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Do dads read aloud differently? And why it’s important that fathers tell stories.

October 1, 2015

max brad for dads reading wordpressDo you remember your father reading to you? Or if you’re a dad now, do you enjoy reading time with the kids?

This week, we caught up on some fascinating research by Dr Elisabeth Duursma. While at Harvard University (she’s now based at the University of Wollongong), Dr Duursma looked at the benefits associated with fathers reading to their kids.

She found that dads on low incomes who read to their children at age three had a major impact on their child’s language development, when measured one year later.

Further research has indicated that when mothers read it did not have this same significant impact on child development.

So what’s different about dads reading?

father son books creative commons via pixabayIn part, it’s perception: ‘Reading is seen as a female activity and kids seem to be more tuned in when their dad reads to them – it’s special.’

Michael Rosen, author of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, is one son who remembers his father’s read-aloud sessions. He told The Guardian:

“When I was about 12, our father decided that he would read to us on our camping holidays and over several of these holidays he read the whole of Great Expectations, Little Dorrit and a Walter Scott novel, Guy Mannering

“Because he was in the US army, he was very good at American accents and he read us Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22 when I was in my teens.”


Duursma also found significant differences in the style of language dads use:

“We found that fathers used more abstract and complex language.
When sharing a book with their child, they would often link events in the book to a child’s own experience.

“For example, when a ladder was discussed in the book, many fathers mentioned the last time
they had used a ladder to climb up on the roof or use it for their work.
Mothers focused more on the details in the book and often asked children to label or count objects or identify colours.”

This is not to say that mothers shouldn’t read to their kids! In her full article on ‘The effects of fathers’ and mothers’ reading to their children on language outcomes of children participating in early head start in the United States’, Duursma also mentions how mothers lay the groundwork for children’s language development as well as the cumulative benefit of more book reading by both parents and others in children’s lives.

Duursma is now at the University of Wollongong’s Early Start Research Institute where she recently undertook a study of 800 children from NSW, which suggested a connection between poor language skills and less time spent at home on book reading , drawing and making puzzles, which require fine motor and language skills.

(Sources: University of Wollongong; Daily Mail UK; The Guardian)

What do you think about mums and dads reading? Tell us in comments below.

For more on reading aloud:

Our article on what happens to kids’ brains when they listen to a story, how picture books can develop vocabulary, and the Number 1 reason kids enjoy being read to

Our article on how books help develop children’s empathy

Our article on truly great reading aloud and storytelling

Our list of seven great reasons to read with your kids


  1. Ann McAlpin

    Our local Group, Friends of Castlemaine Library began a project at the local prison, (Loddon) to help Dads keep in touch with their kids at home. We employed a tutor who took children’s books (for choice) that Dads could read onto a cd to their child/ren at home. The book and cd was then sent to the child. The project has had such a positive effect on parents and children it is still going 3 years later, with over 300 Dads participating. Currently we are launching a crowd funding campaign to raise funds to keep it going for another 2 years. The prison has recently doubled in size so many more Dads want to participate. The prison program and education officers are very much on side.
    We think it is one of the best newsworthy stories around.
    Perhaps you could give it a plug on your web site .. the fund raiser will be with and we hope to raise $30,000

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  3. Han-Son

    Love this. Story time is one of my personal favourite dad-moments with my son. It definitely builds my sense of connection with him.

  4. Peter West

    I loved reading to my kids. Sometimes I would perversely change the beginning syllables- e.g. we’d read about “Rindersella and the prandsome hince”. The response was usually “Daddy! read it properly!”… I loved reading Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day’ which shows you the daily work of tons of people. That lets us talk about what kind of work the kid might do. Mums and Dads have different skills and interests in my book; and they do different things. Now we’re hearing about two mums or two dads in a family- how do they do these things? Let us know please?

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