It’s a familiar setting to many families across the land: early morning and Daddy (or Mummy!) is up and dressed for work as the kids surface for the day ahead. On some days Daddy may see them for a brief hello, hug and a kiss as they shuffle in for their breakfast; on other days it’s like ships passing in the night and Daddy’s out of the front door before they’re even downstairs. There follows a full day at work, the commute home and in through the front door after tea has been eaten and with the briefest of play time before bedtime. Whilst some Dads may see even less of their children during the week (if at all), I find the hour or two over bath time and bedtime my special time with the kids during the week and I will always try and make sure I am back home from work in time to see them, even if this means going in early so I miss them in the morning, or logging on in the evening after they’re in bed. I need to see them and they need to see me – and I get really grumpy if I miss them altogether!
This week has seen World Book Day and I wanted to reflect on what bedtime stories and reading books in general means to me and my kids. For the record, this week we had The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Winnie The Witch:
And last year, just because they look cute, was The Cat In The Hat and Alice in Wonderland:
As I’ve set out at the outset of this post, during the week when I’m at work, particularly when Karen is also in work, my time seeing the kids is at a premium. Having the last few weeks off on my shared parental leave has really hammered this point home. Bedtime and story time is therefore really important to me. It gives me chance to have a moment with them every night, most of the time one on one. I also think that getting kids reading is so important for their development, kick-starting their amazing imaginations and expanding their horizons. For this reason, finding good picture books when the kids are young is so important. The best ones are the ones that we, as parents, also enjoy, so the experience between child and parent is at its optimum. During this story time I can forget about any real life issues for that short period of time whilst we read a story, put on silly voices, laugh and joke, tease them, scare them (gently!) and draw out their emotions through the words and pictures on the page. The interaction between parent and child at story time should be treasured and is a real opportunity to build your relationships and share special moments together.
Whilst it’s easy at the end of a long day to skip story time, I’m very determined to make sure the girls both have a proper story each day (at worst doing a ‘spotting book’ – we do Unicorn spotting books, Where’s Wally and Princess spotting books). With three it can be tough to fit in stories for each of them and get them to bed at a decent hour, especially if we’re late from anything. One of us will deal with Toby – bedtime milk bottle and we’re trying to get him doing very short picture books at the moment, such as the ‘That’s Not My…’ series of books with touch/feel elements to them:
Once Toby is down, we’ll alternate the girls, Tilly first, then Tessa. Julia Donaldson is the queen of picture books: Tess could recite the full words from ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ and ‘Room on the Broom’ when she was three and it shows how amazing kids’ minds and memories are and how enthralled they can be with books. We do like to mix and match though and there are a lot of other good stories out there. There’s also a lot of dreadful ones too and it beggars belief some of the stories that have made it to print! I often like to give Tilly a choice and will lay out 4 or 5 on the floor for her to pick one (they tend to be 4 or 5 I like so I can enjoy it too, but she feels like she has made the decision!). Over time I’ll also pause at certain bits in a story so she can fill in the blanks from memory – lovely stuff! Her current favourite is The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb, which actually has quite a sad ending, but has a lovely message touching upon loss and memories. Tilly did go through a phase of wanting spotting books all the time and this was an easy option and we went through a phase of allowing her this pleasure a bit too much. I suppose it’s easy for a second child to have less focussed time, but now we want to make sure she has plenty of proper stories to get her teeth into. I’ve also set up a ‘book box’ downstairs (rather than all our kids books being confined to the bedroom) and whilst I’m off on my shared parental leave, on the days she is around in the daytime, I want to try and make sure we do a story in the day too. I want them to realise reading is fun and want them to enjoy it.
Then there is Tessa. Now she is in year 2 at school she has reading books that we need to read with her each night (Biff and Chip still going strong, though she’s moved on from these now). We have also started reading chapter books with her. This is another great thing as it gives you the opportunity to revisit books from your youth – particularly Roald Dahl and his shorter ones – such as The Twits (my favourite), George’s Marvellous Medicine and Fantastic Mr Fox. We’re getting ready to move on to the longer ones now too. She’ll then hit the Harry Potter scene and, whilst she will read a lot herself as she gets older, I want to read with her for as long as possible so she has memories of our story time together when she is older. It should be like this in every house is my view! When they start reading at school it’s amazing how quickly they develop and Tess if flying with hers now aged six and a half.
A couple of years ago I was enjoying story time with Tessa so much and we were going through a spell where we’d read some rubbish books, I wrote a few of my own picture book texts for her. The first was a story whose title Tessa and I came up with first whilst driving home from a swimming lesson – ‘Nacho Newt and his Parachute’. After that there was ‘Flamingo Joe’ (who always said ‘No’), ‘The Gnome That Left Home’, ‘When the Fisherman Caught an Astronaut’, and ‘Princess Petal and the Robot Made of Metal’. I’ve also written a couple for my godson (‘Super Will’) and his brother (Ted’s Magic Bed’). They’re all rhyming texts and I enjoy the process of writing them and then reading them with Tess. I’ve not done any for a while, and I’d like to get back into it – maybe whilst I am off on shared parental leave. Another one I wrote for her birthday when she turned five. Tess said she wanted a story about her birthday cake and with a baddy in it, so I wrote ‘Tessa’s Missing Birthday Cake’, and here it is:
Tessa’s Missing Birthday Cake
Deep down in the sewers lived a stinky rat,
A stinky rat who was very fat,
He wore a hat with a feather that flailed,
And his name, my friends, was Tommy Tails.
Now Tommy Tails was as sneaky as a snake,
And he ate and ate when he was awake,
His favourite food … make no mistake,
Was a piece of tasty, scrumptious cake.
Above the sewers where the air was fresher,
Lived a girl whose name was Tessa,
Now Tessa was the age of four,
But that wouldn’t be the case much more.
For the next day was her birthday when she would be five,
And a party was set where her friends would arrive,
They would give out presents which Tessa would take,
And put on the table next to her birthday cake.
Now this cake wasn’t like any you’ve seen before,
It was bigger and better and had tiers galore!
There were all kinds of colours, it sparkled and twinkled,
And it was covered in sweets, chocolate and sprinkles.
The very next day the party was here,
And everyone turned up in excellent cheer!
They all saw the cake and had the same reaction:
To say “it’s magnificent … it’s the star attraction’.
After playing some games and running around,
The room went quiet: “Shhhh, not a sound!’
The guests sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and got ready to shout:
“Hip hip hooray’ … when the lights went out.
When someone turned the lights back on,
The guests all gasped: the cake had gone!
Thankfully, Tessa knew just what to do,
And set about looking for some kind of clue.
She spotted some crumbs and followed the trail,
When out of the door she saw a rat’s tail!
Out everyone ran and there Tommy Tails sat,
Holding the cake, he laughed and doffed his hat.
“You won’t catch me, I’m on my scooter”
Laughed the rate, whilst beeping his hooter.
Off he scooted with the cake in a cart,
To lose it now would surely break Tessa’s heart.
The first to act was Uncle Mike,
Who jumped on to a children’s trike.
He pedalled fast and went over a bump,
But the wheels fell off and he crashed with a thump!
Then it was the turn of Uncle Nick,
Who tried to use an old magic trick,
“Hocus Pocus Alakazam”
He said, waving his arms like a mad man.
Nothing happened and Nick sat down.
When Grandad, who was dressed as a clown,
Planned to throw a hoop over Tommy Tail’s head,
But got tangled up and fell over instead!
Then Grandma Anne and Grandma Kate
Both said together “There’s no time to wait!”
They held out a washing line to stop Tommy Tails,
But he scooted away so their plan failed.
Tessa’s Daddy tried to bounce on a trampoline,
Planning to jump and grab the cake clean.
He shouted “Don’t worry I’ve seen this on the telly”
But he slipped and fell into a bowl full of jelly!
Whilst all this had been going on,
When everyone thought the cake was gone,
And Tommy Tails licked his lips from ear to ear;
Tessa and her Mummy had thought of an idea.
They found all of the balloons and put them together,
Then Mummy tied them to Tessa so she was light as a feather.
Up she floated, up into the sky,
Out of sight from the rat’s beady eye.
Tessa flew on until she was above the cake,
Just as Tommy Tails scooted next to the lake,
Tommy was laughing and said “this cake’s a work of art”
When Tessa managed to detach the cart.
The cart and the cake stopped right on the spot,
And Tessa released the balloons as she’d completed her plot.
Tommy Tails looked up at the balloons and away from the path,
And drove straight into the lake making a big splash!
Tommy Tails was soaking wet and feeling silly,
And all the guests laughed, especially Tilly.
They took the cake back inside and put it on its stand,
And everyone cheered and gave a big hand.
This time Tessa blew out the candles in one go,
With one almighty, gigantic blow.
They shared out the cake and it tasted delicious,
As Tommy Tails swam passed some surprised fishes!
The rat sloped back to the sewers as his tummy rumbled,
Thanks to Tessa he’d been truly humbled.
Tessa and her Mummy had saved the day,
And sent the stinky rat back on his way.
So that is how a girl aged five,
Helped to ensure her cake survived.
The party ended with a bit more play,
A lovely end to a memorable birthday!
(Copyright, Jonny Scholes)
In conclusion , I suppose this is a note to myself (and anyone else who wants to follow suit) – keep on reading with the kids for as long as you can. It’s great. Never lose of sight of it, however busy you are, and enjoy those special Daddy-Daughter / Daddy-Son times that follow from it. Encourage them to read themselves and to love books. Encourage them to let their imagination run wild and free – role play with them, give them props to fuel that imagination (today I gave Tessa an old bum bag for a ‘spy belt’ as she’s now entering full on spy mode after a friend was a spy for World Book Day) – let them be who they want to be.
In time I hope they will remember the story times as fondly as I do and that they have wonderful memories of them when they are older, which in turn encourages them to do likewise with their own children (If I’m lucky enough to be one, I intend to be a crazy Grandpa, naughty and mischievous). For now, I’ll keep on reading with them for as long as I can!
Thanks for reading and see you all soon!
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