Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Listen with mother.

I'm eleven years old. We don't have a telly at home because we've just come back from living in Canada and my parents thought it would be a good idea to try and do without one for a while. I'm not missing it either, but I am rushing home from school to be entertained by something. I'm loving the story and I want to hear more...

So who is telling the story, you wonder? Without a telly it can't be an episode of Jackanory I am rushing back for - although there was plenty of that before and after the period I am writing about now, and then I went on to work on the programme. Perhaps it's the radio then, a bit of Listen With Mother, or Poetry Please? 

Nope. I may be into double figures now but I am rushing back to listen to my mother read aloud to me. I can't wait to be curled up on the sofa with mum in the middle and my younger brother on the other side, listening to her read the next installment of A Likely Lad by Gillian Avery, or The Hobbit by J R Tolkien, or, when we were a bit younger, The Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray Williams.

These are precious childhood memories. My mother loved to read aloud to us as much as we loved to listen. She was great at 'the voices', as she called them. In fact she still is. And I have always suspected, but never known for certain, that one of the reasons I have grown up to be someone who loves to read and, more particularly, to write, is that I was read aloud to from a very young age and for a very long time. And incidentally my younger brother writes too. 

It occurs to me that when it comes to mothering we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I'm no good at teaching mine their maths times tables, for example, since I barely know them myself. I've never been very good at sitting down and doing a jigsaw with them either, I find it boring, and I don't much like playing board games. I wasn't fond of playgrounds back in the day (although I went to plenty) and I hated going to the local swimming pool standing waist deep in lukewarm water while they splashed around me (swimming pools on holiday are another matter entirely), but there is one area in which I can honestly say that I am good, and it's probably because of those early experiences dashing home from school to be read to by my mum, and that is reading aloud to them. 

Owl Babies, The Jolly Postman, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Where the Wild Things Are, Danny Champion of the World (read in the Isle of Wight one summer, I remember) Stig of the Dump, Charlotte's Web, The Wind in The Willows, The Hobbit, the list goes on and on and I read them all, some more than once, and I'm still reading to our youngest most evenings now (and so is Husband, at the moment it's Tin Tin).

So I was delighted to read in The Times last week that being read to as a child has a greater influence on academic success than whether parents had a degree. It was found that those children whose parents read every night to them when they were five, and who went on to have a passion for reading, did better at tests at 16 - even in maths - than their peers who has similar academic ability when younger. 

The study, led by Alice Sullivan at London's Institute for Education, which analysed the performance of 6,000 children born in 1970 in maths spelling and vocab tests, concluded that, "the positive link between leisure reading and cognitive outcomes is not purely due to more able children being more likely to read a lot, but that reading is actually linked to increased cognitive process over time." 

It's lovely to know that despite all the things I know I don't get right, and the guilt I sometimes feel about not sitting down to do their homework with them, as so many of the other mums I know do, I have been able to do one thing to help my three on their way, a thing that gave me - and I hope them - enormous pleasure. 

It may be the end of an exhausting day, it may be the last thing I feel like doing - and believe me I've been there - but once you get into it, with your child snuggled into your arm, mustering your best Gruffalo/Hobbit/Mr Wonka/Badger voice, reading that favourite story, perhaps even one that you remember your own mother reading to you, is a moment to treasure and a joy to pass on.

And they might do well at school as a result. Win win.

Love E x



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