Friday, 2 April 2010

Bedtime reading must be honoured, not forgotten

Half of all parents are too busy to read their children a bedtime story, The Daily Mail reported today. The survey of 1,000 parents, carried out by Silentnight, found that 47 per cent did not read at night to their children, even though 97 per cent agreed that reading before bedtime was beneficial to a child’s development

I find these statistics sad but not surprising. When I was young, I devoured books daily, and I’m almost certain that has determined my path in life so far; an English literature degree and (soon to be) career in journalism. However, I have many factors to thank for this, such as a naturally serious disposition which meant I was happy to sit with my nose in a book for hours on end.

The most determining factor, though, was my mother. A primary school teacher for her whole life, she impressed upon me from a young age the importance of education, and waiting for her to finish marking books after school every day, I tucked myself away in the book corner, content in my Aladdin’s cave of fascinating tales. Furthermore, both my mother and father were dedicated parents who spent a lot of time with me and my brother, and always found half an hour to read us a bedtime story.

I have no doubt that my prolific reading habits as a child have been a huge contributing factor to my instinctive grasp of spelling and grammar, love of writing and proofreading. But I grew up in the early 90s, before technology and the internet governed everything we do. Now, primary schools are replacing books with laptops, and public libraries are slowly becoming relics of the past. Most 10 year-olds in my mother’s class have a mobile phone, xbox and a facebook account, and sadly for many, books just can’t compete with such technologically exciting past-times.

Add to this the rising number of working mothers, and it’s no surprise that children are falling asleep to a DVD rather than a story. Until I have children of my own though, I know I am in no position to judge the parenting of others. Having stayed with my auntie and uncle and two young cousins recently, I have seen how difficult it is for parents who both have successful careers to juggle work and bringing up children. But I have also seen how, no matter how tired they are or what time they get home, my auntie and uncle always find the time to read to my five and ten year-old cousins.

After having read to my eldest cousin one evening, she asked me to read her a story every night. I enjoyed snuggling under the covers with the latest Jacqueline Wilson novel just as much as she did – and when she asked me what a word meant that she hadn’t heard before, or we discussed the characters together, I knew that no matter how difficult it will be to balance a career with motherhood, a bedtime story is something which should never be sacrificed.