Don't read me a story



Don’t read me a story!


Have you read with your child today? Research suggests that the answer is probably no. Education expert Robert Watts investigates how this may affect your child



In a recent poll of parents almost half admitted they found it

difficult to schedule a story at bedtime, with some confessing

that the only way they could find the time was to read to their

offspring while they brushed their teeth.


Meanwhile, a survey of 500 primary teachers found that almost half were concerned about children’s attitudes to reading and believed that more parents should prioritise reading at home. Should we worry that we are creating a generation of reluctant readers?


Reluctant readers


If it’s true that our children are increasingly less inclined to read, who is to blame – parents, teachers, or even children themselves? Oxford University Press carried out a survey of 1,000 parents and nearly half of them (44 per cent) skipped bedtime stories. They offered a range of excuses. Some claimed their offspring were already independent readers who needed little help with literacy; others admitted that tiredness and tetchiness made reading difficult, while many confessed that the temptations of technology were greater than those of the written word in their home! The research concluded that these parents greatly underestimated the value of reading with children.


Former head teacher James Clements says: ‘It’s a real shame that

parents don’t realise that just 10 minutes of reading with their child

each day is one of the best ways they can support their education’. He questions why parents are often prepared to pay for extra tuition for their children when reading together on a regular basis can do so much to help? ‘Reading together six days a week means hours of extra support for a child. It’s definitely cheaper than an hour with a tutor and it could make a much bigger difference,’ he argues.





Did you know...



Reading can boost the following life and learning skills


• Communication – speech and language transfer to general academic ability.


• Emotional literacy – sharing responses to stories.


• Diversity of experience – understanding other people’s lives are different from our own.


• Thinking skills – deduction and inference – predicting what

will happen next.


When time is tight


Busy parents shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for children’s declining interest in reading. Cast your mind back to your own schooldays and you might recall how your teachers tried to nurture their love of reading in you. Until the 2000s, silent reading and storytime each had regular slots in the school timetable, periods of the day when children could lose themselves in books without worrying whether they were meeting their teacher’s latest ‘learning objectives’.


In today’s schools, children are far less likely to hear teachers read stories to them. It’s not that English is any less important in schools, says primary teacher Jane Golding, It’s because the nature of English teaching in primary schools has changed dramatically. ‘In the past five years there’s been a far greater emphasis on teaching the decoding of words and developing grammatical skills’ she explains.


‘It’s become harder and harder to inspire children to enjoy their reading,’ adds Jane. ‘In the past, children spent more time reading and listening to stories as well as creating their own. Today, the younger children have a phonics lessons every day while the older ones need to learn much more in terms of conjugating verbs and using punctuation.’


Educationalists who support this increased emphasis on grammar point to the progress made by children in other countries since 2000. In 2016 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) compared the attainment of 500,000 children in 70 countries in maths, science and literacy. Children in Singapore, Canada, Finland and Ireland found themselves at the top of the international league table for reading, while the UK struggled to make the top 20.


It’s not that British children are getting worse – our kids’ scores have remained remarkably consistent since the turn of the century – it’s just that those in many other countries are getting better. So successive governments have looked overseas for solutions to a perceived decline of standards in UK schools Currently, the spotlight is on phonics and grammar.


Yet there’s no escaping the fact that the increased emphasis on

grammar has coincided with a decline in children’s interest in reading. Literacy experts like author Michael Morpurgo argue for a re-introduction of storytime in schools, and more than half of primary teachers wish they were able to spend more time on reading according to BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity.




Make a date – set aside a time and space for regular reading.


Bring books alive – try out funny voices, talk about illustrations.


Choose a variety of books (fiction and non-fiction) to explore

different types of language.


Take turns to read aloud to each other.


Allow children time to work out tricky words alone.


Talk about the book – make predictions, discuss characters.


Define new words, explain unusual phrases.


Enjoy yourselves!


Trouble with technology


Four in 10 teachers say children read far less than they did five years ago, while more than 60 per cent feel that children today have too many distractions. Yes, parents could do more to help at home and yes, schools are under pressure to meet government targets on spelling and grammar. But many teachers also

believe there are other reasons why

children are losing interest in reading.


Most parents will guess what is coming next, particularly those

who spend half their waking hours persuading children to part with their iPads! In 2011, only seven per cent of British 5-15-year-olds had access to a tablet computer, but that figure rose to 71 per cent by 2015. But does this mean that they are reading less?


No, according to research by the National Literacy Trust. In 2010, only 29 per cent of 5-11-year-olds read every day, compared with 41 per cent in 2014. How can this be? The answer lies in the type of reading that children are doing. Activities such as online

browsing, texting and Snapchatting require only a limited attention span from children.


Joanna De Guia, whose Story Habit organisation holds events to promote children’s literature, is concerned that reading on screen has become a dangerous distraction from longer reading. ‘The amount of concentration required on any digital device is very

short,’ she explains.


Joanna argues that children use tablets in ways that create very

short attention spans and it delays the development of their long-term reading skills. ‘Children want instant gratification,’ she says. ‘If they’re not getting that from the book they’re reading, they can just play a game instead.’ She believes that children will develop more positive attitudes to reading at school if parents prioritise

it at home. At the end of the day, nothing beats a book at bedtime.













Art Eldridge has just turned six and is the youngest of Lia and

Kipper’s three children.


Kipper says: ‘We now realise the importance of reading together. Our experience has taught us it’s important to make reading a priority. Art enjoys reading and he enjoys being read to. We both work full time, but we always make sure that one of us makes time for reading with Art.


‘We have a routine – we go up at seven every evening and Art reads his school book to one of us – then he chooses one of his own books or one he’s brought home from the school library. We try not to rush it and we try to enjoy it – we know that if we’re not enjoying it then he won’t enjoy it!’




Recommended books for reception level that children

and parents can enjoy together.


We’re going on a bear hunt by Michael Rosen (Walker Books).

Children’s classic recently transferred to TV.


Let’s go home, Little Bear by Martin Waddell (Walker Books).

Atmospheric illustrations bring warmth to snowy story.


I will not ever eat a tomato by Lauren Child (Orchard Books).

Engaging characters combined with innovative design.


Tusk Tusk by David McKee (Andersen).

A gentle way of exploring conflict – lots to discuss.


Charlie Cook’s favourite book by Julia Donaldson (MacMillan).

Anything by Julia Donaldson is highly recommended – this is a

wonderful book about reading and the imagination.


The Jolly Postman by Allan Ahlberg (Puffin).

Interactive, pop-up, fold-out masterpiece!


See for further recommendations






May/June 2017

All information is correct at time of publishing