Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Fifty-two percent of parents do not read

a bedtime story to their children - or so the little paragraph in the paper this morning informed me. I will ignore the "statistics". I do not know enough about the way in which the research was conducted to have any idea whether the statistics quoted are accurate. It does not matter. What does matter is that there are children who do not get a bedtime story.
Bedtime stories were a ritual in our house. It was my father who told them, not my mother. My mother was an infants' teacher but bedtime stories were not part of her repertoire. She probably believed they were important but she always claimed not to have time even before she went back teaching the year I turned ten.
I was expected to read my own bedtime stories from the time I started school. This coincided with the time my father returned part-time to university to resume his own studies. As I was a thoroughly independent reader by then I am sure that my parents thought it did not matter - as long as I was reading.
It did matter of course. I missed out on the interaction between parent and child. It is not just hearing the bedtime story that matters. What also matters is the time spent together, the time to discuss the story and the words used. Even parents who believe they are "just reading a story" can do this without realising it.
I could ask what a word was of course. The answer to that was often "work it yourself" with, perhaps, a brief clue thrown at me. I could ask what a word meant. A dictionary would be put in front of me, first a picture dictionary, then a child's dictionary and then the Shorter Oxford. I was using the Shorter Oxford at the age of eight. My father had two copies. He had bought one when he began his degree and was then given another one that was almost falling to pieces. I used the latter one.
The message I got was "do it yourself". (In later years my mother criticised me for being "too independent".) All the same I was reading and that is important. I did have the utter joy of the bedtime story until I began school. There were evenings on which it did not occur but they were rare. My father and I shared many books, some of them were probably rather above my head although I do remember being read the full version of Alice, Tom and the Water Babies and Gulliver's Travels. It may be that my father needed to read (or re-read) these things. It did not matter. I was getting my bedtime story.
My father and I can still talk books. His light reading is currently Ian Rankin, his heavy reading a book about cult psychology. He is also reading a book on water-wise gardening. He will not read any of them to me but we can share the ideas in them because he read to me as a child.
I feel for the children whose parents do not read to them on a regular basis. Having my own computer and my own flat-screen television, my i-pad and all the other electronic toys would not make up for having a bedtime story.


Miriam said...

I liked the interaction with my mother at bedtime, but I didn't like the books. The fact that throughout my childhood I had to read books I wasn't ready for put me off reading.

Frances Garrood said...

I happened upon your lovely post, and couldn't agree more. I went on reading to my chidren as long as they would let me (and probably longer). What is interesting is the part played by routine. One of my grandsons - nearly nine - always has the same bedtime story when he comes to stay. It's a story written for a very young child - maybe about 4 - but he loves it.When he reads to himself (which he he does all the time) he reads much more sophisticated books, and is currently reading an adult novel. But when he comes here again, it will be the old favourite and we'l both love it.

catdownunder said...

Oh Miriam, I liked some of the books and I did not like others - and both my father and I did not like "The Magic Pudding" which we felt we must read as it was given to me!
Hello Frances, nice to meet you. I looked you up. Will now see if I can find at least one of your books to read! Thankyou for visiting.