Magical time to bring tales to life

One in 10 parents of UK primary school pupils never reads to their children, according to a new survey, and only one-third of parents read them a story every day. Kathryn Cross looks at the importance of a bedtime story.

You've had a hard day's work, picked the kids up, fed them, bathed them and got them ready for bed. But your evening has only just begun. There is still an evening meal to prepare for yourself, perhaps a load of washing to sort, and the ironing before you can even think of putting your feet up.

So when it comes to the children's bedtime how many of us actually just want to get them tucked in and lights off? Well, apparently most of us would prefer to take the easy option rather than read yet another chapter of Harry Potter.

But according to the charity Booktrust and publishers Pearson, the bedtime story, that special time that bridges the gap between waking and sleep, is oneof the most important parts of a child's day.

According to their recent survey, parents in our region were some of the worst offenders when it came to reading to their children, with 43 per cent of parents in Norfolk and Suffolk most likely never to read to them, only just behind Yorkshire at 49pc.

In contrast, 41pc of parents living in London read to their children every day, the survey suggests.

But the magic of bedtime tales can'tbe ignored. Reading aloud to a child creates an intimate bond between the two sharers of the story while the adult brings the words to life.

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And if you put in a bit of extra effort and give different voices to all the characters, then it makes it a much greater experience for the child than one they would get from reading the story alone.

So why are our children missing out on stories?

Of course, we can always blame the television - does the fact that they get so transfixed by their favourite cartoon characters absolve us of some of the blame of actually reading to them? Do parents start to believe that 10 minutes of watching an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine on DVD equals a

10-minute story about the latest antics of Thomas, Gordon and Henry?

I bet the truth is most parents just can't be bothered, with their own hectic lives leaving them tired and just desperate to get the kids to bed as quickly as possible.

But thinking back to our own childhoods, before work pressures were so severe and televisual distractions were available, the bedtime story was an essential end to the day.

It is well documented that reading to your child speeds up their learning process and improves their literacy skills as they learn to recognise familiar words. And if you watch any of those parenting help programmes like Supernanny or House of Tiny Tearaways, the experts always extol the virtues of the story as an integral part of the bedtime routine to help the little darlings wind down and off to a peaceful sleep.

Just asking around a few colleagues and it is clear that those few precious moments before lights out are remembered right into adulthood, with many saying they can still recite some of the stories off by heart.

My brother and I were particularly fond of Richard Scarry, which was pictorially fascinating as well as full of fun rhymes.

There is no question that a bedtime story brings untold delight to children, many still enjoying being read to well past the age they can read themselves.

So we really should knuckle down and get reading, even if it is for just 10 minutes a night. Surely every parent can manage that small amount of time out of their day to share a story with their children?

And if you have read every book in your collection at least 10 times, then get down to the library and find a whole new world of literature to explore.

Elaine Simpson, community librarian at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, said there was plenty of research to back up the benefits of reading stories.

“It has been found that the long-term prospects of a child going to university and earning more money as an adult are much greater if they have been read to,” she said.

“Bookstart also did some research which showed children given books at an early age were not just ahead of their peers at their Sats tests in reading

but also in mathematics and hand-eye co-ordination. Reading improves vocabulary and concentration.”

And Norfolk author Kevin Crossley-Holland said there was “no greater pleasure than having a good story told well to you”.

Pearson and the Booktrust are making a start by giving out a free illustrated story to more than 250,000 pupils across the UK to encourage parents and carers to read with their children.

Marjorie Scardino, chief executive of Pearson, said: “We hope this will help teachers and parents kick-start a love of reading, which has to be one of the best starts you can give a child in life.”

TOP 10 BEDTIME STORIES

The Famous Five books - Enid Blyton

The Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis

Thomas the Tank Engine series - Rev W Awdry

Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne

Faraway Tree stories - Enid Blyton

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

The BFG - Roald Dahl

The Cat in the Hat - Dr Seuss

The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle

CELEBRITY FAVOURITES

t Bryan Gunn - his autobiography In Where It Hurts: “My children really are reading this at the moment, finding out all about their dad. Melissa also loves Harry Potter and Angus is into the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz.”

t Harry Potter actor Chris Rankin - Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: “It was a regular favourite. I was obsessed by monsters and dinosaurs.”

t Actress Naomi Watts - Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne: Naomi's mum Miv, who runs an interior design business in Burnham Market, said she also loved the book The Beast of Monsieur Racine by Tomi Ungerer .

t Cricket commentator Henry Blofeld - Five Children and It by E Nesbit: “When Noel Coward died it was the book open on his bedside table - and it still is.”