Photo: Phil CarrickMELBOURNE researchers have proven what parents have intuitively known all along - the more often you read to your children from an early age, the greater the positive effect on their reading and thinking skills.
The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research has not only proven a causal effect between the frequency of reading to a child and his or her development, but have also for the first time measured the benefits.
Children four to five years old who are read to three to five times a week have the same reading ability as children six months older (who are read to only twice or less a week).
Reading to children six to seven days a week puts them almost a year ahead of those who are not being read to. It was also found that reading to small children has a positive effect on the development of numeracy skills.
Advertisement''It does appear to be the case that children who are read to more often keep doing better as they age than other children,'' said Professor Guyonne Kalb, director of the institute's Labour Economics and Social Policy Program, and co-author of the study.
The research - which was funded by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development - found the positive outcomes occurred in children regardless of parental income, education level or cultural background. That is, children with poor backgrounds or parents of limited education or ability have the same benefit of being read to frequently.
''We wanted to try and determine whether reading itself is leading to better outcomes, or do parents who read to their children have other things going on,'' Professor Kalb said.
''We worked with children representing a whole range of families, from all different backgrounds and economic circumstances. We found it doesn't matter if a child is from a poor or rich family, or if the parents are highly educated or not, doing this basic thing of reading to them leads to better developmental outcomes.''
The longitudinal study followed the reading skills of more than 4000 children, aged four to five years in 2004, through to age 10 to 11.
Victorian Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development Wendy Lovell said the research was ''an exciting step forward'' in understanding the importance of reading to young children.
''These findings send a clear message to parents, grandparents, teachers and carers that the benefits of reading go way beyond a shared bonding experience.''