Education Quandary

'Is there any evidence that bedtime stories are good for children? I work, and sometimes my children listen to a tape'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

I can find no research that proves that bedtime stories, per se, are good for children (let me know if I have missed something), although there is plenty of evidence that introducing children to books at home improves their language acquisition, reading and enjoyment of stories, as well as more specific findings that reading aloud to young children improves their decoding, comprehension and story-telling skills.

And there is loads of evidence to show that parental support and involvement are the absolute keys to good literacy and all-round success at school. (For hundreds of ways to give your children this, see my book Help Your Child Succeed at School, published by Piatkus – and, no, it does not suggest that you hover neurotically over their every move.)

But no one needs research to show why bedtime stories are good for children. We all know it in our bones. They get cuddles and conversation along with a story, and the whole ritual makes them feel not only loved and special and safe, but also allows them to relish words and stories in a relaxed and non-schooly environment.

Of course, it isn't going to kill your kids to have a story tape now and then – and shame on the Government for making parents feel this – but for your own sake as much as theirs, try to make the time for reading whenever you can. Chores will be there as long as you live. The days when you can snuggle up with your children and share a story will be gone sooner than you can imagine.

Readers' advice

Personally, no matter how tired I am, I would never miss the chance to let my children know I love them and value them by sharing a bedtime story with them. Investing the time now is likely to pay dividends when they are older. Tiredness will come back time and again, but our children might not and once they're gone, you never have those chances again.

Alex Green, Manchester

Your writer should pat herself on the back for reading bedtime stories. They are one of the pleasurable ways for parents and children to cement a strong bond, vital to help children's cognitive and emotional development, and a time to unwind for everyone. However, full-time parents, and (dare I say it) mothers in particular, have a hectic life and a tape now and then is not a crime; perhaps she could just sit and enjoy the moment with them. Chores can wait, but the time with young children can never be recaptured.

Sharman Finlay, (BSc MAEd – just to show I'm a busy mother too!), Ballyclare

Story tapes are useful, but remember that a tape cannot explain, discuss, answer questions, share a joke. If dad is around, he should be taking his turn too – it is important for all children, but especially boys, to see that reading is something that is valued by both parents.

Jennifer Archer, Kent

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

What do you think about raising the school-leaving age to 18? I have been struggling to teach uninterested teenagers for years, and I think this is the stupidest policy any government could dream of. I could go on forever about why, but in my experience the only thing that works in the end is for youngsters to motivate themselves.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 21 January, to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or email Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition