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25th Aug 2019

Study finds that bed time stories are ‘key to literacy’

Trine Jensen-Burke

Reading bedtime stories to our children at night might be one of the utter most enjoyable things about being a parent.

There is something about that quiet time at the end of each day that just feels so utterly lovely – and important. I was read to every night as a child, and so when I had children myself, it felt like a very sweet and enjoyable tradition to carry on. And having talked about this with many mum-friends, one I think stays strong in many households.

But according to a recent survey, the childhood tradition of a bedtime story is in serious peril, as experts warn parents are too busy to read to their children at the end of the working day, or that they stop reading to them at too young an age.


“Parents today lead very, very busy lives,” Diana Gerald, chief executive of the Book Trust, which encourages children and families to enjoy books and develop their reading skills, said to the Guardian. “We live in a world where parents are juggling work and home life. Lots of parents are working shifts and there’s a lot of pressure on families. People are increasing their hours.”

A recent survey, by YouGov for the children’s publisher Scholastic revealed last week that many parents stop reading to their children when they become independent readers, even if the child isn’t ready to lose their bedtime story.

In fact, the newspaper also revealed that one-in-five of the parents surveyed stopped reading aloud to their children before the age of nine, and almost a third of children aged six-to-11 years old whose parents had stopped reading aloud to them wanted them to carry on.

“Parents have definitely got the message they need to read to their children up to the age of five or six,” said Catherine Bell, managing director of Scholastic. “What’s really interesting [is that] as children acquire the skills to read themselves, parents back off. It comes across really clearly: when parents stopped, the children wanted them to continue. They thought it was a really special time with their parents and they felt really positive about it.”

Sharing her favourite childhood book with her daughter

Author Frank Cottrell Boyce, who won the 2004 Carnegie medal for his first children’s book, Millions, was dismayed by the findings. “The joy of a bedtime story is the key to developing a love of reading in children.”

He was worried about children’s first experience with reading will to a larger degree now come when they start school.

“They’re being taught to read before anyone has shared with them the pleasure of reading – so what motivation have they got to learn? Even the ones that attain high levels of ‘literacy’ (whatever that is) are in danger of achieving that without ever experiencing the point of reading.”

Lack of time due to a long commute or overtime in work are major factors parents claim are eating into bedtime and therefor story-time. A study by TomTom from February of this year upheld this, with 34 percent of parents with children aged one to ten admitting they never read a bedtime story.

Many experts believe TVs in bedrooms, as well as tablets and smartphones, are to blame for the decline in bedtime stories being read too.

Cottrell Boyce, however, is passionate about preserving the bedtime story. “Great ideas come from people who are able to bring their whole selves – emotional as well as rational, memory as well as logic – to bear on problems. Bedtime stories give reading an emotional depth. Why would you ever stop? This is something people have done since the days of sitting around campfires napping flints. To stop doing it now is to break the great chain of our being.”