New research shows children from low-income backgrounds are missing out on reading benefits

New research from BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, has found that almost a quarter of parents and carers from low-income backgrounds (23%) are not sharing books with their children before their first birthday despite the majority (95%) seeing reading as an important thing to do. 

Where families are regularly reading and sharing stories together, this reaches its peak when children are between two and four years old, but the frequency of children being read to daily after the age of four drastically reduces and continues to decline throughout childhood.  

Sharing books, stories and rhymes as a basis for playing, talking, singing and exploring in their early years provides the biggest boost to children developmentally, enhancing cognitive, physical, social and emotional growth and development during a period of significant brain growth. 

Shared reading also supports bonding between children and their parents, carers or other family members; boosts parental positivity and improves children’s sleep. 

These lifechanging benefits of reading extend far beyond childhood. BookTrust said this underpins why the charity places such an emphasis on working with communities and partners to support families to read and share stories and establish early reading habits through an extensive range of resources, books and support.    

The charity’s flagship Bookstart programme (established in 1992) provides a free book pack and top tips to every baby within their first year of life to kickstart families’ reading habits. In 2023 almost 600,000 packs will be distributed to families.  

Over recent years, and to provide further support to children from low-income backgrounds, the charity has developed new initiatives including offering Bookstart Toddler and Preschooler packs for children aged 1-2 and 3-4 respectively with 425,000 packs going to families and 4,000 storyteller resources provided to support those working closely with families. 

BookTrust Storytime also launched in 2021, in partnership with libraries to encourage families to make visiting their local public library a regular part of family life.   

Diana Gerald, chief executive of BookTrust said:  “Reading has the potential to change lives and our aim at BookTrust is to get all children reading regularly and by choice. 

“As this research shows, families recognise the importance of reading in their children’s early years. Much of this can be attributed to the hard work of early years practitioners, libraries, health visitors who we closely with to inspire families to read and share books and stories together early on. 

“Yet parents and carers tell us that a lack of time or confidence choosing books are the main barriers they face that prevent them from reading more.  

“Whilst this research will continue to shape and inform the support and resources that BookTrust provides for children and families across England, Wales and Northern Ireland; at a time when the disadvantage gap is growing between children from low income backgrounds and their more affluent peers, there must be a greater emphasis and focus on establishing children’s reading habits early on in life, especially for those children who stand to benefit the most from the lifechanging benefits of reading.”

Image credit: BookTrust

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