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Reading to children

  • Who is dictating the bedtime reading?

    Virtually every night we are at home, I stand with my son at his Tidy Books bookcase, and we set about choosing what books we are going to read.

    Sometimes this is a very quick process, like on days when we have already discussed what to read at bedtime, or if we have played along a theme featured heavily in one of his books during the day.  Like if we’ve played with dinosaurs, popular bedtime stories then become things like Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs or Dinosaurs Love Underpants.

    At other times, the process can seem to take a disproportionate amount of time, as my son refuses to choose, and also refuses any of my suggestions.

    We commonly read two books each bedtime, adding more for good behaviour and if time allows.  I do reduce reading down to one if there is reason to limit his reading, like a late bedtime, or poor behaviour.  Luckily instances like that are relatively rare, as to this point, I have chosen to run to a reasonable rigid schedule and the boy generally knows where my lines of good behaviour are.

    I have also been mindful, increasingly so, to let my child choose what we are going to read.  I really want him to enjoy reading, and I think a big part of that is being allowed complete freedom when it comes to choosing literature.

    My focus on this was heightened recently, when I read a report, that pointed out that well meaning parents can actually have a negative effect on a child’s reading.

    However, my boy, such is his giving nature, likes to allow me to ‘choose’ a book to read.

    So, when we have two books, the principle is that he chooses one, and I choose the other.

    Great idea, except my son reserves the right of veto.  Which means my choice is actually limited to going through the list of his books, until I land on one he wants to be read to, or have a go at himself.

    This irritates me a little, and at times I have said to him; “Why do you even ask me to choose?” to which I get a beautiful and all knowing grin.

    We both really know he is in control of choosing what he reads, and long may it continue.

    But, who chooses the books in your house?  And do your kids do the same thing to you?

  • Are bedtime stories really in decline?

    A recent tabloid headline got our attention.

    Half of all parents too busy to read a bedtime story to children’ Read the article headline, published earlier this month in the Daily Mail.

    The story was based on research compiled on behalf of Silentnight, themselves hoping to promote their own ‘Book at Bedtime’ competition.  1,000 parents were quizzed about reading to their children at bedtime, and although 97 per cent agreed that reading to children before bedtime was of developmental benefit, only 53 per cent confirmed that they did, in fact, read to their children at this time

    Most parents that said they did not read to their children, said that they did not do so, based on being too embarrassed to read out aloud to them.  The study also revealed that half of the children under 12 watch DVDs in bed

    This, in isolation, is a worrying figure, but I am unsure that 1,000 parents being questioned is enough to gain a real idea of how many children are read to at bedtime across the county, and is possibly sensationalist to offer a headline saying that half of ALL children are not read to before lights out.

    I certainly hope that the reality is much brighter to that recorded by this research, but have looked back to a blog post I wrote in October, based on the annual study compiled for Booktrust, which found DVDs increasingly popular amongst older children at bedtime.

    For me, as a parent, bedtime reading has always felt right, but I can sympathise with parents that feel uneasy with reading out aloud, I’ve been self conscious in the presence of visitors, and on the odd occasion I have had to read in public, but really, what is the bigger issue?

    Reading to a child is obviously of immense benefit, and the joy in watching a child revel in being read to, and then reading themselves, is something every parent should enjoy.  It really should be, and is, a parent’s privilege.

    Inspiration is all around us, not only in the faces, ears and mouths of our children, but if you need further encouragement, look no further than Jim Brozina, and his daughter Kristen from Millville, New Jersey.

    Mr Brozina and his youngest daughter, enjoyed a nine year ‘streak’ of reading together each night.

    Inspired by the failure to continue reading to his eldest daughter once she had learnt to read herself, the elementary school librarian decided to not make the same mistake again.  Initially setting himself and his youngest daughter the target of reading for 100 nights on-the-trot, which then became 1,000, and so on.

    A truly wonderful story, and hopefully one virtually replicated all over the World, between parent and child.

    I am unsure where we are in our streak, but it is incredible rare of us to have a night without reading.

    But how about you? Can you beat Mr Brozina?

  • Should children's books come with warnings?

    When I am about to read a book, I am often torn by the amount of information I want to know before embarking on reading it. And what I mean by that, is how much of the actual plot do I want to know beforehand, or is it okay to go ahead with just being familiar with the general gist of the story?

    Books come to me in various forms, recommendations from other people, 'well if you liked that, you'll like this', from picking up the new title of an author I have previously enjoyed reading, and sometimes by reading reviews and descriptions on sites like Amazon, like with the last book I bought for myself.

    Blogs are also great for finding book recommendations, and I have purchased a good few children's books based on things I have read around the web. Including this morning no less, when I ordered Michael Rosen's Sad Book, based on a post I read on Playing by the Book.

    I also hope that the Tidy Books book reviews have been, and continue to be useful for others to base purchasing decisions on.

    My purchase this morning was actually one of a very sensitive nature, the book in question is one that deals with grief, and in this particular case how a parent feels when they lose a child.

    Not something I can immediately relate to, but I am buying the book fully aware of what to expect, and I intend to read it myself before considering if it would be material relevant to my child, and useful for him to develop his understanding of mortality and grief.

    But what if there was no warning, and a character in your child's book dies?

    The youth novel market has been one of immense debate over recent years, and its popularity has spawned incredible successes for many a series of books come films, and if the excellent Bologna Children's Book Fair summary of my new blog friend David Maybury is to be believed, then publishers are just awaiting the next big thing to appear from this genre.

    For books aimed at these older children, when the choice is entirely theirs, and they are basing their decisions via similar means to us old fogies, do we just need a quick cross check to ensure what they are going to read is appropriate?

    If you are the parent of a sensitive child, or perhaps one that has suffered certain traumas, for example the loss of a friend or relative, how much would you like to know about a book before it appears in their hands?

    We have got very used to the classification guides of films, that come with an overall rating and then indicators to why such a rating has been given, like contains fantasy violence and mild swearing.

    Would a similar system benefit books, or would it hinder the mystique of what makes book, and its story, so engaging?

    I am in two minds on the subject, I can see how it could prevent regrettable instances such as children being exposed to material that perhaps it was better they weren't, but I also feel a book could lose some of its allure and effect if we know too much about it beforehand.

    But what are your experiences and thoughts?


  • Will your children end up loving or loathing reading?

    I keep banging on about how much I want my child to enjoy reading, but ultimately I am not really sure how much of an impact I can have on another person’s likes and loves, but that does not stop me from having a ‘strategy of encouragement’.

    Thinking back I have very strong, and very vivid, memories of enjoying books as a child.  Memories include taking books on holiday with me, and reading them at night, even after all the excitement of  the day, days that would usually have included a multitude of activities, making new friends and, at times, perhaps, the odd bit of mischief.

    But even after all those highs, I would enjoy coming back to my night time reading, and look forward to the visions that my mind would create based on what I was reading.

    It was also at this time that I first discovered that reading can be so much more fun than television, or film.  I had a book based on the children’s cartoon series M.A.S.K. The images I came up with while reading it, in my own grey matter, were always better than the actual episodes I numbed myself with on television.

    However, somewhere along the way, I lost my love of reading, and looking back I think I can start to perhaps pinpoint where, and why.

    I now believe it was during high school, which, twenty years ago (wow) was when school felt like it was getting serious.

    A proper timetable, homework, a diary to record homework, targets, tests and reports.

    All these things turned me off education, and while I did not struggle at school, I did not thrive within its environment, and my love of reading was lost to the labour of reading what I was told to, and to; READ IT BETTER.

    It was not until I left school, again on holiday - one very different to the ones we used to enjoy as a family - that a friend handed me a book they had just finished; Popcorn by Ben Elton.  And after reading it, in what seemed like hours, my love for books was reignited.

    My hand luggage on any holiday after that would always be dominated by books, at an almost one-per-day-of-vacation ratio.   And I would always have a book on-the-go at home, without finding the time to read them at such at perhaps such a ferocious pace.

    Now with my son starting school this September, I can, sadly, see him going through a similar process, it is already happening in his first formal year of schooling.

    My son loves books, or being read to certainly, he gets very excited when I increase the number I am going to read to him based on his positive behaviour, and that fills me with joy.

    What fills me with dread is when he says things like; ‘I MUST read this tonight, as I HAVE to get to the end of this level, to get onto the next’.

    Laboured, rushed reading, ignoring his learning ability, and certainly his joy of learning and words.

    What is more depressing is that this is seemingly a global issue, with parents feeling the world over, that children are under increasing pressure from a ridiculously young age, to achieve certain targets, with little regard to the impact this is having on the individual.

    The Book Chook gave, what I believe, to be an excellent response to a letter she received from a worried parent.  A parent concerned that their child is not at the right level of reading.

    I appreciate there has to be a balance, but, in my opinion, a love of reading conquers being on red, green level or having a ‘reading age’ surpassing the years since your birth.

    But, what do you think, and have you experienced similar?

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