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?
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 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