Thursday, September 4th, 2008
What is the Purpose of a Bedtime Routine?
A recent survey of 1,500 parents in the UK revealed that parents in the South East read only 1 story at bedtime and 1 in 10 parents put their kids to bed watching a DVD or listening to an audio book. Meanwhile, in the North West, parents read an average of 4 stories.
The numbers aren’t what interest me here. The survey was conducted by Talking Tots, a preschool activity group specializing in building social skills and communication. The respondents were in-house customers and folks participating by e-mail. No margin of error was reported. In other words, it looks unscientific.
But wow, some parents do put their kids to bed watching DVDs.
It begs the question, what is the purpose of a bedtime routine?
Let me shoot some ideas out:
- To wind down the day, softening a child’s activity level to prepare for sleep.
- To trigger a sleep response by performing the bedtime routine.
- To instill an interest in books.
- To nurture the social bond between parent and child.
I think it’s all of those things, and the routine should begin in infancy. My 5-month-old son visually tracks page turns and examines storybook images. The shift in focus that a book initiates can take him from a cranky tired mood to a quiet, contemplative one.
An excellent book on the subject is Baby Read-Aloud Basics.
Our routine for our 4-year-old daughter includes two books, one read by each parent. It’s been that way since at least her first birthday. Today, variations include reading only one story if it’s a longer picture book, or two chapters of an older kid "chapter book" such as Charlotte’s Web. In rare instances, we will play a board game.
Our routine includes books for two other reasons:
1) It guarantees a minimal level of exposure to books every day. Hopefully we do more than that during daylight hours.
2) It expands vocabulary and understanding of the world in an exceptionally diverse way that transcends economic levels, parental education levels, transportation limitations, geographic isolation and so forth.
My daughter has never been to Kansas, but she sure knows about fireflies. And by God, as an avid pre-baby caver, I made sure she has several books about bats (cute mice with wings).
Books are wonderful conversation starters. Don’t just read the text. Ask questions and be sure she understands what you’re saying.
It’s a monumental source of pride for me when visitors to our home see our Wall of Awesome. In the four months since writing about our bookshelves, we’ve had to move 5 shelves of board games back into a closet to make way for more children’s books and parenting books (craft projects, activities, home science experiments, etc.).
But you don’t need to be a garage sale book hoarder. Establish a Coffee Table of Awesome in your home. No coffee. Cover the table with library books you check out every week on the same day, as per your new Library Raid and Pillage routine.
Okay, I’ve rambled off-topic again.
DVDs at bedtime… They are bad news for babies, but I’m not opposed to them for older toddlers as occasional daytime entertainment, particularly when a parent participates in the viewing. Heck, this weekend I’ll be selecting a winner for a 100 story DVD collection.
But is the parent-child bonding at bedtime as "good" with DVDs as it is with books? Is that question a product of how I was raised? Will videos be something your grown child looks back upon decades later and remembers about you?
I remember my mother reading me stories. I doubt I’d have fond memories of her clicking ‘play’ on a DVD or CD player.
Yes? No? What’s your bedtime routine and why? After the bathing and teeth brushing and pajamas, how many books, or DVDs do you bring out? Or do you sing songs or do something else? Why do you do it?
Update: Survey information from Talking Tots:
"What we felt about the findings was that it simply indicated that some busy parents are investing less time in regular bedtime stories, or simply not reading at all with their children. As child development experts, Talking Tots passionately believes in the importance of reading with children, and also believes there are additional social and emotional benefits to be gained from bedtime stories."
Respondents were approached in two ways to participate in the Bedtime Tots survey: we circulated a survey to parents attending Talking Tots classes nationwide, which were conducted in classes and collected by post. We also used Mumsnet and the UK Business forums to invite other parents to take part.
In total, 1,500 parents responded to the survey with a breakdown as follows:
- North West: 430
- North East: 278
- South East: 454
- Midlands: 254
- Scotland: 65
- Ireland: 14
- Wales: 15
In terms of the children’s ages, the breakdown is as follows:
- Between 1 and 2: 468
- Between 2 and 3: 591
- Between 3 and 4: 430
When we asked how many books children read each night, the breakdown of responses nationally was as follows:
- 0 books 154
- 1 book 405
- 2 book 255
- 3 books 426
- 4 books 95
- 5 books 23
- More: 42
Regionally, the average number of books read per night was:
- North West: 3
- North East: 3
- South East: 1
- Midlands: 2
- Scotland: Sample too small
- Ireland: Sample too small
- Wales: Sample too small
When we asked who read the bedtime story, the breakdown of responses nationally was as follows:
- Mum 670
- Dad 101
- Shared 511
- Someone else: 65