Bickering, dropping the F-bomb, eating our children’s Easter eggs on the sly. These are just some of the things that parents hope never to be sprung doing in front of kids.
But there’s one thing we should definitely go out of our way to get sprung doing.
I’m not talking about reading to our kids. The benefits of reading to children are well known and many parents go to great lengths to maintain the bedtime story routine — no matter how exhausted they are and that they already know where the bloody green sheep is (spoiler alert: it’s fast asleep).
I’m talking about reading to yourself. And not just any old reading. It has to be reading for pleasure, so this is unlikely to include functional reading like scanning the school newsletter or the manual for the new washing machine.
It means sitting down and reading for the pure fun of it.
According to retired children’s literacy expert Joy Bandy one of the very best things you can do for your children is to model the joy of reading.
“Make the process of reading appear exciting and mysterious to children,” says Bandy. “If children interrupt you say, ‘Excuse me, I just want to finish this chapter. It’s so exciting I want to find out what happens’.”
Bandy who is now a grandmother, says that parents should make an effort to “get caught” reading anything that they and the child are interested in, such as comics, newspaper articles, even cricket scores.
“With my grandchildren I will open the newspaper and say, have you seen this comic strip? What do you think of it?”
In general, children who read for pleasure out-perform those who don’t at school. Research shows that young readers do better not just in English but in their academic studies more generally, including numeracy.
Dr Alice Sullivan from the University of London who studied the effects of reading for pleasure on cognitive development over time told The Telegraph: “It may seem surprising that reading for pleasure would help to improve children’s maths scores. But it is likely that strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects.”
Some parents make the mistake of thinking that once their kid has learned to read, and those gawd-awful readers stop coming home each night, that their job is done and they no longer need to focus on reading. But continuing reading habits in the home well beyond the point children can read for themselves has benefits.
Dr Sullivan found that children who read books regularly at 10 years of age and more than once a week at 16 years of age performed better at school. Arguably even more important than academic performance, you want your kid to grow up to be a reader because readers have better mental health and healthier relationships.
I know what you’re thinking. When are you going to find time to model reading for the sheer pleasure of it? It’s just another thing to add to the long list of things “good mothers” are supposed to do.
But many parents already invest an enormous amount of time and money in out-of-school activities. We hand over thousands of dollars every year for special lessons for dance, music, art, martial arts, sport and tutoring, in the sincere belief that we’re giving our children the best start in life. We’re prepared to spend every evening and most of the weekend chauffeuring children from one activity to the next.
But one of the very best things we can do for our kids doesn’t require any money and minimal rushing around. Dropping an extra-curricular activity could open up the time to visit the library once a week instead. You can sit side-by-side for an hour and read.
That’s what the mother of British comedian and mega-successful children’s author David Walliams did. Walliams describes himself as a reluctant reader when he was a child.
“I much preferred watching TV,” he said recently to a packed stadium of young fans in Melbourne for the launch of his new book Bad Dads.
Despite his disinterest in books, his mother took him to the library every week. And then one week, when he was 12 years old, he picked up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He fell in love with the book, and subsequently fell in love with reading.
“I think that adults who say that they don’t like reading, it’s because they never got to find as a child that one book they loved and couldn’t put down,” said Walliams.
Walliams has sold over 12.5 million copies and his books have been translated into 46 languages. That comes on top of writing and performing in Little Britain. So as far as success goes, you could argue that those regular trips to the library was one of the best parenting decisions his mother ever made.
While not every child is going to grow up to be a mega-selling celebrity author and comic, providing our children with the opportunity to develop a love of reading is giving them the gift of imagination, entertainment, empathy, and improved academic performance. Taking a bit of me time with a book can be one of the best things you can do for you — and your kids.