Friday, April 11, 2008

The Purpose of Reading?

Perhaps one purpose of reading is to think about what you read.

Dads 'don't read bedtime stories' according to a headline on the BBC News website, citing some research which suggested that "less than half of fathers regularly read bedtime stories to their children" [BBC News 10 April 2008].

Just humour me while I unpack how I read this story.

Firstly I felt guilty. I used to read to my children when they were younger, but nowadays they mostly read to themselves. So am I one of the "more than half" that don't "regularly" read bedtime stories? That's terrible.

Then I worked out the punctuation. The inverted commas indicate that the BBC is quoting from "research". (This could mean anything from casual survey to serious academic study.) Phew, at least it's not the BBC that's criticizing me, merely a bunch of "researchers".

Then I worked out the implied context. Thinking about it, I started to doubt whether many fathers read regularly to their grown-up children. So when it says "fathers" it presumably means "fathers of young children". Without this qualification, the statement seems pretty implausible. Maybe it's not me that they're talking about after all?

Finally I read the footnotes. There weren't any footnotes on the BBC website, so I went to the National Year of Reading website. Eventually I found a press release (9 April 2008) with a footnote to a YouGov survey.
"Note to editors. The National Year of Reading research was conducted by YouGov, who surveyed 2,207 parents of children aged 0-16 in March 2008. Parents of children aged older than ten were asked to respond about when they were younger."
The unnamed hack who copied this press release onto the BBC website either failed to read this footnote, or failed to appreciate its importance. So much for reading then. I wonder what (if anything) his or her parents used to read at bedtime.


Drum said...

You made a good point about the reports failing to point out that the research was about reading to young children. All that guilt for nothing!

The sad fact is though that so many dads don't read to their young kids at all. The YouGov research suggested that the vast majority of the 58% pleaded time pressure as the reason for not reading at bedtime. I think lack of confidence is a reason for many. Which is why I've just published a booklet for parents which focusses on how to read aloud with more expression and confidence - How to ENJOY READING ALOUD to Young Children.

Using extracts from well-loved children's stories, a Voice Coach takes the reader through easy-to-follow techniques. Many libraries are running workshops and giving out the booklets to those who attend. There's more information at if you are interested. Not that you'll need it, of course!

Richard Veryard said...

But why exactly is this a sad fact? Is it sad for the fathers, sad for the children, sad for the family as a whole, or sad for the books that aren't being read?

Maybe some books (the ones fathers like me don't enjoy reading) don't deserve to get read.

See my next post The Purpose of Reading 2