Bedtime stories are like the kale of the childhood development world: we could list the benefits all day. Here’s just a few:
- Reading together every evening fosters stronger parent-child bonds
- A calming activity at bedtime helps prepare children for sleep
- Being read to by a parent boosts a child’s brain development
- Children who are read bedtime stories learn to speak, read and write earlier.
“There’s a clear indication of a neurological difference between children who have been regularly read to and children who have not,” says Dr Lyon, Ph.D. and chief of child development and behaviour at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. In other words, children who get a regular bedtime story have quicker, more developed brains than those who don’t.
But like kale, just hearing the science isn’t always enough to convince us. A lot of parents still have questions and concerns, such as “How old should my child be before I start reading to them?” “What’s the best way to read to them?” “How do I pick the right book?” And crucially, “how do I make time?”
Real families’ bedtime stories
We spoke to busy working mum Katherine Berryman, Account Director at Archant Dialogue, about how bedtime stories help her to balance work life and family time with her four-and-a-half-year-old, Lois.
“The biggest thing about story time is it’s the one part of the day when I can forget about all the stresses of the office and escape into a different world together. Once I pick Lois up from childcare, we don’t have a huge amount of time – it’s get home, do her school reading, bath and bed time. There aren’t that many opportunities to carve out quality time, but a bed time story is one. There are no interruptions, no distractions; it’s about sharing something together.
“In terms of making sure it happens every day, we have such a set routine that I can’t imagine not honouring the bedtime story now.
“Lois has just started learning to read at school, so she’s now picking out words in the books we read together. It reinforces what she’s learned at school and, importantly, develops her imagination and her confidence in talking about ideas. I’ve noticed recently that she’s started asking questions about the story, as if she’s trying to understand it more thoroughly.
“Of course, I always do all the voices, and it definitely makes a difference. My husband does better voices than me though…”
Make story time better
One in ten parents worry that their bedtime story skills are not up to scratch. Over half of children prefer it when a parent ‘does the voices’ in a story, and a quarter expect their bedtime book to be acted out for them. No pressure then!
Here are our top tips for a more engaging story time:
- Let them choose
When your little one is old enough, let them choose the story. It develops their decision-making abilities and makes them feel like an important part of story time. And don’t groan if they pick the same story for the eighth night in a row!
- No interruptions
You’ve put this time aside, now make sure it isn’t spoiled by interruptions. Leave your phone in a different room (or put it to sleep).
- Do the voices
Not only does this make story time more fun for your child, but it makes a story with multiple characters much easier to follow.
- Ask questions as you go
You’re checking their understanding and making the whole story more interactive.
- Talk about the pictures
There’s a reason children’s books are illustrated – the pictures are half the fun. So don’t gloss over them, ask your child what they think is happening in the pictures as you read.
- Enjoy it
You could know all the neurology and child development research around story time, but if you don’t enjoy it, you and your child are missing out. Enjoy both the book and the time you spend together, because both are over very soon.
Something beautiful: The Fox and the Star
Named Waterstones Book of the Year, this beautiful book is written and illustrated by Coralie Bickford-Smith. Telling the story of a young fox whose greatest friend is a star, it’s a story that “crackles with imagination and wonder”.
For the reluctant sleeper: The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep
Created by Swedish behavioural psychologist and linguist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin, this self-published work was the first ever to top the Amazon charts after it was promised it could get any child to fall asleep. It uses psychology and positive reinforcement techniques to help children relax and drift off.
Laugh along: Grandpa’s Great Escape
For a story that you’ll enjoy as much as your children, try this latest instalment from David Walliams, who has been dubbed ‘this generation’s Roald Dahl’.