Neil Griffiths is passionate about the importance and power of sharing stories both at home and in school – and particularly in the early stages of literacy development. Some of you may even think of him as ‘Mr Story Sacks’ – because it was Neil who invented this creative approach to storytelling and he has been spreading the word about how to bring stories alive ever since.
Storytelling and reading aloud in this country are no longer the feature of daily life that they once were. A glance back into our recent history shows that storytime was viewed as a treasured part of family life perhaps only two generations into our past. Stories were regularly passed on from family member to children helping to create original family memories.
However, statistics now show that fewer and fewer children are being read to, with “not me” and “being too tired” cited as reasons. Then of course, there is the ‘lure’ of technology from iPads, to laptops and from Wiis to television screens. Teachers are making ever more use of smart-boards in the classroom adding to the ever increasing amount of time children ‘stare’ into screens.
There is worrying new evidence that over-exposure to IT at a young age can seriously effect social skills, damage important language development and change the way that young brains grow. What is clear is that technology is attractive and is distracting our children from the joy of reading a book.
Added to this are the loss of endless children’s specialists in public libraries and the demise of many wonderful independent bookshops where passionate, knowledgeable individuals helped advise on the best book choices.
Schools too confess that due to the pressures of time and curriculum overload they are reading less and less to children. This is despite the new National Curriculum stating that “Pupils should have extensive experience of listening to, sharing and discussing a wide range of high-quality books with the teacher and other adults”.
As far back as 1975, Bullock told us that “The best way to prepare a child for reading was to hold him on your lap and read aloud to him stories he likes over and over again”.
Mem Fox, a distinguished authority of storytelling, has stated “If parents and every adult caring for children read a minimum of 3 stories a day we could probably wipe out illiteracy in one generation”.
Even when children are read to, it is often done out of a sense of duty by parents and school staff. Many adults, including teachers, admit they themselves were not read to as children, have not been formally trained in the skill and lack the confidence to perform a great story.
The picture that is now beginning to emerge from these many concerns is that all is not well with the development of a sustained love of reading amongst our younger generation. So, how are we to address this dilemma?
Firstly, our children must be part of a community that views reading as a significant and enjoyable activity. Every adult has a responsibility to advertise their own love of reading and model the pleasure it can give by being seen reading and talking about what they are reading.
Secondly, we provide young children with the widest range of appropriate reading material we can. Perhaps we should re-define ‘reading’, remembering that magazines, comics, catalogues, menus, and factual books are equally as important as fiction material. Reading is reading!
We should discover their likes and interests and ‘feed’ their passions. Also of huge importance is to give them the freedom of choice where possible. Allowing children to sometimes choose ‘easier’ reads builds their confidence and if they choose a ‘hard’ book read it with them or for them.
Most adults respond positively to requests for the same book “again and again” as all-time favourite books are a significant part of a developing personal ‘reading history’. If this wide range of material is to be made available, parents should join the local public library, visit bookshops when finances allow and invest in a weekly comic or magazine for their children.
In what are difficult times, schools should give top priority to the purchase of wide ranging reading materials. The cost of one computer could be spent on dozens of books, often having a much greater impact. School libraries should be at the heart of every setting and a ‘magical’ place to visit. Far too many are dull and lacking in relevant and up-to-date books. Worse still, some schools are getting rid of their libraries for an additional IT suite. A decision that leaves me speechless!
Finally we should expose our children to warm and cosy, wild, exciting and sometimes scary times when stories are read and told aloud.
So why are storytimes so important?
There is a ‘storyteller’ in all of us even the shy and inhibited. But if we care about children we must ‘dig deep’ and find that inner strength to give our children magical storytimes to remember.
My top tips for reading at home are:
as you read the story make sure your child has time to look at the pictures if there are any
As for schools, the same tips apply. However, they may be lucky enough to have storysacks too. When I first created them I hoped they would give teachers and parents added confidence to bring the story to life and offer a three dimensional aspect to a storytime experience. All over the world storysacks are now an integral part of motivating young readers both at home and school, creating storytime memories they will never forget.
So, let’s reverse the trend, limit time spent staring at screens and resurrect the most important activity of the day beginning with the words “let’s have a story to remember!”
This guest post was provided by Neil Griffiths. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.