Children's Laureate tells parents to remember bedtime reading

Children are missing out on bedtime stories because busy parents believe they are old enough to read to themselves, according to the award-winning author Jacqueline Wilson.

The Children's Laureate launched a campaign to encourage parents to set aside 15 minutes a day for reading stories aloud.

Youngsters up to the age of 12 who have had regular bedtime stories are noticeably more confident and articulate than other children, Ms Wilson claimed. But most parents abandon daily stories by the time their child is seven because they believe they are old enough to read to themselves.

"I have been surprised by how very few children seem to have any kind of story read to them by their parents," said Ms Wilson. "They all have story tapes and TVs in their bedrooms but what they don't have is mum or dad or carer snuggling up with them and reading aloud. It is a sad reflection of our busy lives."

Next week, Ms Wilson will publish a new book, Great Books to Read Aloud, which will recommend more than 70 books for children of all ages.

Research revealed that fewer than a quarter of children over the age of seven have a regular storytime at home. Only 3 per cent of 12-year-olds are read to, the research, commissioned by Scholastic Book Clubs and Fairs, found.

Ms Wilson urged parents not to abandon story time. "I want everyone to carry on reading to their children when they can read alone," she said. "Just because a child can read alone doesn't mean they won't benefit from still having a regular storytime with their parents. I was surprised how many people read aloud to their children until they are five or six and then stop.

"But, at that age, children are still reading with their finger pointing under each word and are not ready to go on to really long books even though they are intellectually ready for them.

"Daily reading sessions are a fantastic chance for parents and children to communicate with each other through exploring new issues and ideas."

Older children often enjoyed being read to while they did other things, such as painting or mending a bike, Ms Wilson said.

She added that it was difficult for research to accurately reflect the storytelling which really takes place, arguing that parents tended to exaggerate their efforts for fear of appearing a bad parent. "Parents might say they are reading with their children, even if they are not, as they know it benefits the child," said Ms Wilson. "But storytime is great for adults too, it's great fun and helps parents to build a strong relationship with their child. I talk to children every week in schools and libraries and find that those that are read to regularly are much more confident."

She also urged men to take a greater role in reading stories after research showed that women took most of the responsibility for reading to their children. Two-thirds of women said they regularly read a bedtime story to their children compared to 16 per cent of men. The research, based on interviews with 485 parents and 406 children, found that the average reading session was 17 minutes.

Great Books to Read Aloud is published on 4 May.

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* RUTH KELLY

'The Gruffalo' by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

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* SHEILA HANCOCK 'Not Now, Bernard' by David McKee

Children's literature is so entertaining that I suspect I get more pleasure reading to my grandchildren than they do listening to me. I cannot get though this tale of a monster eating a little boy and taking his place, unnoticed by his parents, without being speechless with laughter.

* IMOGEN STUBBS 'Horrid Henry's Underpants' by Francesca Simon

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