A recent article in The Guardian titled "Modern Life means children miss out on the pleasures of reading a good book" provided the rather bad news that reading for pleasure is declining among primary-age pupils. One of the key reasons cited was "time-poor" parents were no longer reading to their children at bedtime. This really saddened me. I can't imagine a person so time-poor that they can't spend 15 or so minutes reading to their children before bed. It's not only a chance to demonstrate, in a very literal sense, how utterly pleasurable a story can be - setting up children for a lifetime of reading enjoyment, it's a few moments of closeness that might otherwise be hard to find in our busy lives.
This becomes increasingly important as children get older and time-poor themselves.
Though my two boys now feel they're too old to be read to before bed, we read together until they were each about 12 years old (the decision to stop was theirs, and it happened pretty naturally). By then I was reading them books like Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (I read the entire series with my middle boy) and Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, which really challenged my ability (or lack thereof) with the Scottish accent. No matter how tongue-tied I got, we always ended up laughing.
Last night I finished Black Beauty with my 10 year old daughter - my youngest child, and I'm hoping that I can continue reading to her for at least another few years. I have to admit that my reasons for this are partly selfish. As we choose the books we'll read together, I can choose titles I've always wanted to read but never got around to. I can also relax into the reading process, put on accents, get dramatic and end on a flourish ("tomorrow night we'll hear all about The Devil's Trade Mark."). Sometimes I give my daughter a little massage after her reading. Sometimes we'll talk for a bit about what happened in the story or about other things. It's the best part of my day and something I look forward to greatly.
My mother always read to me too, for a long time after I was past my preschool years, and I still can conjure up that sense of safety, comfort and joy of hearing a story - even one that I already knew well, like Where the Wild Things Are or On Beyond Zebra. Sendak and Seuss were mainstays of my childhood, and I didn't need Mem Fox to encourage me to read these, and other books, to my children - it just seemed normal to pick up a book and read to them (though I agree with every word of Fox's Reading Magic).
If you aren't reading to your children (and other people's children too), you're not only eliminating a potentially powerful tool for helping children understand the relationship between letters, sounds, words, and the magic of stories, but you're also missing out on one of life's biggest pleasures. Of course, I know that whatever demographic The Guardian surveyed, it didn't include you!