Is it important for dads to read to their kids? Does it give children something more than what they gain from mums reading aloud?
A recent study by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute provides a provisional answer. The researchers investigated whether fathers reading to their 2 year old children improved the child's language and emergent literacy skills at the age of 4, over and above the well established benefits a child receives from mothers reading to them.
There were 405 families participating in the study. All were 2 parent families of low socioeconomic status living in Melbourne. The researchers controlled for mothers' shared reading contributions to find out whether fathers' reading activities with their toddler added something more to their child's pre-school language and literacy development.
The researchers found that 2 year old children whose fathers read frequently to them had better expressive and receptive language skills at the age of 4. This means that those 4 year old children were able to communicate verbally and non-verbally, and understand what was being said to them, more successfully than 4 year old children whose fathers did not share regular reading activities.
However, there was no further improvement to 4 year old childrens' emergent literacy skills, above the improvement those children already enjoyed as a result of their mothers reading to them regularly. Emergent literacy refers to a child's skills, knowledge and attitudes that are fundamental to reading and writing, and includes sound/letter knowledge and phonemic knowledge.
Other studies have found that when fathers read to children, they were more likely to use expressive voices and ask abstract questions about the story, while mothers tended to ask more factual questions. Researchers have speculated that because fathers were more likely to engage their children more deeply in a story than mothers, this may have been why their studies found that fathers reading to children was more beneficial to language, literacy and cognitive development than mothers reading.
These studies on fathers and their shared reading practices have been relatively small to date and it isn't appropriate to extrapolate that all fathers read to their children the same way. Similarly, not all mothers read to their children the same way either.
What we do know is that children who are read to regularly have improved language, literacy and cognitive outcomes throughout school, and the longer parents read to their children, the better.
Longitudinal studies have also shown that positive father-child interactions are important for childrens' overall development and well being.
Shared reading is an opportunity to spend time with your child every day. By asking a handful of meaningful questions that encourage your child to think more deeply about the story, you are actively developing your child's literacy and cognitive skills. It's also a wonderful way to bond with your child - for mothers, fathers, grandparents and any significant adult in a child's life.
For more information about the importance of reading practices on a child's educational outcomes, contact us at Yellow Wood Education Consulting.