Two weeks into home-schooling, and the Easter holidays may come as a welcome relief. Here Dr Holly Joseph reminds us of the joys of reading with young children and how it supports other, more formal, learning.

Many parents are still struggling. Juggling work, domestic responsibilities and educating your child may feel overwhelming. With so much information available about structuring the day, staying positive and making learning fun, have we forgotten about something much simpler but equally worthwhile?

Father reading with son
Father reading with son

Research shows that reading to your child, or once your child is older, reading independently, is one of the most valuable activities we can do at home. Reading engaging story books with young children has been shown to improve vocabulary knowledge and is associated with better reading comprehension once children start school.

Older children who read for pleasure are also more likely to do well at school, and the relationship between reading experience and reading skill is reciprocal such that better readers read more, thus improving their vocabulary and becoming even better readers.

One reason that reading is so important is that the language in books is not the same as in spoken language: books tend to contain rarer words and more complex grammatical structures so reading exposes children (and adults) to language they are otherwise unlikely to encounter.

Recent UoR research shows that for adolescents, reading literary fiction (rather than non-fiction and other genres) provides the best chance of encountering the kind of vocabulary that students are likely to encounter in the GCSE English Language exam.

Children who speak English as an additional language (EAL: more than 20% of children in mainstream primary schools) have also been shown to benefit hugely from reading for pleasure, and this is the case in both their first language(s) and in English. In fact, EAL children are just as good, if not better, at learning new words during reading as compared to English-only speaking children.

Of course, not all children are keen to read, and those who find it challenging (e.g. those with dyslexia) are less likely to be motivated – it is always harder to do something we feel we aren’t good at. One alternative is audiobooks. This may not feel like reading but all the benefits of being exposed to new vocabulary, complex grammar, new knowledge and story structure are still present.

So if you are a parent struggling to keep up with your child’s online learning programme, or if your child is reluctant to engage with what has been set at school, rest assured that an hour’s reading every day will improve their vocabulary, increase their knowledge about the world and set them up to succeed in their education and beyond.