Dads urged to get involved in their children’s story time to give boys a boost

Dads are being urged to get more involved in their children’s early literacy development after a new survey by the National Literacy Trust found that half as many fathers as mothers say they have the most influence over developing their pre-schooler’s literacy skills. The report, Early literacy practices at home in 2015: Third annual survey of parents, shows that while more than a third of dads (36.6%) of children aged between three and five feel they have the most influence over their young child’s literacy development, significantly more mums (71.5%) said the same.

The National Literacy Trust’s survey indicates that the gender gap in reading starts early, with parents reporting that 70.6% of their pre-school daughters read stories daily, compared to 61.1% of their sons. Parents were also more likely to report that there are ‘no barriers to your child developing their early literacy skills’ if they had a girl (50.1%) than if they had a boy (43.1%). This points to an opportunity for fathers to be reading role models from the outset, as the influence of dads has great benefits for all children, in particular boys[i].

The survey of 1,000 parents, commissioned by the National Literacy Trust and carried out by YouGov, revealed almost a quarter (24.0%) feel that it is other adults who work with their child, for example teachers, who have the most influence on their child’s early literacy skills.

The survey shows that during a typical week two thirds of children (65.7%) look at stories daily at home and the majority (62.9%) typically spend between five and 15 minutes doing this on any given occasion. The survey also found parental attitudes and behaviours towards reading were related to those of their children, with 37% of parents who are very confident about looking at or reading stories at home saying their child was very confident about doing the same. Only 5.4% of parents who say they are fairly confident reported that their children are very confident about looking at or reading stories at home.

National Literacy Trust Director Jonathan Douglas said: “While it is promising that over one third of fathers feel they have most influence over their child’s early literacy development, there is a clear opportunity for more dads to share stories with their children from an early age. Dads and mums are both key reading role models for their children and by supporting each other they will help boys in particular to develop the literacy skills that will transform their future. The Easter holidays are a great opportunity to do just that and we have plenty of tips and activities on our website Words for Life, tailored for parents.”

Emilie Colker, VP, Brand & Social Impact, Pearson said: “This research is important as it demonstrates that a child’s first years are a critical time for communication development and set the foundation for development of key literacy skills and future success. Mothers and fathers both have an essential part to play in this, however the survey found a quarter of parents feel it is other adults and not themselves who have the most influence on a child’s early literacy. This highlights a clear need to make parents more aware of the impact they can have on their children’s future by doing something as simple as sharing stories with them every day.”

“As the founder and convener of Project Literacy, Pearson is proud to support research that focuses on the benefits of early literacy development and parent engagement; both are critical factors for ensuring we reduce the number of students who leave primary school unable to read and write.”

Children’s author, comedian and dad David Walliams said: “Sharing a book at bedtime with your child is not only one of life’s greatest pleasures, it also really helps them learn to read. I want to encourage parents to make time to read a book with their child whenever they possibly can.”

The Fatherhood Institute, which runs a programme called Fathers Reading Every Day, stressed that local authorities, schools, early years and other family services – as well as parents themselves – often under-estimate the significance of fathers’ involvement in children’s education.

‘We know that fathers and father-figures are hugely influential on child outcomes, but services remain resolutely mother-focused and little is done to actively reach out to and engage with dads, or to support mums to share the responsibility for supporting the children’s education. The time to rectify this is long overdue,’ said Fatherhood Institute joint chief executive Adrienne Burgess.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “Every child should read widely and read well, giving them the best opportunity to get on in life. One of the best ways to foster that love of reading is for mums and dads to get involved as early as possible and I would encourage everyone to spend a few minutes a day reading with their child.

“We have made real progress since 2012 with 120,000 more pupils now on track to become excellent readers by age six, but we want to go further – that’s why we have launched a campaign to make our young people the most literate in Europe by 2020.”

[i] Trent and Slade, 2001, Wragg et al., 1998, Gallimore and colleagues (1991), Lloyd (1999).

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