“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” Those words might wash a wave of nostalgia over you if you heard them on Radio 4 when you were growing up. My mother, who like me also worked in broadcasting, has always been a dedicated Radio 4 listener. When I was very young, I remember her summoning me to the kitchen to ‘Listen with Mother’.
This all seems rather dated in the shadow of the recent Ofcom report where we read about the screen time habits of the young and about how YouTube is for many, the channel of choice. In an age where distractions are as close as the palm of your hand, trying to manage screen time has become a hot topic among parents.
In a sample of the nation's 8-11 year olds, 40% are allowed to take their phones with them when they go to bed, this figure increasing to 71% among 12-15 year olds. Phones and tablets allow children to play just one more game, to surf, to chat to friends, to watch YouTube ... anything other than wind down and go to sleep.
The mind wanders when you are being lured into cyber space and this is where stealth techniques to boost your child's ability to concentrate when you speak could be invaluable. Listening is an essential skill that helps us to be more present in social situations and to engage with the world around us.
So when you no longer read a bedtime story to your children because you are encouraging them to read to themselves, add a little variety and counteract the tablets and smartphones by sneaking in audio CDs or audio downloads at bedtime.
Help your child to practice listening rather than glazing over and tuning out. Consider some of my suggestions in this weeks gems of wisdom for screen-free bedtimes. Turn on the CD player or download the audio file, and let them relax and learn to listen.
1. Kensuke's Kingdom
Children love Michael Morpurgo's magical storytelling with its recurring themes of nature, war and triumph in the face of adversity. Kensuke's Kingdom is the story of a boy who is washed up on a Pacific island after falling from his parents' yacht. How will he cope and will he survive? This tribute to Robinson Crusoe is just one of many of Michael Morpurgo's gripping stories.
2. The Story of Classical Music
Starting with chanting medieval monks, journeying through the symphonies of Beethoven and the grand operas of Wagner and on to the modern works of the of 21st century, it is possible to relive the lives and music of the great composers of classical music.
3. Atticus the Storyteller’s 100 Greek Myths, Volumes 1, 2 and 3
If you want to know exactly what happened to Theseus and the Minotaur and what the 12 labours of Heracles were, as well as who Daedalus, Icarus, King Midas and Perseus were, then this is the perfect introduction to the Greek myths, told by Atticus the Storyteller. He leaves his family in Crete and sets off on a year-long journey around Greece with his donkey, Melissa, to take part in the great Storytelling Festival near Troy, telling stories on the way.
4. The Best of Our Island Story: From the Romans in Britain to Queen Victoria
Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall was an Edwardian history book for junior school children and this abridged version of the original presents a coherent narrative of British history, from the arrival of Julius Caesar to the height of the British Empire and the long reign of Queen Victoria. An excellent platform on which to build your child's historical knowledge.
5. The Nation's Favourite Children's Poems
The twists, turns and magic of the poet should definitely not be overlooked in this list of listening gems. For in poems you will find words taken to beautiful, challenging and sometimes ridiculous extremes. This collection for children is a fantastic celebration of the art form with classic titles such as 'The King's Breakfast', 'On the Ning Nang Nong', and 'Jabberwocky' which will delight you and possibly remind you of your own childhood. Modern poems are found here too with 'First Day at School', 'Aliens Stole my Underpants' and 'Talking Turkeys'.
6. Great Inventors and their Inventions
Archimedes, Gutenberg, Franklin and Nobel are just some of the remarkable scientists covered here. But who were these people and how did they manage to turn their ideas into reality? Each had an ingenious idea, as well as the focus and determination required to produce something that worked and changed the world.
7. Roald Dahl
If you are looking for foolproof, exceptional storytelling you will find it in the works of Roald Dahl and of course, David Walliams who has captured the style of Dahl and the genre magnificently. From Danny The Champion of the World, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, to David Walliams's Billionaire Boy, Mr Stink and The Boy in the Dress. There are so many to choose from, and given a peaceful setting or a long car journey, your children will definitely listen!
So, there you have it. If you do one thing and one thing only, try to make bedrooms screen-free. If your children are young enough to be persuaded, an audio recording is an excellent option for bedtime. And if you search your local library catalogue, many of the titles above will be there ... waiting for you to come and borrow them... for free! What are you waiting for?
If you haven't already seen @jumpingyak on Instagram, go and have a look. Each week, there are ideas to help you navigate the twists and turns of parenting.
If you haven't seen my fun puzzle book, (advertising alert) .... try Revision Fun for Clever Kids. With over 50 pages of cartoons, puzzles and brainteasers, covering maths and logic, English, geography, history and science, it's the antidote to relentless revision. Buy it here.
And for those who want more ideas on how to tackle screen time, click here for more gems of wisdom.
Until next time when I'll be suggesting some movies for half term, goodbye!