly – perhaps we should take Holly’s advice and find where we all share common ground. Books are a great place to start but try not to let them be the end.
Holly and her friend Neil, enjoying books in our local library at its 50th birthday party last year.
Image courtesy of oxfordmail.co.uk