Friday, 22 February 2013

'Where would you go? You choose…'

My boys have always had books at bedtime, in fact to the extent that they now see missing a night as a huge punishment. Sometimes after a long day it's the last thing you want to do, but I'm a firm believer in the benefits. These days my wife and I take one boy each, or at weekends we might take it in turns to do shared stories.

So I am right behind the Booktrust campaign to Get Dads Reading. To be honest, I wouldn't say their survey is that worrying though:

'A new poll, carried out for Booktrust by Opinium, reveals that just 13% are the main reader with their child, with a quarter of fathers saying that the demand for them to work late means that they do not have time to read together more often.'

… Why would we necessarily want Dads to be the 'main reader' or 'take the lead' at bedtimes? I read to my children pretty much every night but it's very much a shared activity with my wife so I wouldn't say I'm the 'main reader' or 'take the lead'. And I'm also surprised it isn't more than 25% of Dads saying that work means they don't have the time to read together 'more often'. That doesn't mean they don't read to them quite a lot. And I'm not sure it constitutes a 'crisis'.

But there's always room for improvement, so I'll share my tips on reading to children:

- A great book to start with, for all but the youngest children, is one that I think I got free from Booktrust. You Choose by Pippa Goodheart is a simple and superb picture book that encourages all sorts of flights of fancy and weird conversations.
Where will you go?
You choose.

- If you've got 5-10 year olds, I would avoid books that are designed for them to read to themselves. Let them do that. I really can't stand reading Beast Quest type books... they're badly written and often make no sense at all, to a Dad at least.
- Instead, stick to the classics. You can't beat Where the Wild Things Are (modelled in this article by my boys), Danny Champion of the World, Norse myths (this edition is simply stunning), Just William, etc.
- Don't just read, improvise. At the moment the boys are loving Famous Five stories. I'll chuck in little asides - for example, when the children are let loose on an unaccompanied camping holiday (obviously in a pre-mobile phone era), I add in a bit where Julian decides they really are in rather mortal peril and perhaps they should actually write to their parents to inform them of this; on receiving the letter a few days later, the parents write back to enquire whether it's urgent enough that they should cut short their own holiday and come to the rescue; etc). This causes fits of laughter, and lots of incredulous 'does it really say that?' (which, to be fair, they also say a lot for the bits that really are in the book).
- It's fine to stretch them, but if you start a book that's probably a bit old for them and they're obviously not enjoying it, just stop after a couple of chapters. There's nothing worse than bedtime reading becoming a chore for all parties, and I made that mistake with the David Walliams books.
- If you don't want to read a story the whole time, these Lego books take some beating!
- For other non-fiction, the 'See inside' series is excellent. My favourites are Science, and Your head, which had two superb psychologists, Chris and Uta Frith, serving as consultants to help out their own son Alex Frith. 
- If you really can't face the nightly read, putting an audio book on for them is better than nothing.

That's my advice, for what it's worth. Sometimes 20 mins of reading seems like quite a chore when all you want to do is flop down in front of the telly. But apart from anything else it's a great time for a cuddle, and I personally am not looking forward to the day when they don't want a story anymore.

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