Fathers urged to read more to their children

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Fathers are being encouraged to spend more time reading to their children, after a survey found that mothers believe they have more influence in helping their children learn to read than fathers.

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Fathers feel they have less influence over helping their children learn to read than mothers

More than half of the parents (55 per cent) surveyed for the National Literacy Trust’s annual parents’ survey said they had the most influence on their child’s early literacy skills, but around a quarter (24 per cent) thought it was the early years practitioners who worked with their child who were more influential in this way.

The survey of 1,000 parents commissioned by the Trust and carried out by YouGov found that while 71 per cent of mothers thought they had the most influence on their child’s developing literacy, just 36 per cent of fathers felt this way.

The reading charity said that this was an opportunity to positively influence the reading behaviours of young boys by urging fathers to get more involved with reading to their pre-school children.

The survey suggests that the gender gap between reading skills of girls and boys starts early, with girls more likely than boys to read every day -71 per cent of three- to- five-year old girls reads stories daily, compared to 61 per cent of boys.

Parents with higher educational qualifications were more likely to report that their child looks at or reads stories on a daily basis and that they enjoy doing so ‘a lot’. For example, 71 per cent of parents with university qualifications reported that their child looks at or reads stories every day, compared to 57 per cent of those without.

Parents help their children with reading in a variety of ways – for example, most parents talk about the story (79 per cent), encourage their child to notice pictures (84 per cent), and talk about the characters (75 per cent).

The survey also found that attitudes and behaviours around emerging literacy change during children’s pre-school years.

The parents of younger pre-school children were more likely to report that their child looks at or reads books on a daily basis, falling from 71 per cent of three-year-olds to 62 per cent of five-year-olds. However, this change was balanced by the length of time children read for, with the average reading session over 15 minutes for 26 per cent of three-year-olds, rising to 36 per cent of five-year-olds.

Parents' rating of children's confidence and enjoyment of books also falls as children get older: 37 per cent of three-year-olds were rated as 'very confident' with looking at stories, compared to 28 per cent of five-year-olds. The perceived role that parents play also changes: 67 per cent of parents of three-year-olds said that they had the greatest influence over their child's literacy skills, compared with 51 per cent of parents of five-year-olds. 'So it seems that as children's reading experiences depend less on their parents over the pre-school years, so reported attitudes shift too,' the report said.

NLT director Jonathan Douglas said, ‘While it is promising that over one third of fathers feel they have most influence over their child’s early literacy development, there is a clear opportunity for more dads to share stories with their children from an early age. Dads and mums are both key reading role models for their children and by supporting each other they will help boys in particular to develop the literacy skills that will transform their future.’

The Fatherhood Institute, which runs a programme called Fathers Reading Every Day, stressed that local authorities, schools, early years and other family services – as well as parents themselves – often under-estimate the significance of fathers’ involvement in children’s education.

Joint chief executive Adrienne Burgess said, ‘We know that fathers and father-figures are hugely influential on child outcomes, but services remain resolutely mother-focused and little is done to actively reach out to and engage with dads, or to support mums to share the responsibility for supporting the children’s education. The time to rectify this is long overdue.'

Children's author and comedian David Walliams encouraged parents to read with their children whenever they could. 'Sharing a book at bedtime with your child is not only one of life's greatest pleasures, it also really helps them learn to read,' he said.

  • For tips and activities for parents from the NLT visit Words for Life
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