Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read

January 30, 2018

It may come as a little, yet guilty, surprise to most busy parents; so why is it still important that 6 to 11-year-olds still get read to regularly?   

Shared reading experiences facilitate enriched language exposure, fostering the development of listening skills, spelling, reading comprehension and vocabulary, and establishing essential foundational literacy skills. They are also valued as a shared social opportunity between parents and their children to foster positive attitudes toward reading. Reading daily to children would also ensure that a minimum of eight minutes of uninterrupted time with a parent every day is achieved, the recommended amount by the Family Peace Foundation.

When we read aloud to children it is also beneficial for their cognitive development, with parent-child reading activating brain areas related to narrative comprehension and mental imagery. While most of the research in this area focuses on young children, this does not mean that these benefits somehow disappear as children age.

Positive shared reading experience at home can help to turn our children into life-long readers. Unfortunately, not all shared reading experiences are enjoyable for children, with distracted or overly critical parents topping the list of reasons children do not enjoy it. Outsourcing this job to old siblings has mixed results. Importantly, young people’s attitudes towards reading reflect their experiences of reading at home and at school and will likely influence them throughout life.  

A case example from the study highlights what children experience. Craig explained how being read to enabled his academic advantage in literacy, as “they were teaching me how to say more words”, and “that’s why I’m ahead of everyone in spelling and reading and English”. When this stopped “just because my mum thought I was smart enough to read on my own and started to read chapter books”, Craig was disappointed.

Often children are very anxious about reading aloud in the classroom, and this fear could potentially be alleviated through greater opportunities to practice at home. Hayden’s anxiety around reading aloud at school related to his lack of confidence, and his tendency to compare his skills with those of his peers. He described himself as “always standing up there shivering, my hands are shivering, I just don’t want to read, so I just start reading. And I sound pretty weird”. No one read with him at home, so he had limited opportunity to build his confidence and skills.

Merga’s research suggests that we should continue reading with our children until they no longer wish to share reading with us, while ensuring that these experiences are enjoyable, as they can influence children’s future attitudes toward reading, as well as building their confidence and competence as readers. It is worth the effort to find time to share this experience with our children in the early years and beyond.