14 August 2017

Reading to your Child: The Benefits of Time Well Spent

I realise that in the busy life of families finding time for that quality engagement with your son to assist his learning and enjoyment can prove difficult at times. Selecting how that quality time will be spent can be another challenge.

I often speak about the partnership between parents and teachers in the education of a boy. As a parent, you have the power to boost your son's learning potential simply by making books an integral part of his life. The benefits of reading to your child are widely known and have a significant impact on a child's long-term development.

In 2013 the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research published a study entitled 'Reading to young children: A head start to life?' They examined the effect between the frequency of reading to a child and his or her development. Their results confirmed what parents and teachers have known for very long. Reading to your child benefits them in a significant range of areas.

The study indicated that cognitive skills are not fixed but are influenced by preschool training, education at school, but also reading with their parents. They found that parents can play an important role in the development of reading skills and cognitive skills of their children by reading to them at a young age. They found that reading to children at age 4 to 5 frequently has significant positive effects on the reading skills and cognitive skills of children at least up to an age of ten to eleven. For boys the effect of being read to increases with age. Nevertheless, for a wide range of skill measures they found that being read to at a young age has positive effects.

Children four to five years old who are read to three to five times a week have the same reading ability as children six months older (who are read to only twice or less a week).

Reading to children six to seven days a week puts them almost a year ahead of those who are not being read to. It was also found that reading to small children has a positive effect on the development of numeracy skills.

What are the implications of their findings? Their main finding is that it is important that young children are being read to. This is an early-life intervention that seems to be beneficial for the rest of their lives. They show that there is an important role for parents in the educational performance of their children. The evidence strongly suggests that parental reading to children gives them a head start in life.

The benefits of reading to your child each night is far reaching and goes way beyond a shared bonding experience. It can assist in the development of key cognitive skills and have a significant impact on academic success and enjoyment at school. These impact far beyond the first few years of schooling. Reading to your child will help with their oral narrative skills. It assists in their ability to retell stories with focus on literate features such as sequencing information, story structure, referencing, specific vocabulary, maintenance of past tense, use of complex connectors, and inclusion of character intentions and feelings etc. The mastery of oral narrative skills is essential and a pre-requisite for written language competency.

In short, reading with your child helps them with their language development. Their ability to tell a story, to form correct sentences, to use correct tense, to follow events, these are all impacted significantly by being read to. It links to writing and reading skills and it is fun! Regardless of how old your son is, curl up together and read to him. You will both enjoy it and it will help him to learn.

Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series, Working Paper No. 17/13, Reading to Young Children: A Head-Start in Life?, Guyonne Kalb and Jan C. van Ours, May 2013

Mr John Stewart

Head of Junior School