• 5% of parents have never read to their children at bedtime
  • One in ten only read to their children at the weekend
  • Almost one in two (42%) parents watch TV with their children before bed, one in four (23%) watch YouTube videos and one in five (19%) play games on electronic devices
  • One in ten (9%) admits to reading children adult fiction before bed

5% of parents admit to never reading their child a bedtime story, according to new research carried out by Furniture Village. The bedroom experts investigated family reading habits of the UK while also carrying out a study into bedtime stories with Clinical Physician Linda Blair.

Reading to children has many recognised benefits. In a recent survey of 942 parents by Furniture Village, nine in ten said the bedtime story allows them to spend quality time together with their child. The same percentage agreed that it also helps to improve their child’s communication and language skills.

Yet despite knowing better, many parents choose other, less productive activities for their children’s bedtime routines. Almost one in two parents also watch TV with their children (42%), watch YouTube videos (23%) or play games on electronic devices (19%).

Who’s reading?

It was uncovered that younger parents are more likely to read to their kids at bedtime than older parents. Moreover, eleven percent (11%) of parents will read to their child, but only on weekends – suggesting at least five out of seven nights are spent without a bedtime story. But it’s not just the parents themselves who do the reading. According to the data, approximately 8700 children in the UK are read to by their nannies (on par with siblings), which is the equivalent of 33 UK primary schools.

Why are some parents skipping the bedtime story?

One in ten parents ditch the bedtime story during the week for reasons now revealed. As many as one in five see bedtime reading as an ‘outdated activity’ and 17% state that they do not think it teaches their children any skills. This could be down to the increasing difficulty to engage children in an overstimulating environment, where one in five parents say their children find the activity ‘boring’.

But are parents reading right?

Linda Blair, Chartered clinical psychologist, Chartered scientist, and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society highlights research by Universite’ Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, on Motherese (child-directed speech), which concluded that the 4 main functions of CDS (child-directed speech) are:

  • Communicating affect
  • Facilitating social interaction through child’s preferences
  • Engaging and maintaining child’s attention
  • Facilitating language acquisition

When it comes to reading techniques, many parents may not be following best practice, in order to help young children learn faster. When queried in the survey, it was exposed that one in three (36%) parents do not shorten sentences and simplify grammar for their child, and nor open their mouth wider than they would when speaking to adults. Furthermore, 13% seldom or never slow their speech down for their child, while 12% fail to provide any visual cues through their body language. These are fundamental principles of Motherese, which can be critical in both a child’s enjoyment of the bedtime story as well as their early development.

In other words, Linda states:

“Reading to children is a fundamentally important – while also enjoyable – way to promote cognitive, emotional and social development.”

What are we reading to our children?

According to the research, the classic bedtime story is still the most widely read, with 68% of parents reading these to their kids regularly. A lower percentage of parents (42%) would prefer the modern bedtime story. In fact, 9% confess to throwing in an adult fiction book into the bedtime routine and one in ten (10%) read their children a newspaper or a magazine article.

Is the classic bedtime story still the way to go?

In parallel to the parents’ survey Furniture Village also recently surveyed 20 of the most popular classic story books to see how they can help children sleep, bond and learn.

    • The time it takes

It was shown that the average classic children’s story can be read aloud in 7 minutes (at 100wpm), meaning this activity could be done as quickly as unloading the dishwasher, folding one load of laundry or making the bed.

    • Gender

It was revealed there was an overwhelming presence of male pronouns throughout with ‘him’, ‘his’ and ‘he’ featuring in the top 20 most commonly used words. The study showed that while 95% of the books featured male characters, half of the books featured didn’t feature any female characters at all, with the majority of the books that did presenting the female as a ‘nurturing feeder’.

    • Life lessons

Classic bedtime stories use the extraordinary to enforce the ordinary, with 3 in 10 (30%) stories reinforcing the parent/guardian relationship and the bedtime routine – and almost half of all featuring eating or meals, to promote the importance of food and mealtime.

Around 3 in 5 books (60%) teach fundamental life lessons, from love to acceptance and brains over brawn. This would suggest that the classic bedtime story steers children towards valuable lessons that will last with them through life.

    • Themes          

25% of books have a ‘scary’ theme, with the threat of being eaten as a key feature in 15%. This contrasts with 60% of parents in the survey who said they steer clear of this story type when reading to their children. According to Linda Blair, the ‘scary’ theme is prevalent for a purpose: “Scary themes particularly can help guide the child in facing up to fears (and talking to their parents about fears), so they can learn where the line is drawn between what is real and what is made up.”

    • Child-directed speech

Furthermore 7 in 10 (70%) of classic children books reinforce Motherese techniques such as repetition, with 3 in 10 (30%) using rhyme and over half (50%) using speech and conversation to demonstrate the dynamics of dialogue.

“One of the best ways to encourage language development, particularly grammar, is to model different ways of saying the same thing.” – Linda Blair

Memories of the bedtime story

Furniture Village asked parents what feelings they themselves associated with being read to as children, with the highest percentage of respondents (39%) choosing the feeling of safety, happiness and love, though not all of these parents have passed this on. 17% associated being read to as a child with negative feelings of boredom (6%), constraint (4%), frustration (4%) and anxiety (3%).

You can find out more on what makes these stories so magical and the most recommended children’s books here.

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