How books start the most wonderful conversations with your child

Published on: 13 October 2016 Author: Gemma Malley

Feeling too tired for story time is totally understandable, says BookTrust's Gemma Malley. But if you do find the energy to read to your child, it will bring you closer in surprising ways.

Kate Alizadeh illustration

There are so many reasons not to read a bedtime story to our children. I should know - I make excuses myself, far more often than I'd like. I'm too tired; there's no time; if I let them watch TV instead, I can finally get on with some laundry/my to do list; my children are getting too old for bedtime stories; they should be reading independently; I'm just too tired (ah, did I mention that one already?)

But while there's no denying that squeezing in story time in an already hectic day can be tricky, evidence shows that it's so, so worth it.

Because children who are read to - and read with - are so much more likely to get the reading bug themselves.

And children who enjoy reading fare so much better in life. They're more confident, resilient, more emotionally secure, have better communication skills, and do better academically.

Fiona Lumbers illustration

Drawn to the sofa

I know all this because it's my job to know it. But do I read to my children every night? Do I rush home from work and relish the chance to read with each of my three children for half an hour or more? Do I? Really?

I want to say yes. I want to say, 'Of course'. But the truth is, most of the time as I get through the door, all I want to do is get the children to bed so I can pour myself a glass of wine and collapse in front of the television.

When I do muster the energy to read with my children, I always kick myself for not doing it more. Not because of their potential academic success or expanded vocabulary, or even their (hopefully enhanced) emotional resilience.

No, the reason I read (and re-read) The Cat in the Hat, How to Train Your Dragon, First Term at Malory Towers and anything featuring Claude (he's a dog, but I digress...) is because storytime is the one time in the day that my children tell me stuff that otherwise I'd never hear about.

Nadia Shireen illustration

'A glimpse into their minds'

We've all asked our children how their day has gone, only to receive a shrug and, if we're lucky, a 'Dunno, alright, I s'pose' in response. But somehow, when I'm reading with my children, they start telling me about the friend who was mean to them in the playground, or the joke they made up, or the fact that they did/didn't get picked for the football team.

Often I discover these things because of something that's in the book we're reading.
Talking about a character's experience soon translates into confiding things that might otherwise never be mentioned. Reading with my children makes me feel more connected to them, like I get a little glimpse into their minds each time we share a story.

Jim Smith illustration

Conversations about their world

Back in the day, before social media and gaming, before electricity, before work/life balance became a 'thing', people used to read to each other all the time, or pass legends on to each other by the fire. And yes, I know, that's because they didn't have box sets or online shopping and all the other wonderful distractions we have today. But there is something very special about being read to, about sharing wonderful stories.

Children read on their own, of course; hopefully, eventually. But when they're on their own, they don't have anyone to ask about a word they don't understand, or a reference they don't get.

When they read alone, they can't take what they've read and turn it into a conversation about their own world.

So tonight, I'm not going to be too tired. Tonight, I'm going to forget my to-do list for a bit and let the laundry fester. Instead I'm going to plunge into the Metasphere, The Twits and Ten Rubber Ducks... Obviously, with a glass of wine waiting for me at the end.

Gemma Malley is director of communciations at BookTrust, as well as an author and mum of three.