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Dad reading to kids

Books are best for kids' learning


We all know you should read to your children. It’s great for learning letters, words and numbers. But new research led by ACU’s Dr Ameneh Shahaeian is showing that books improve kids’ learning even further down the line – and in some unexpected ways.

The study of almost 5,000 children showed that toddlers who were read to regularly by their parents developed better language skills when they were older, and also had a higher likelihood of stronger academic achievement.  

Published in the Journal of Scientific Studies of Reading the study was led by ACU’s Dr Ameneh Shahaeian from the  Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education

“This research proves the old adage ‘the simple things in life are often the best’,” said Dr Shahaeian. 

Read your way to the top

“Reading to children is beneficial in so many ways. Books offer a unique opportunity for children to become familiar with new vocabularies and the type of words not often used in day-to-day conversation. 

“Books also provide a context for developing knowledge of abstract ideas for children. When an adult reads a book to a child, they often label pictures, talk about activities in the book, solve problems together and teach them new words and concepts."

Dr Shahaeian with mothers and children

Dr Shahaeian joins mothers reading to children.

The more frequently parents read to their two-year-old children, the more likely it was that the children would have a better knowledge of spoken words. At the age of four, the same children had developed early academic skills, including the ability to recognise and copy geometric shapes, and write letters, words and numbers. 

More importantly, when these children were six to eight years of age, the research found that their frequent, early shared reading during toddlerhood was linked to NAPLAN reading, writing, spelling and grammar ability, and more surprisingly mathematics grades. 

“Mathematical proficiency comes from problem solving and analytic thinking, tasks that can be learnt through rich sessions of shared reading between an adult and a child,” Dr Shahaeian said.

“Also many books include mathematical content like numbers or algorithms. They are presented in a fun, age appropriate way, which helps children become familiar with maths concepts.”

Prestigious schools and expensive gadgets aren’t the key

The most encouraging finding from the research is that children from disadvantaged families benefited more from shared book reading than their ‘advantaged’ peers. This suggests increasing the frequency of book reading is a viable way for disadvantaged families to support their children’s academic achievement.

Mothers reading to children

“It seems like reading is so important for children’s later development that it stands over and above most other activities that parents would do with their children,” Dr Shahaeian said. “And it is perhaps the most affordable and accessible for most parents.  

“Too often the ‘best’ option is seen to be an expensive device, or attending a specific school, which is out of reach to many. These results show that reading to children as early as possible can have long-lasting benefits for later school success.” 

Create a snowball effect

For busy parents the message is clear. If there’s only one thing you can do with your children it should be reading.

“Children who are read to from an early age often become more interested in reading, and they read more themselves. This can create a snowball effect: the more they read, the better readers they become, and this means they will possibly do better in all their school tasks,” Dr Shahaeian said.

“There is no solid rule for how long or how often to read to your children. I always say the more the better. However, parents should find a place where their children can sit with them, listen to them and become engaged in the reading task.”

Mums reading to their children

Dr Shahaeian says parents should try to find age appropriate books. Each child is different, so parents should start with books which are easy for their child to understand and where they know most of the words before slowly increasing complexity. 

“Books should be challenging but not too difficult.  It is important to listen to your child and respond to their cues. Are they interested? Are they engaged? Engagement is the key,” Ameneh said.

The study used data from a large scale nationwide study called the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children which has followed the development of children and families since 2004.

Dr Ameneh Shahaeian is a Brisbane-based psychologist whose research focuses on children’s development, learning and mental health. She is currently a research fellow at ACU’s Institute for Learning Sciences & Teacher Education

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Dr Ameneh Shahaeian

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Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright @ Australian Catholic University 1998-2018 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G