have you heard of ‘The Seven-Year Ditch?’ No, it’s not the latest statistics on marriage but it refers to the age of our children when we are most likely to stop reading to them. To no longer find the time to read to your child at this age is not only a disservice to them but to yourself as well as you are missing out on the chance to revisit so many fantastic tales from childhood.
Oxford University Press published a ‘Books Beyond Bedtime’ report and coined the term ‘The Seven-Year Ditch’. Their UK-wide research, involving nearly 1000 parents and school children aged 6 to 11, found that 44% of seven year olds are rarely or never read to at home. It was saddening to then discover whilst researching this article that nearly half of ‘reluctant readers’ of this age said that they would enjoy reading more if their parents read with them.
A survey run by one of our British Schools Foundation sister-schools asked parents ‘How often do you read to your child?’. Our statistics are not far off the UK national average that the ‘Books Beyond Bedtime’ report shows. 61% of respondents said they read to their children regularly, more than four times a week. 31% said that they read to their children occasionally, once or twice a week, and a commendably honest 8% admitted that it was not very often that they read to their children. Some parents responded something along the lines of ‘My children are now older and they don’t need me to read to them anymore.’
Although children may not need you to read to them in the sense that they can read the words for themselves, they will benefit from you reading to them for other reasons. Reading with your child, whatever their age, is a chance to be close to them, share some sofa space and find common ground in the world of fiction (or non-fiction) and imagination.
When we read to our children we teach them tone and intonation; we pause at commas and full stops; we add personal details and memories such as ‘oh, Hedwig is a white snowy owl, not a barn owl like the one we saw on holiday’. Our children will take this knowledge and confidence in reading aloud back into their classroom and additionally perhaps when they next read on their own, they will hear your voice reading it and it will give them even more pleasure from reading.
Cressida Cowell, author of the wonderful ‘How to Train your Dragon’ series stresses this point. ‘Reading a book with a child, even an older child, is the most important thing you can do for improving literacy and communication skills because books read to a child in their parent’s voice will live with them forever. Sharing a book with your child, whatever their age, communicates how important books are.’
10 minutes of reading with your child each day is certainly one of the best ways that you can support your child’s education.
James Clements, a former leader from an outstanding inner city primary school in the United Kingdom who was involved in the ‘Books Beyond Bedtime’ report provides food for thought when he points out that parents nowadays spend a lot of money on academic coaches and tutoring out of school hours. ‘Yet, he says, ‘it’s a real shame that parents don’t realise that just ten minutes of reading with their child each day is one of the best ways they can support their education. Reading together six days each week means an extra hour of support for a child. It’s definitely cheaper than one hour with a tutor and it could make a much bigger difference.’
Often the reason for not reading to our children is that we are too stressed or tired after work. This may be an honest reason but itâs not an excuse. We live in an age where ‘9 to 5’ jobs rarely exist. Reading can be a fantastic stress reliever.
Even on days when your time is really limited, sparing 10 minutes to read to your child goes a long way in developing their passion for reading and building this special bond between your family and the amazing world of literature.