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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bedtime stories · OBSERVATIONS · picture books · Three Books Before Bedtime

Three Books Before Bedtime: The I’d-Rather-Walk-Than-Read Edition

Isabelle flipping through Tell Me the Day Backwards.

Yesterday afternoon, after Isabelle’s too-short nap, she was leafing through On the Night You Were Born.  We talked about the moon and she touched the moon on every page of the book.  As we transitioned from reading to getting ready to go swimming, I made a mental note to have that book available before bedtime.

You can never be sure what a toddler will want to read, so I laid out three books as options for our pre-milk/pre-lights-out routine.  On the floor was On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman, Sweet Dreams Lullaby by Betsy Snyder, and Tell Me the Day Backwards by Albert Lamb, all of which have become anytime of day favorites in our house.  (Though Sweet Dreams Lullaby has been read the most because Isabelle seems to like the rhythm of the words and the illustrations.)

“Which one would you like me to read?” I asked Isabelle who was standing beside me with her arm on my shoulder, her brown hair still wet from her bath.

She said nothing as she eased herself down to the carpet.

“Which one should we read first?” I asked, confident that she’d let me read all three.

She plopped herself down in front of me and grabbed for Tell Me the Day Backwards.  She opened the front cover of it and began leafing through the book.  I just watched, with pride, at the way she turned the pages of the book from left to right.  Just as I was about to give my self that proverbial pat on the back, she closed the back cover of the book, stood up, and walked towards the door.

“Where are you going?” I asked her as she pushed the door handle down.  “We’re reading!”

“Da-da-da-da-da-da-da,” she uttered as she toddled off in search of my husband.

“Come back here, Isabelle,” I called as I stood up to go after her.

I found her halfway down the hall when I scooped her up and said, “We’re reading books.  Come back!”

I sat her down in my lap and asked, “Which one would you like me to read to you?”

She shimmied off of my lap and grabbed for Tell Me the Day Backwards again.

“Hand it to me,” I said.

She didn’t.  Instead she opened the front cover, flipped through the pages of the book (from left to right, thank you very much), closed the back cover, stood up and went to the door again.

Oh, the joys of having a child who walks!  (This is a recent occurrence, so I’m navigating through what it means to have a truly mobile child.)

I went after her again.  I told her: “we’re reading books” again.  I closed the door to her room again.

This time, I put her in a different part of her room — next to her glider.  I grabbed Sweet DreamsLullaby, which I thought would be a sure-thing, I began reading aloud.  Did she grab for the book?  No.  Did she come over and stand next to me?  No.  Did she sit down next to me?  No.  Instead, she stood up next to her glider and babbled.  While part of me was tempted to stop (I knew she could barely hear me over her own babbles.), I didn’t.  I kept on reading.  I’m sure someone observing the scene from the outside might’ve told me to let it play out differently, but there was no one there to tell me what else to do.  So, I just kept on reading.

When I finished the book, I scooted over closer to Isabelle.  She got quieter.  Instead of saying anything else to her about reading and being a good listener, I decided to reread Sweet Dreams Lullaby to her.  This time she listened a bit more and babbled a lot less.  (Perhaps it was because I was closer to her so she was able to see the pictures.)

It’s hard to know the “right” thing to do when you just want to read your child a book.  After all, children need to hear a lot of books in order to become readers themselves.  While my daughter normally loves to read, last night she didn’t want to listen to a book read aloud.  But, I read aloud anyway.  While it wasn’t a meaningful read aloud, she still heard a book read aloud (twice), which is better than the words she never would’ve heard read aloud had I given up when she walked out of the room a second time.

Reading to a toddler isn’t always easy.  I’m starting to think that persistence might be the name of the game.

bedtime stories · board books · OBSERVATIONS · read aloud · Three Books Before Bedtime

Three Board Books Before Bed

This evening, before we brought Isabelle upstairs for her bedtime rituals, I offered to read her three books downstairs.  The first one, The City ABC Book by Zoran Milich, is one she loves to flip through on her own.  There isn’t any text (just INCREDIBLE B&W illustrations with red “highlights” over where the letter appears in each photograph) in this book so I showed her how I traced my finger over the letter for her.

Next, since she was holding a copy of In the Garden by Leslie Bockol and Jillian Phillips, in her other hand, I read book second.  While reading, I asked her to point to the boy on each page.  This alluded her at first.  (Instead, she touched a corn stalk.)  Not understanding why she did that, I asked her to point to the boy on the next page.  Again she touched something that wasn’t human.  What was going on?  I was about to panic when I realized that I don’t usually say “boy” or “girl” when I read the books.  Instead I ask her to touch the “baby” or the “person.”  The word “boy” was a new command (if you will).  Therefore, I showed her who the boy was on the page.  I said, “Boy is another name for person.  Can you touch the person on this page?”  She did.  (Whew!)  Of course, the next page there was a girl.  I said, “Isabelle, you’re a girl.  Can you point to the girl, who is a person, on this page?”  Yet again, she touched the person.  This made me realize that when I ask her to point to something in the book, I have to be sure that she knows who or what she’s pointing too.  I cannot expect her to infer.  I need to be explicit!

Finally, I asked Isabelle to pick out a book from the smattering of books that were strewn across the floor on the other side of our great room.  “Pick out a book and bring it back.”  Nothing.  “Isabelle, would you please get a book and bring it back to me?  I will read it to you.”  Still nothing.  Uh-oh, I thought.  I repeated myself, “Isabelle, would you please get a book and bring it back to me?  I will read it to you.”  With the third repetition, she bolted across the room on all fours and retrieved a book, Peas on Earth by Todd H. Doodler, which she loves to flip through independently (probably because of all of the adorable illustrations.)  I didn’t have to ask Isabelle to bring it back to me.  Instead, she put the book in her hands and scooted back across the room on her tushe, book in hands, with a big smile on her face.  “Thank you,” I said once she handed it to me.  She smiled.  “Would you like to come and sit in Mommy’s lap while I read it?”  I didn’t have to ask this question more than once.  She climbed right on to my lap for the book.  Awww!