Norman RockwellIt’s hard to imagine a sweeter family scene: children snuggled up close to Mommy or Daddy, bright expectant faces awaiting the next words of their favorite bedtime story.

Little ones look forward to this special time each night; it’s a sacred routine that makes them feel safe and loved, and the benefits of storytime for the child and the family as a whole are immeasurable. But is this idyllic scene becoming a thing of the past?

Recent research in both the United States and the UK shows that bedtime stories are on the endangered list. The Guardian reports that in “a poll of 2,000 mothers with children aged 0 to 7 years, only 64% of respondents said they read their children bedtime stories, even though 91% were themselves read bedtime stories when young. Only 13% of parents read to their children every night.”

BabybotThe reasons cited included “being too stressed out” and “not enough time,” but the most dismaying was that children had trouble staying engaged with books when so many other options were available to them. Now, the chances are pretty good that if you are a follower of a blog called The Reading Womb, you are as unsettled by this information as we are.

As a reader, you probably intuitively knew that there are benefits to reading to children regularly, and we can support your hunches with a few hard facts:

·        Children who are read to regularly and exposed to many words from an early age perform better in school and are all around better adjusted emotionally and socially than children who were not read to. Drs. Hart and Risley’s study about this has gotten a lot of fresh attention lately, inspiring initiatives all over the country to increase the number of words babies and children hear. Please see our January 2014 post all about it.

·        Hearing stories from the very beginning creates a multitude of neural pathways in the brain. Says Dr. Reid Lyon, Ph.D., chief of the child development and behavior branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, MD.: “There’s a clear indication of a neurological difference between kids who have been regularly read to and kids who have not.”

·        Snuggling up with Mom or Dad increases levels of cortisol, the anti-stress hormone, and oxytocin, “the bonding hormone,” in children. Not to mention the benefits for Mom and Dad—research shows that snuggling also reduces blood pressure and heart rate!

TabletSo, in short, family storytime makes kids socially comfortable, smart and healthy. All parents want what’s best for their children, don’t they? So what’s going on here?

We’re thinking this could have something to do with it!

In that same survey we mentioned earlier, “Nearly half of the parents surveyed said their children found television, computer games and other toys more diverting, while 4% said their children do not own any books at all.” Oh, dear.

FPFisher Price recently introduced a baby-product line called Apptivity Entertainers, or Apptivity Play and Learn, which they describe as “a grow-with-me seat for baby that’s soothing, entertaining, and has a touch of technology, too.” We say it’s a screen dressed up like a baby toy, but either way, there’s a really good chance that this baby is not going to be begging Mommy and Daddy to read another story when an iPad, iPod, Bedtime Storyor other electronic device is available. Look how this baby is more interested in the small screen than his own Mommy’s beautiful face!

We know technology is here to stay—and it’s an amazing and helpful phenomenon in most cases, in its proper time and place. Most children are going to engage in some kind of screen time, and much of it is good, but it’s our job as the grownups to ensure that there’s a balance between the zesty stimulation of electronic bells and whistles . . . and the rich, organic simplicity of illustrated paper pages being turned slowly by soft human hands and narrated by a loving human voice.

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