|In the national inventory|
Practitioners and people who know the tradition well
Bedtime stories are read in Finnish families nationwide, regardless of geographical location or social class. Stories are mainly read to children under school age but also to schoolchildren who have already learned to read. Reading out loud is not only limited to bedtime stories: you can read out loud when settling down for a nap, for example, or for any other reason in the middle of the day. Bedtime stories can be read by parents, grandparents, older siblings or other adults who spend time with children. The tradition is supported by maternity and child health clinics, libraries and NGOs that work with reading. Reading bedtime stories can be considered to be every child’s basic right.
Practising of the tradition
Stories are read out loud to children at bedtime. This helps the children calm down before going to sleep. Bedtime stories are most often read to children under school age, but they can also be read to schoolchildren. Children who have learned to read may also sometimes read out loud to an adult. Families read picture books, fairy tales, nursery rhymes and children’s novels in the evenings. Any text that interests the reader and listener is good enough for bedtime reading. Bedtime stories can also be told freely. Reading a bedtime story is an important shared moment for families. Reading out loud supports the development of children’s language skills, expands their vocabulary, teaches them to focus and calm down and supports the development of children’s interaction skills. A bedtime story or a storytelling session before going to sleep should be included in every child’s basic rights, just like tooth brushing. However, this reading session does not always have to take place late in the evening, when the whole family may be too tired after running around all day. A reading session with the whole family can just as well take place before a bath or an evening snack, when a short moment of relaxation is needed before the family settles down for bed. The time right before bedtime is a good time to read relaxing poems or sing sleepy songs.
According to studies, children who are read to every day sleep longer than children who are hardly ever read to.
The background and history of the tradition
The custom of reading bedtime stories is based on storytelling tradition. Oral storytelling is an old tradition that has been practised in Finland for a long period of time. At first, stories were told in the evening to people of all ages, and they could be educational or entertaining in nature or they could pass on various beliefs. When people started printing more books and children’s literature became its own genre, people began to read out loud from books in the evenings. The stories told at bedtime were traditional folktales and later fairy tales written by authors. Since then, reading has expanded to picture books, stories and novels for children and young adults.
The transmission of the tradition
The children who have been told bedtime stories often also read out loud to their own children as adults. Even in families in which the parents do not read out loud, the bedtime story tradition is often maintained by the grandparents. The continuation of the tradition is also supported by the practice of reading out loud at day care centres and schools. At day care centres, stories can be read when the children settle down to rest. The Lukulahja lapselle (Reading gift for children) project of the Finnish Reading Center and the Finnish Cultural Foundation strengthens the tradition of reading bedtime stories by distributing information at maternity and child health clinics about the importance of reading and by gifting a bag of books to every newborn child.
The future of the tradition
The reading of stories may take on another form. Storytelling in the evening has already changed to reading a book, which, in turn, has become more diverse in such a way that not only fairy tales and stories but non-fiction books or comics can also be read as bedtime stories. Already, many people listen to audiobooks instead of reading, and bedtime stories can be read on an electronic device instead of a paper book. However, it is unlikely that storytelling and the custom of settling down to enjoy a story in the evening will disappear. In our hectic times, settling down for a bedtime story before going to bed is now more important than ever. Additionally, the significance of reading is highlighted in our present-day communication society, and efforts to promote literacy start from the reading of bedtime stories.