As a new literacy drive is launched, authors including David Walliams and Michael Rosen warn of threat to storytelling from screens and busy lives.
The childhood tradition of a bedtime story is in serious peril, as experts warn that parents are not making the time to read to their children at the end of the working day and stop reading to them at too young an age.
“Parents lead very, very busy lives,” said Diana Gerald, chief executive of the Book Trust, which encourages children and families to enjoy books and develop their reading skills. “We live in a world where parents are juggling work and home life. Lots of parents are working shifts and there’s a lot of pressure on families. People are increasing their hours.”
A recent survey, by YouGov for the children’s publisher Scholastic, revealed last week that many parents stop reading to their children when they become independent readers, even if the child isn’t ready to lose their bedtime story. The study found that 83% of children enjoyed being read aloud to, with 68% describing it as a special time with their parents. (“It felt so warm, so spirit-rising,” as one 11-year-old boy put it.)
One in five of the parents surveyed stopped reading aloud to their children before the age of nine, and almost a third of children aged six to 11 whose parents had stopped reading aloud to them wanted them to carry on.
Frank Cottrell Boyce, who won the 2004 Carnegie medal for his first children’s book, Millions, was dismayed by the findings. “The joy of a bedtime story is the key to developing a love of reading in children”, he said – more so than literacy classes in school, which can be “a very negative experience”, for the many children he meets during visits to schools, whose first experience of books is in the classroom.
“They’re being taught to read before anyone has shared with them the pleasure of reading – so what motivation have they got to learn?” said Cottrell Boyce. “Even the ones that attain high levels of ‘literacy’ (whatever that is) are in danger of achieving that without ever experiencing the point of reading.” Frank Cottrell Boyce: ‘This is something people have done since the days of sitting around campfires napping flints. To stop doing now is to break the great chain of our being.’