A study out of the UK found that mothers are 50 percent more likely than fathers to read to their children. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Research released this week in the UK found that mothers are 50 percent more likely than fathers to read to their babies, a bonding activity that has profound effects on children’s vocabulary, school readiness, and even their ability to sit still and be patient.
The poll, which was conducted in partnership with the UK literacy organization Book Trust, found that 42 percent of mothers read with babies who are under 1 year old, while only 29 percent of fathers do the same. By the time kids are 3, 71 percent of mothers are reading to them, but only 62 percent of fathers. At 5, the gap has grown to 75 percent of mothers and 60 percent of fathers.
STORY: How to Get Kids to Read More
Diana Gerald, chief executive of Book Trust, says there are numerous benefits to reading to a child. “Children whose parents read with them every day are a year ahead by the time they start school,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “If you read to your kids only three to five times a week, they’ll still be six months ahead by the time they start school. Kids who are read to are also happier and more confident, because they get time with their parents to sit together and snuggle while reading.”
While the reading gap between moms and dads is better in the UK than it was a decade ago, Gerald says that dads still need to pick up the slack, particularly when their kids are at a young age. “It only needs to be for 10 minutes a day,” she says. “It shouldn’t be a burden — for some dads it may be best after work, or before bed, but maybe other dads have better hours of the day. Make it work for you, and find books that are fun to read. The most important thing for dads is to read books that they love, so they will do it consistently.”
No similar study about the difference between mothers and fathers when it comes to reading has been conducted in the U.S., says Dr. David Hill, a pediatrician, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Communications and Media, and the author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro. But he says it’s a question that stateside researchers might want to look into. “We can’t extrapolate results to the U.S. from this study, as we know there are some significant cultural and socioeconomic differences between the two countries,” Hill tells Yahoo Parenting. “But also, do parents in Texas read to their kids in the same way as parents in California? We don’t know that either — that would be interesting to study, too.”
But Hill says that reading to children at a young age has proven to have significant effects on achievement later in life for kids in the U.S., and both moms and dads should make the effort. “Children who hear more words from their parents from birth have a much better vocabulary and studies have found they have an advantage in school from the outset,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. A 2013 study out of Stanford University found that this language gap develops as early as 18 months old. “Hearing more words is incredibly beneficial for a young child, but they need to be words heard in person. Sure you can sit your kid in front of the TV and they will hear tons of words, but that doesn’t have the same impact.”
Last year, the AAP issued a policy recommending that pediatricians and policy makers encourage parents to read aloud to children daily, from birth. It was the first time the group has weighed in with recommendations on early child literacy.
Reading to children not only heightens a young child’s vocabulary, but also improves their executive functioning, Hill says. “They learn the ability to sit still, to explore difficult words, and to be patient while waiting for the next page,” he says. “Plus they get quality one-on-one time with a parents.”
Hill suggests fathers make reading just one book with their children a part of their daily routine. “Fathers like having that one special thing they do with their kids — for some it’s bath time, or dinner time,” he says. “But making that time about reading together, like one book before bed every night, is great. Kids love routine.”
There’s no minimum reading time requirement either, he says. “Even just a few minutes a day, from infancy, will make a difference,” he says. “For kids, just seeing their parents turn to a book for information and entertainment will give them more positive attitudes toward reading.”