“People cannot blame teachers for everything,” says best selling children’s author, Mem Fox.
Mem was commenting on yesterday’s report from the Australian Council of Educational Research on Australian students’ literacy levels at Year 4.
“It’s no good having ‘lemon lips’ about this.
“Parents simply cannot blame teachers if parents are not prepared to read to their children from the ages of 0-5 years.”
It is a familiar theme for the author of more than 40 children’s books who was also an Associate Professor of Literacy Studies at Flinders University in Adelaide.
“There are some very good teachers and teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom but children can’t learn to read if they’re not already familiar with language.
“This is why reading aloud to children from an early age is so essential. It helps their brain development; it helps their language development; they learn about grammar and vocabulary.
“But best of all, it wraps parent and child in a web of delightful gorgeousness,” Mem says.
Her latest book, Good Night, Sleep Tight was conceived from an academic presentation she heard at a conference in South Africa.
“If a child knows six nursery rhymes by the time they’re 4 years old, they’ll be in the top reading group by age 8.
“I didn’t think it sounded like much, but if that’s what it takes to improve children’s literacy why wouldn’t we make sure we’re doing it?” she asks.
“Reading is about predicting, and nursery rhymes help teach prediction because of their use of rhythm, rhyme and cadence.”
She said the premise gave her the idea for Good Night, Sleep Tight in which the two main characters, Bonnie and Ben, are enthralled by the rhymes taught to them by their babysitter at bedtime.
“I’ve taken it a bit further by adding in another one – so there’s seven nursery rhymes which are very familiar.”
Not only do little piggies go to market, but old men bump their heads and stars can be wished upon.
“Reading at bedtime is – or should be – an essential part of the nightly routine for parents and children.”
Mem recommends 10 minutes a night of reading aloud with your child, and reading at least three stories each night – even if it’s the same story.
“Don’t worry about reading the same thing over and over again.
“I read the same book endless times to my daughter and she ‘cracked the code’ early. When she went to school, she learned to read in two weeks because she was familiar with words, use of language, concepts and storytelling.”
Mem says reading aloud is an important part of the nightly ritual.
“It helps children wind down and relax at the end of the day, as well as develop a lifelong love of reading,” she says.
“But most of all, use those ten minutes as a wonderful time with your child. It should be a time of absolute joy; a wonderful, cuddly time.”
Good Night, Sleep Tight is available at all major bookstores for $20.