Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Bedtime Stories Do

This is not a bedtime routine blog. We all know that bedtime stories help to calm and relax your child ready to go to sleep; and that they can be a rich and valuable bonding experience between parent and child. This is a prepare your child for a bright and successful future blog. And the first step is the regular bedtime story.

Ten years ago I wrote my MA dissertation on how to encourage children to become avid readers. My research involved interviewing avid readers and comparing their experiences with books to the educational literature already published. I found that five factors were most prevalent:

1. Regular bedtime stories from a very young age.
2. An older reader in the household to act as a role model.
3. Parental attitude that reading is a worthwhile activity.
4. Access to a wide selection of age/reading level appropriate material.
5. The time to read.

I'm assuming that we all want our children to be avid readers. Just for the record, the reasons are:

1. An avid reader has access to thousands of lives and worlds outside the confines of his/her own reality.
2. An avid reader never has any reason to be bored or unoccupied.
3. Avid readers do better in school and in life because they have a greater general knowledge and basically know more.

I would love to simply publish my whole paper but this is a blog not a book. And even though it was, in a way, my first baby - not everyone finds it as interesting as I do. So I'll merely tell you why bedtime stories for even young toddlers are so important if you want your child to love books. Much of this is documented in: What No Bedtime Story Means by Shirley Brice Heath (Lang. in Soc. 1982, 11: 49-76 Cambridge University Press). It's not rocket science and, like most theories based on common sense, you probably intuited most of it by virtue of being a good parent.

1. Your child gets to know what a book is and how it works. He understands that there is a story inside and that you can get it out and enjoy it.
2. Your child looks at the pictures but knows that you are looking at those lines of black symbols and are able to tell the story. She knows that they say the same thing every time. Those words must be magical things and therefore highly desirable.
3. The child hears many stories and gets a feeling for how stories 'go'. Soon he expects a beginning, some action, and an ending.
4. She knows that the pages turn from the right and you read the page on the left first. At some stage you can point at the words. Your child will see that you read from left to right, from the top line down to the bottom of each page. (Unless you only read Charlie and Lola.) When your child gets to school he/she is already familiar with books and how they work, which is a huge advantage.
5. Your child will see that you love books and this is contageous.

Goodnight and sweet dreams.


  1. I also believe that books are very important - although almost all our clothes and toys are second-hand, I have purchased a great library collection for my daughter and we love reading together.

  2. And the books last much longer than the clothes at this stage. Happy reading.- Rachel

  3. I've really enjoyed this blog post. My only comment is the emphasis on bedtime.
    There are so many other times in the day for a story and for us at least bedtime is the most problematical.
    DD2 just isn't interested, she needs to swing and stand on her head to calm down for bed! DD1 found that books and stories just wound her up, until she was about 6 or so.
    For us the best time of day has always been first thing in the morning - in bed, before breakfast.

  4. Of course you are absolutely right Katherine. It's the stories and the books that are important - not the time. Thanks for pointing this out - Rachel

  5. I'm always encouraging Amy to read at all times of day. I have read to her from her being a baby and she used to look up at me as though she understood every word. It's one of the most beautiful times to bond with your child.

    Great post.
    CJ xx