bedtime stories · picture books · RESEARCH · Three Books Before Bedtime · Waldorf Education

How many books should we read to children at bedtime?

I’m reading a fantastic book about children’s development my daughter’s Waldorf teacher lent us. It’s Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing our children from birth to seven by Barbara J. Patterson and Pamela Bradley (Michaelmas, 2000). This book is helping me reimagine how we live and work as a family.

This morning I read the chapter on play and there is something the authors included that I can’t out of my head. The literacy specialist in me was completely taken aback by the following passage:

“There is a lot I could say about books. But basically, children love to be read to and love to hear stories told to them. It is good to have some books with pictures and some without. Children like the opportunity to picture their own scenes, to do their own internal imagining. At night, don’t read too many books in a row before bedtime because there will be too many images in their heads. It can give children a kind of mental indigestion that they take into their sleep. It is very rewarding to alternate story reading with storytelling, either from your own adventures as a child or from a tale you have taken the time to memorize (69).”

It never occurred to me to that multiple books before bedtime would fill a child’s head with too many images. I try to read Isabelle three books before bedtime. Sometimes she’s not in the mood and we only get through one. Other times she keeps handing me board books and picture books out of her book baskets to the point where I have to say, “just one more,” before putting her down for the night. I can’t imagine limiting the picture book reading we do now or in the future unless I do some additional research to support the author’s assertion.

That being said, I know that watching television and using a computer before bedtime (as an adult) can interfere with sleep. There was a recent article in The NY Times about this. Even though I’ve never thought of books with pictures before bedtime as a way of causing “mental indigestion” in children, there is something important to glean from what is said in the book. If my child were having sleep issues (which I’m thankful she doesn’t have and hope she never will), then I would consider limiting. However, if one’s child is sleeping well, why limit books before bedtime?

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4 thoughts on “How many books should we read to children at bedtime?

  1. Wow, that quote makes me stop and think….and wonder. Certainly, there is some research-based and observational research that suggests reading without conversation has limits; however, that does not mean you don’t read and fill their heads with ideas, characters and images! There is also research-based and observational research that suggests “really knowing” books through rereading familiar books (repeated readings) has value for all of us….but that does not mean you limit your reading!
    I’m convinced very few things in parenting that are ABSOLUTES; however, one thing that is for certain is that reading with your child is the best gift you can give them.

  2. I suspect that we should just take cues from what is going on with the child or children. Just as you wrote, Stacey, some nights there’s one book, sometimes there’s three. Lots of things change circumstances so if Isabelle is doing fine with what you’ve decided, let her go on being fine.

  3. I agree with Linda. I think as a parent I gauge it more off of what the girls want. They are at the age now where there is often a combination of reading together and each reading our separate books in the same room. One aspect that I did love from the excerpt was that they highlighted the advantages of oral storytelling. That was something that I did not do nearly enough of (and probably still don’t) but my mom instilled a love of it in my girls and by observing them she reminded me implicitly of the importance.

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