The reading environment in the homes of very young children is strongly linked to their reading progress once they begin school, according to a new study at the Norwegian Reading Centre at the University of Stavanger (UoS). The researchers found that children who are seldom read to and whose parents read very little are at a disadvantage when they start school.
“We know from the research that it is important that children are well prepared for reading when they start school and will be embarking on formal literacy. This study shows that the parents’ attitudes to reading, the number of children’s books in the home, the age at which parents start reading aloud to children, and how often they read to them all determine how well-prepared children are to learn to read when starting school,” said researcher Vibeke Bergersen.
The study, which was part of the Norwegian research project On Track, investigated ways of preventing reading and writing difficulties among 1,171 first grade students and their parents. The students were tested in various reading and writing skills when they started school in fall of 2014.
The parents were asked how often they themselves read, how many children’s books they had at home, how often the child was read to, and the age of the child when they started reading to the child. The findings clearly showed that the greater significance books have in children’s lives from the time they are young, the better prepared they are to learn to read when starting school.
“This is because reading early and often to children influences the child’s vocabulary and phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is about being aware of different sounds in language and is important in learning the first letters,” said Bergersen.
“Children that are often read to encounter linguistic games or rhymes and jingles in children’s books. In this way, they become more aware of the connection between letters and sounds. By sitting with an adult who is reading books, children become aware of letters and words, and it will be easier for them to read.”
Reading aloud to a child before the child can speak significantly influences the number of words the child learns. The most influential age for learning language is between the ages of 18 months and three years, said Bergersen.
“When starting school, children who have a lot of children’s books at home and who have been read to before reaching two years of age have a vocabulary that is almost twice that of children who have few children’s books at home and who have only been read to aloud after the age of four years,” she said.
“Children with a large vocabulary understand more of what is going on at school and are better able to keep up with what is being taught. Children with poorer vocabularies understand less, and this can negatively impact their education.”