Reading for pleasure has a more significant impact on academic success than having a parent who has graduated from university, yet only 32% of children (up to age 13) share storytime with an adult and some schools have no allocated curriculum time for class storytime once children leave the confines of the Reception classroom.
Once children have some grasp of reading it can be tempting for time-pressed adults to see reading as an activity they no longer need to encourage or initiate. Yet sharing a story with a child remains important even once children are fluent readers.
Tackling Harder Material
Comprehension ability and reading ability rarely grow at the same rate. Some children find the books they are able to read are boring because they are able to understand more complex plots and characterisations than is possible to encode in the language they can read. Other children can apparently read complex words and will plough through books aimed at older readers without really understanding what it is that they are reading.
Reading aloud benefits both children as it allows the child with a good understanding to access stories or information that would otherwise be difficult for them to read. The good reader can be watched for signs that they do not understand what they are hearing and allows them to discuss what is happening or to have new vocabulary explained so that they can follow the story.
Encouraging a Love of Reading
Good readers that are presented with material beyond their understanding may become reluctant to read. Rather like if an adult consults a university textbook in an area in which they have no expertise. They may be able to read the words and be able to recite the contents of the book aloud – but cannot hope to understand what information the author of the book was attempting to convey.
Those that find decoding words difficult may also become reluctant to read. Reading for them is a chore and takes more effort and time than they are willing to give.
Yet both can enjoy the same story when they listen to it read aloud. Hearing the words brought alive by an adult stimulates the imagination and shows them that reading is its own reward. If parents want to instil a love of reading in children they need to read to their children to advertise the benefits of literacy.
Improvements in Comprehension Are Real
St Joseph’s Academy in Stoke-on-Trent were encouraged to introduce a daily storytime session into their timetable. The school library is poorly resourced, with limited choice and almost no new books, while many of the children own no books of their own, and some have parents who cannot read.
The study added a 20-minute storytime session daily for 7-11 year-olds and over the 5 months that the project ran the teachers noticed improvements in class behaviour, the children’s ability to focus and the length of their attention spans. Not only did the children find the process calming – one teacher reported making more time in her personal life for reading as a result of reading to her class.
Across Key Stage 2, there was an improvement of an average of 10.25 months in the reading ages of children, despite the project only running for 5 months, with Year 3 (7 and 8-year-olds) improving the most (adding 15 months).
What Happened to Storytime?
Many parents have fond memories of “carpet time” at the end of the school day, listening to their teacher read a chapter or two before home-time. Naturally, many of them believe this is still the case in their children’s education. Like many other unmeasurable activities, however, storytime has gradually been pushed out of the school day to make way for technical grammar lessons and extra numeracy practice.
Storytime is a time when children can enjoy a book without pressure to keep up with a partner, or read every word correctly, or find the information they need to answer a question. Listening to a story just to enjoy the story is the vital point that builds a love of reading and a desire to read more.
Reading for Reconnection
Modern life is full of distractions and not enough time to fit everything in. Working parents may see very little of their children throughout the week with time not in work taken up with travelling from after-school activity to activity.
Spending just 20 minutes a day sharing a book with a child can be a beneficial way to wind-down before bedtime and reconnect with each other. Unlike tablets and other electronic devices, books don’t give off sleep-disrupting blue light. Following a story together provides a shared experience of a type that can’t be duplicated by films and apps. Reading is an activity that is ideally suited to sharing with the whole family, or as the vitally important one-on-one quality time that every child needs to flourish.
Bring Back Storytime!
Luckily reading aloud is one of the most straightforward activities to introduce. All you need is a book and an audience! Choose a book you are interested in sharing and can read fluently. Children enjoy watching the words as you read them, discussing pictures and how they link into the story and proposing solutions to the characters dilemmas. Teachers can encourage sharing a book with a parent, not as set homework reading but as a shared storytime, as this may enable some children to engage more fully with the story than they can in a class situation where concerns about peer perception guide their actions.
Reading is a vital skill and reading for pleasure, reading a story or to learn about a subject that interests you, is vital for improving the outlook and aspirations of children. Storytime doesn’t need to take much time and doesn’t need to be an everyday activity, yet has various benefits not just in the short-term but for academic success in the future. So what are you waiting for? Bring back storytime!