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Seven things I learned reading a bedtime story every night of 2018

07 Jan 2019

Dad reading with son.jpg

Haworth dad Kieron and his son T shared a bedtime story every night in 2018. Here’s what they learnt:

“A year ago today, T and I started off on an adventure inspired by a New Year’s Resolution to read a bedtime story every night for one year. Yesterday was Day 365 and the completion of our challenge and it’s fair to say that we have both learned a lot over the course of 365 days, 367 different books and 220, 200 words! Here are seven things that I have learned after reading a bedtime story every day for a year…

1) Reading every day is doable!

Reading has always been an important part of our household but before 2018 it used to be the case that other things got in the way of a bedtime story. Maybe a long day at work? Or a set of books to mark sat waiting patiently in a bag in the hallway? Or maybe someone in the house was a little cranky or out of sorts? Either way, more often than not, bedtime did not include a story.

This year though, a deliberate effort has been made — involving everyone in our household — to ensure that a story happens as part of T’s bedtime routine. We have made a conscious effort to establish a clear routine — upstairs at 7pm, toilet and teeth, PJ’s, pick a book, story, chat, lights out, cuddle and a kiss, sleep — that we have stuck to as much as possible. There have been occasions when the routine hasn’t been workable or when I have been away but we have always found a workaround. Gone are the busy/tired/TV/time/work excuses and in their place has been half an hour of awesome every night! We have even fit story time in around weddings, birthdays and the birth of T’s baby brother — it’s doable!

2) Sometimes it’s okay to be too busy.

Despite my best efforts, there have been a few occasions where I simply couldn’t read a bedtime story with T. There was a school residential, visit to Wales to hang out with my best man and the staff Christmas ‘Do’ when I simply wasn’t there. Fortunately, I have a back-up reader to hop off the subs bench on each of these occasions but that luxury might not always exist for everyone.

Obviously, sometimes life does get in the way of a bedtime story but, this year, I found that more often than not the choice was mine and that the time/opportunity was there if I wanted it to be. This is why I find some of the stats on reading at bedtime difficult to understand.

  • A survey by Settle Stories found that 69% of people didn’t have the time to read at bedtime and only 4% of parents read a bedtime story every night.
  • A survey by Furniture123 found that only 1 in 10 children heard a bedtime story every night. 74% of parents admitted to not reading regularly and 6% said they had NEVER read a bedtime story with their child!

Surely, parents can make more of an effort to find the 10 minutes needed to fit in a bedtime story? Missing the bedtime story should be the exception and not the rule. And up next is why…

3) A daily Bedtime Story has had a HUGE impact on T!

367 books (often read twice). 220,000 words. 11,744 gorgeous, varied illustrations. 10,950 minutes reading and discussing books. It has all added up to having a huge impact on T. Here are 5 areas where T has made masses of progress in 2018;

a) Imagination — T has always enjoyed playing independently, but this year his ability to do so without any physical stimulus has improved massively. Just today, we were heading down the cobbles in our home village and T had a biscuit. He was pretending I was the Highway Rat and he was Duck — I wanted his biscuit! And on a recent visit to the beautiful bookshop at Salts Mill in Saltaire (if you haven’t been, go!) he rearranged chairs into an order and was testing them out in the style of Goldilocks!

b) Vocabulary — lots of picture books pull no punches when it comes to vocabulary, often introducing T to words. In fact, these are often our favourite books and we certainly prefer those instead of those that dumb down in the false belief that their audience can’t cope with big words. We both love chatting about, sounding out and using new words and lots of these have found their way into T’s everyday vocabulary.

c) Questioning — Any good book should leave the reader with questions they want answering and picture books are no different. T always has questions when we read and he does a great job of taking on board lots of what we discuss. He is now always asking ‘what’ and ‘why’ when we are reading and doing new things.

d) Confidence — reading widely and diversly on a huge range of topics has had a massive impact on T in terms of confidence and self-belief. He knows stories, knows things and is eager to read/learn and this has supported him in making a great start at Big Boy School (nursery).

e) Love of Reading — T already loved books. His mum is a massive book nerd and he has been reading/exposed to books from birth. As a consequence, he has always enjoyed reading but this year that passion for books has moved on to a new level. T is always eager to read, enjoys sharing books with his little brother, will often grab a book and read to himself and loves visiting our local library (more on that later).

4) Picture Books are BRILLIANT!

When we started off on this journey, despite already having a fairly extensive library of picture books, I had no idea how diverse and brilliant picture books are! As well as the supermarket standard rhyming books from the biggest names, there are a whole host of books to be discovered on an incredibly wide range of topics.

This year we have read picture books that deal sensitively and in detail with refugees, have read books that tackle bereavement, encountered stories that explore the separation of parents and loss of friends, enjoyed books that discuss the impact of loneliness, read stories about our impact on the environment, shared tales that explore a variety of emotions, read about the introduction of new siblings and loads more besides! And we have laughed lots and lots and the imaginative, incredible stories that have been created by some supremely talented authors and illustrators.

If you have a lesson you want your child to learn, an event or emotion you want your child to understand, a moral you wish to discuss, something you want to show/teach your child or you just want something fun to read, you will find a picture book that will do the job brilliantly.

5) Libraries matter — lots!

Early on in our 2018 adventure, we signed T up as a member at our local library. Since signing up, we have borrowed at least 100 brilliant books and done a lot more besides. We have enjoyed an Enid Blyton exhibition, participated in story time and made crafts. And the fun doesn’t stop there!

When we signed up, we received a ‘passport’ which is stamped every time T visits. As well as the fun of a stamp (T stamps the hand of everyone on sight), this has so far led to certificates, a free DVD rental and a free swim at our local leisure centre! We also enjoyed participating in a summer reading challenge that led to a certificate, wristband and medal which T was immensely happy to receive!

And on each visit we see the impact that our library has for other members of the community. It might be an elderly person enjoying company and conversation, a student finding a quiet place to work/study, a family enjoying story time or arts and crafts, a group working on developing their own writing or local businesses selling their wares at a Christmas Fayre. Whatever it is, our library does a lot more than lend out a few books!

6) Authors and Illustrators are incredibly friendly and generous with their time!

We first encountered how authors/illustrators can be incredibly friendly with their time, generous and willing to engage very early on in our reading adventure. Our first sight of this was after we had read Mighty Small (Day 4)! Timothy Knapman took the time to respond to our review on Twitter and even added a quote from our review of the book to his website! The excitement, from both T and I, at this was an early spur to keep going and gave me the belief that what we were saying had some value/weight.

Since then, we have seen time and again a kindness and generosity from the people who have provided us with our reading. Authors and illustrators regularly respond to our reviews, commenting on T reading or our opinions on their work. We were lucky enough to meet and get signed copies of books from a number of authors at the Bradford Literature Festival, all of whom were happy to talk about their books and answer T’s shy questions. We have received quite a few free books through competitions or from authors eager to share their work with us and, perhaps most excitingly, the blog led to me co-founding #ukpbchat with @emilyanndavison.

#ukpbchat is a monthly Twitter chat about picture books. In the few short months it has been going, we have been fortunate enough to have a number of authors and illustrators discuss their work/reading in general with the Twitter community. My 2018 highlights included an exciting chat with Tom Percival and an extended, very busy chat with one of our favourite picture book teams — Rachel Bright and Jim Field. If you haven’t already, make sure you join in with #ukpbchat — 8pm on the first Thursday of every month!

7) A bedtime story has made bedtime MUCH easier for all involved!

Time for some honesty here! Bedtime with T used to be an absolute nightmare! From birth, he wasn’t a great sleeper and by the time he had his own room, bedtime had become a major stress. It was difficult to get him to sleep with any regularity, I was a total stresshead about it and evenings often included shouting and tears. The whole episode of bed would take hours and inevitably lead to T co-sleeping with us or one of me or mummy asleep in his room — either on the floor or hanging from the edge of his bed!

All of that has now gone! Our bedtime routine is well established and, bar the odd occasion where he might have had a sleep during the day (long car journeys/early in a school term) T will be asleep within 10 minutes of the end of our story. As a parent for just over 4 years, I have found nothing that works so successfully at getting your child to sleep!

As 2018 was drawing to a close, I was contemplating what to do with this blog. Giving it up crossed my mind but, whilst I am still not 100% about future direction, I definitely won’t be doing this. I guess this post is a good explanation for why, but for me it was a quote from the awesome author Frank Cottrell-Boyce that hit the nail on the head;

Bedtime stories give reading an emotional depth. This is something people have done since the days of sitting around campfires napping flints. Why would you ever stop?


Kieron is a father, a teacher and co-founder of #ukpbchat, the most social celebration of picture books. You can find him on Twitter @fatherreading or on

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