Reading to pre-school children boosts their language skills

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Children who are read to regularly by their parents or carers are ahead in their language skills by eight months, suggests a new study.

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Researchers found that parents reading to their children has an impact on their language development

A team of researchers from Newcastle University found that regularly reading to pre-school- aged children at home positively impacts their ability to understand information.

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is based on 16 existing studies over the past 40 years across the world in which parents read books or electronic readers to their children who had a mean age of 39 months. The team was unable to find any studies that adopted a randomised or a quasi-experiment parent-child reading intervention in the UK.

Researchers from Newcastle University analysed the findings of the studies and found that regularly reading to children had a positive effect on their expressive language (where a child puts their thoughts into words) and pre-reading skills (such as how words are structured), however the biggest impact was on children’s receptive language skills (the ability to understand information).

Socially disadvantaged children experienced slightly more benefit than other children.

Applying the size of the effect on children’s expressive and receptive language and pre-reading skills to the Education Endowment Foundation’s Developmental Equivalents of Effect Sizes, they found that reading with pre-school children boosts their language skills by eight months.

Lead author Professor James Law from Newcastle University’s School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, said, ‘While we already knew reading with young children is beneficial to their development and later academic performance, the eight-month advantage this review identified was striking. Eight months is a big difference in language skills when you are looking at children under the age of five.

‘The fact we saw an effect with receptive language skills is very important. This ability to understand information is predictive of later social and educational difficulties. And research suggests it is these language skills which are hardest to change.’

In the research, the authors make a number of recommendations, including:

  • For practitioners (early years and health) to be aware that parent/child book reading activities need to be a part of the early years offer to parents and young children.
  • For all relevant early years organisations to widely disseminate the knowledge about the role of parents as partners in active book reading.
  • For commissioners of research to undertake an evaluation of reading interventions in the UK to fill a gap in the evidence base.

Professor Law added, ‘There have been lots of initiatives over the years to get books into the homes of young children, but that is not enough. Reading with small children has a powerful effect. For this reason, it should be promoted through people like health visitors and other public health professionals as this simple act has the potential to make a real difference.’

  • The research is available here
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