DOING AND SUSTAINING SHARED READING; PARENTS’ AIMS AND MOTIVATIONS
As demonstrated in the previous chapter, this study suggests that shared reading is an everyday practice in some families and contributes towards the pool of activities that make up everyday family life. However, this does not mean that parents do not have their own aims and motivations for reading with their children. Indeed, the parents in this study reported a variety of different aims and motivations for reading with their children and these are presented in this chapter. Understanding what motivated these parents to read with their children is important as it not only helps us to understand why parents may choose to read with their children, but also shines light on what they need in order to begin or sustain shared reading activity. Beginning with a focus on the role of enjoyment, this chapter explores what motivates parents, why they choose to read to their children and - as a consequence of this - what they need in order to begin or sustain shared reading activity in the home.
The role of enjoyment
Almost all of the parents in this study spoke spontaneously about the enjoyment of shared reading activity. Parents spoke at length about their children enjoying being read to, but they also talked about their enjoyment in reading to their children. This is not a surprise given that previous research has shown that while parents have different goals for shared reading, it is the goals of enjoying reading and bonding with their children that are rated most highly by parents (Audet et al., 2008). However, it is important to understand what ‘enjoying shared reading’ really means for both child and adult, especially if we are to use this understanding to support parents who may not have developed enjoyable shared reading relationships with their children.
To begin, parents talked about enjoying the atmosphere that emanated from the activity, with many of the parents in the project using words such as ‘calm’, ‘cosy’ and ‘relaxing’ when describing their shared reading interactions. For example Lisa (Barnwell cohort: lives with her husband and two children - a daughter aged 4 and a son aged 8) reported that she had ‘always read’ to her children ‘since they were babies’ and this was usually an enjoyable thing to do. When asked about her motivations for reading, Lisa stated, ‘to be honest it’s quite relaxing, to go up to her room with her and read a book’. Similarly, Fiona (Dalton cohort: lives with her husband and 4-year-old daughter) talked in detail about the importance of her daughter’s bedtime routine which included a bedtime story. Having previously told us that her daughter was ‘just not interested’ in being read to when she was under the age of 2, Fiona reported that ‘it just wouldn’t be possible now’ to take her to bed without a story. However, Fiona seemed to enjoy the routine as much as her daughter, evident in her words, ‘it’s just that nice time together, just you two, it’s quiet and you can just relax and read that story together’.
While these parents were both specific about shared reading being ‘relaxing’, other parents expressed similar sentiments. Tara spoke of the pleasure of reading nursery rhymes to her children because ‘they are calming’, while Elizabeth said that she and her husband would take time to settle their son at night and enjoy spending time ‘reading with him and getting it all calm and everything’. Several other parents also spoke about shared reading being an activity associated with ‘calmness’, and in many cases this was also associated with bonding. For example, Rebecca (Barnwell cohort: lives with her partner and son aged 3 years and 11 months) reported that one of the main differences between shared reading and other shared activities was that she found reading ‘calm’. She went on to point out:
Life isn’t always calm with a three-year-old. I think it’s (reading) just something that we share that’s a nice little calm time. It’s a little connection ... I think it’s a lovely bonding time. You can sit and cosy up and it’s quite intimate. Cuddly. Our time.
What became clear from the analysis of the data was that many of these parents enjoyed having an opportunity to spend quiet time with their children, which was valued and enjoyed. Being ‘calm’ and ‘cosy’ was associated with bonding as further expressed by Tara who reported that she sees a main purpose of reading being:
To have family time - and it’s nice to bond in that time because you can have a cuddle and cosy up and it’s like a sharing point in time together.
However, not all parents seemed to think that shared reading needed to be calm and quiet to promote bonding. In fact, many parents spoke about using shared reading to create a loud and fun atmosphere, which was also highly enjoyable for both child and parent and also contributed towards bonding. For example, Bina spoke in detail about the fact that she and her husband tend to read in different ways, but both have the same ‘end goal’ - namely to make their daughter laugh. Similarly, Zainab described her shared reading interactions with her daughter as something that was animated and entertaining. When asked about the kind of things she does during shared reading she reported:
Just like, you know, I make loud noises and stuff and say a word out of the book that’s loud, not shouting, but loud. Or I say it really quietly and, you know, do things with my hands and stuff and just make her giggle and laugh.
What we are seeing here is that these parents are enjoying reading to their children, but the enjoyment is different for each individual. For some parents, shared reading is about creating a calm and relaxing atmosphere, where both parties can enjoy what Tania described as ‘five minutes of shush’. For others, the enjoyment comes from creating a more raucous and entertaining environment, filled with laughter. This is not to suggest that parents will always read in the same way; it is of course perfectly possible for the same parent to enjoy reading in different ways to meet different priorities, though this was not something that the parents in this study specifically discussed. However, the project data did suggest that parents within the same family would often have different approaches to shared reading.
This was exemplified in Kylie’s interview. Kylie told us that she herself was not confident with reading, but she did read regularly with her children which she ‘loved’. She also told us that her husband often read to their young son, but tended to be far more animated in his approach than she is. This had made her question her own style of shared reading, to the point that she wondered if she ‘bored’ her son. However, she reported that she had come to the conclusion that ‘it’s just his dad reads differently’ to the way she does. In the following extract, it is clear that Kylie has given careful thought to not only the different ways in which she and her husband read, but the affordances of these different reading styles for her son.
His dad is a lot more into the voices and that ... and his dad goes ‘raaaaaaaar’. But then when his dad reads to him, he doesn’t settle -it makes him hyper. Also, if his dad’s reading then he (the son) doesn’t get into his book. He’ll get more into the story in his head, so he’ll be acting it out. Whereas when I read he’ll sit and listen, so it’s just two different ways of doing it really. He’ll sit and look at the pictures with me, but with his dad the book is more in his imagination rather than looking at the words and the pictures.
Kylie is suggesting that the way she reads with her son has a different impact on her son in comparison with the reading her husband does. Firstly, Kylie is making the observation that her reading tends to have a settling effect on her son while her husband’s reading tends to stimulate and excite. Clearly this can have practical implications for certain times of the day - for example, it stands to reason that many parents would prefer their children to be ‘settled’ rather than excited at bedtime! However, Kylie is suggesting that the different reading styles have a deeper impact on their son’s engagement with the activity; she is claiming that her reading fosters an engagement with the book itself while her husband’s reading encourages their son to develop his imagination.
Interestingly Kylie’s comments were echoed by Sam, who, like Kylie, claimed that she was ‘just not as good’ as her partner in reading with her daughter. She reported, ‘It’s not as exciting when I do it. I probably will send her to sleep. It’s boring.’ However, Amy clearly enjoyed and valued the reading that both she and her partner shared with her daughter. This was especially salient given that Amy also reported that she did not enjoy reading for herself - a topic that is discussed in detail in Chapter 8.
Together this data illustrates the multifaceted character of parents’ enjoyment of shared reading. The enjoyment may come from spending time with the child in a calm and relaxed manner, or it could involve something more lively and animated. Whatever the case, most parents in the study seemed to agree that the enjoyment of shared reading was associated with spending time with their child and bonding. What is more, some parents were clear about the fact that they knew they had to enjoy the activity if they were to be able to maintain shared reading practices. For example, Latika spoke of finding it hard to do much with her daughter because she was so busy with work and domestic duties. In addition, she also stated that she did not enjoy reading for herself, reporting that when she was a teenager she had tried to read novels but found it ‘so boring’. However, Latika spoke enthusiastically about the fact that as an adult she enjoyed reading with her daughter, stating clearly that she reads because ‘I enjoy reading for her - it’s not that I’m forced’. Latika went on to explain that her enjoyment of the activity was crucial to the maintenance of shared reading when she reported:
Yes I don’t do anything that I don’t like - I will do things that I like to do for her. If I don’t want to do something I’ll just tell my husband ‘can you do this for her?’. If I’m not going to enjoy it, then I’m not giving 100 per cent what she wants, and she’s not going to enjoy it with me, so what’s the point.
What we are starting to see here is that parents’ enjoyment of shared reading is complex. It is not sufficient to simply say that parents read with their children because they enjoy it, as this enjoyment is often directly related to the response that parents receive from their children. To return to Sam’s interview, when asked how she felt about reading with her daughter she responded, ‘I love it. If she laughs, I’m laughing.’ This illustrates an important finding from the project with regard to parental enjoyment - these parents generally reported that gaining positive feedback from their child was an important aspect of the shared reading experience. Given that this has important implications for families who may need support in reading with their children, this suggests a need to look more closely at the relationship between enjoyment and feedback in order to understand parents’ motivation for beginning or sustaining shared reading activity.