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Why Dads should read with their children

Father reading with children
Credit: iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Fathers who read to their children at home are having a unique impact on their child’s language development as they grow, Australian research has found.

The research from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) has opened the book on how children’s language development is influenced by the involvement of their dad.

Researchers found that when fathers read to their children at home, the child’s language development increased as they grew older.

The study, using data from the Let’s Read study that was funded by the Australian Research Council involving 405 two-parent families, asked mothers and fathers about their reading habits with their children. It focused on reading habits when toddlers were two years old, and then assessed each child’s language and literacy abilities when they were four.

The results found fathers who read to their children at age two predicted better language development at age four.

Postdoctoral research fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Melbourne University lead author Dr Jon Quach says the team wanted to understand the role of fathers’ early home reading practices on their child’s language and literacy development.

Despite the recognised importance of the home environment in promoting child development, there has been very limited longitudinal research that has examined the role of fathers in promoting language and literacy development.

Fathers are an important part of families and the wider research suggests that getting all adults involved in a child’s reading can enhance their development.
Dr Jon Quach

Dr Quach says the research fills the blank pages on the role of fathers in supporting the language development of children.

He says the findings remained even after taking into consideration parent income, employment and education levels, as well as mothers’ reading practices.

“Maternal shared reading practices do predict literacy, but fathers’ contributions were previously less certain.

“Research has clearly demonstrated that getting more adults to read to children more often, can help promote a child’s development.

“We found that fathers’ reading at two years promoted better language development for children by age four, but not literacy.

“This suggests fathers have a unique contribution to make to their child’s language development through their reading interactions.”

Dr Quach says more research was required because it’s unclear exactly why fathers’ efforts in reading to their child are directly impacting on their language development.

“This may be because parents in the same household are reading the same books, but that the different ways in which they read has further helped child language development. Adults all tend to read books differently, such as focusing on different words, pronouncing things differently or emphasising different parts of the story. All these differences help children understand the different ways they can use language.

“There is some research which suggests fathers are more likely to scaffold children’s reading, which means they divide the reading in to smaller sections to enable the child to better understand the sections. However, mothers can also do this. Therefore, further studies are required which observe parents reading, to understand what the differences are, if any.”

The study findings suggested that it may not be reading that influences language and literacy outcomes, but how shared reading is done.

“We suggested that it may not be as simple as getting parents to read more to their children, but rather ensuring the quality and frequency of reading is appropriate,” Dr Quach says.

“This would require helping parents understand the best ways to read to their children which promotes better child development.”

Dr Quach says there may be benefit in considering father focused literacy promotion programs.

“Fathers are an important part of families and the wider research suggests that getting all adults involved in a child’s reading can enhance their development.

“At present, programs are not targeted at fathers to enable them to gain the understanding and skills required to conduct high quality reading interactions with their children.

“These programs could use current resources and services which father’s currently access, such as father’s parenting groups and online resources i.e. Raising Children Network.”