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Bedtime story reading tradition fading away in American homes

Bedtime story reading tradition fading away in American homes

Blame it on working parents who are too tired at day's end. Or on the potent tug of TV set, video game and computer.
Whatever the cause, it seems the bedtime story - and the ritual of parents reading to their children regardless of the hour - may be losing its hold on American family life.
If so, it's more than just the loss of a quaint custom. Researchers and child-development specialists say reduced rates of shared reading time can hurt family cohesion, stymie creative development in younger children and drag down academic achievement.
"Reading Across the Nation," a recently released study, found that just under half of the parents surveyed said that they or other family members read every day to their children, from newborns to 5-year-olds.
"If we take as an ideal that every family reads to children every day, we have a ways to go," said Shirley Russ, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California-Los Angeles. She is one of the study's lead authors. Boston University and Reach Out and Read also contributed to the study.
Russ was intrigued by the variations from state to state that surfaced in the survey. Bedtime stories were biggest in Vermont, where 67 percent of respondents claimed to read to children daily. Mississippi ranked last, with a score of 38 percent.
Pete Cowdin, co-owner of the Reading Reptile children's bookstore in Kansas City, Missouri, characterized the survey's findings as "ridiculous." Parents who read to their young children every day are "pretty rare in this day and age," he said, and estimated the true percentage who do so as in the 20s.
Reading habits vary with the age of the children. Survey respondents indicated that they read least to children younger than 1, most often to 3-year-olds, then cut back a bit as their children turn 4 and 5.
"Maybe some children at 5 are starting to read themselves," Russ said. "I'd encourage parents to keep up the reading at ages 4 and 5." One reason, she said, is that "parents can read to children with much richer language than children are initially capable of reading to themselves."
Beth Gresham's daughters are 6 and 8 and are as excited as ever about their nightly bedtime reading. After their baths, "it's a form of relaxation," Gresham said.
"It's us sitting close together. We switch off reading in each of the kids' rooms. We allow them each to choose several books."
Sharing books that she relished as a child is a powerful experience for Gresham as well as her children, she said.
"Reading a story like James and the Giant Peach, and recalling as a child where that transported me, and seeing that in my own children, is just an amazing experience," she said. "I wish people could put down their cell phones and stop with the computer and see what a gift it is to share that world with children."
Jane Kostelc, a child-development specialist for Parents as Teachers in St. Louis, said she thought the survey's national estimate of 47.8 percent was a little high.
"I think there's been a growing awareness of the importance of reading to children," she said. "But I don't know if we have the follow-through we had in the past."
There's a good deal of data bearing out the value of reading to children, including "reasonably good evidence that reading to young children helps prepare them for school," Russ said. "We're not saying it's a cure for all later school problems, but research suggests it's a good thing in terms of performance in later school."
Russ' study also looked at fourth-grade reading scores while it was asking about at-home reading habits.
"We noticed that among states that report the highest rate of daily reading, many report higher fourth-grade reading proficiencies. Among states at the bottom on reading daily, quite a number report the lowest fourth-grade reading proficiencies. While we're not claiming that one is the reason for the other ... it suggests that we have to think about what's happening at home before they get to school."
Written language, spoken aloud, adds a new dimension to a child's exposure to language, Kostelc said. Written language has rhythms and sentence structure and vocabulary that are unlikely to surface during a trip to the grocery store or zoo.
While nearly any kind of reading aloud offers some benefit, Russ said that, increasingly, child-development specialists are recognizing the value of "dialogic reading." That involves bringing children more actively into the process by having them point to certain items in the pictures, asking them questions about what might be coming up next or encouraging them to think about how the book might relate to their own lives.
"This gets the child to start to think for themselves and to relate what's being read to them to their lives. These skills will stand them in good stead when they enter the school system."
It's hardly surprising that hearing the written word helps with the development of literacy in toddlers and preschoolers. Infants, too, benefit from being read to, Kostelc said, even though "some people think that since the baby isn't understanding this ... it's not important." Babies learn how books are held and which side of the book is the beginning and where reading starts on each page.
"Those are the very beginnings of early literacy," Kostelc said.
Because it continues to stretch their children's comprehension and vocabulary and reading ability, Kostelc urges parents to read to children through elementary, middle and high school, "until they won't let you read to them anymore."


Updated : 2020-11-30 14:05 GMT+08:00