At the chalkface: Read to your child!

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

I don’t care what class you belong to, you can always tell a baby a bedtime story. Children never forget them. Not to do so is a crime. To shut the door on a baby without a tale is unforgivable.

The Obamas’ recent reading of Where The Wild Things Are to little children was charming and fun (http://bit.ly/1YuWvxM).
Grr! Grr! Roar! Roar! Can’t we have him for three terms?

Few things are more important than telling stories to children. It’s good for the nation. The illiteracy rate in the US is about 29 per cent and it’s not much better here – too many children are functionally illiterate.

Let’s take two, Sally and Susan. As babies they were clean slates and curious about everything.

By the time they go to Reception class, there’s a colossal difference in ability. Sally can do it. Susan cannot. And if she can’t do it by three, she’s never going to do it. Some optimists give her until seven. Whatever, if she can’t read by the time she goes to big school, she’s finished. It’s over. For life.

And the reason? Simple. Stories. Sally was told stories when she was a little girl. Susan wasn’t.

Reading and cognitive skills are the direct result of how frequently children have been read to before starting school, whatever the home background. All research shows this. All. It’s a crying shame.

I don’t care what class you belong to, you can always tell a baby a bedtime story. It could be the most fun you’ll ever have.
It’s certainly the most important thing you’ll do. Children never forget them. Not to do so is a crime. To shut the door on a baby without a tale is unforgivable. To leave its imagination unnourished, its fancy unignited, its curiosity unsated, its humour unsparked, its empathy unstimulated, and its language stunted is child abuse – and it’s clearly not uncommon.

A world of myth and fable, and monsters and shape shifters and villains is lost. Forever. You can’t get it back. It’s gone.
Nor is Susan taken to the library – while there are still some. They’re free and there’s often a storyteller. Why are there so few working class children in these paces? Do they intimidate?

Maybe I’m being classist here, but what is their parents’ excuse? None.

So Susan is again shut off from the world of imagination and metaphor. That’s a pretty big world. She’s locked in to a depleted, literal world, where bigotry and dogma thrive. The reading age of The Sun is nine.

It makes me want to eat my head. It makes me want to unleash the best children’s story ever, David McKee’s Not Now Bernard. A tale of parental neglect.

Poor Bernard is eaten by the monster. And then the monster devours the parents for not reading to him. Good.
Grr! Grr! Roar! Roar! Gulp! Gulp!

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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