Research into reading, the promotion of reading and literature education

Reading education by parents

-> Children of parents who read often, read aloud and have a full bookcase on offer, read more often from paper and online. Their motivation to read is also greater.

-> A stimulating reading environment also has a positive effect on reading proficiency and the performance at school of children

-> Highly educated parents, in particular, pay attention to reading education.

-> Programmes and activities to promote literacy and reading proficiency may help to avoid language deficits.

-> Friends can also have a positive effect on reading behaviour.

Active parent stimulates reading behaviour and the motivation to read

The Dutch proverb ‘Jong geleerd is oud gedaan’ (similar to the English proverb “catch them young”) also applies to reading. Children who grow up in a rich reading environment often develop into passionate readers. In adulthood they read detectives and romantic fiction more often, as well as Dutch and translated literature (Notten, 2012).

Parents can do various things to stimulate reading. Above all, parents set a good example. If they read a book regularly, their children will mirror that behaviour. Secondly, parents offer direct guidance. If they read aloud to their children and talk about and discuss books, they stimulate their children’s pleasure in reading (Notten, 2012).

The direct guidance starts with reading aloud. Children in the age group from 10 to 19 years whose parents read aloud to them at a young age enjoy reading more, read more often themselves and even undergo less of a reading dip, which readers often experience during puberty. The gap between them and children whose parents do not read to them aloud is greater in the case of boys than in the case of girls—reading aloud is particularly important for boys (Stiftung Lesen, 2011). Other activities also have a favourable effect. Parents who discuss books with their children, give them books as a present, and take them to the bookshop and library, stimulate their children’s reading behaviour and motivation to read (Huysmans, 2013).

Reading education helps increasing reading proficiency

An intensive reading education is good for reading proficiency. Secondary school pupils who often have stories read aloud to them or who have often read (silently) with their parents show better reading performance. In PISA they score 25 points higher than peers who did so irregularly or not at all, which is the equivalent of six months of reading education. Besides reading books (aloud), telling stories and discussing the day’s events also have a positive effect, although their effects are smaller (PISA in Focus, 2011).

The same findings were observed for children at primary schools. They appear to be more proficient readers if their parents have read aloud to them and have told them stories. Although the reading proficiency of primary school pupils has declined in the past 10 years, this applies less to children with a rich reading environment at home (Netten, 2014).

Parents can also have a positive role in teaching children to read. They can do so by reading aloud to the child, by listening to their child’s reading achievements or reading aloud together with their child. They are most effective when they teach their child specific reading skills, such as the alphabet or mastering new words. Both children with normal development and children with reading difficulties benefit from this with respect to their reading proficiency; the benefit is almost the same for children of all social environments (Sénéchal, 2006).

Reading education is good for a child’s school career

An intensive reading education is a boost to a child’s education career. Children who regularly see their parents read, in particular Dutch and translated literature, show better performance at school. The effect is even stronger if they have also received direct supervision in the form of reading aloud and discussions about books, in addition to the ‘good’ example set (Notten, 2012). The example of a parent who reads is more important in relation to performance in education than visits to museums or theatres (De Graaf, De Graaf & Kraaykamp, 2000).

Importance of books at home

Apart from the example set and guidance by parents, a well-stocked bookcase is also important. Children who have a broad and varied supply of books at home perform better in school and are also more proficient readers (Notten, 2012). The latter applies, in particular, in the presence of children’s books (Expertisecentrum Nederlands, 2017).

The education career of children from families with a wealth of books is on average three years longer than that of children from families deprived of books, even if differences in the level of education, work and socio-economic background are taken into account. Children from low-educated families benefit most from a well-stocked bookcase. In their case, the correlation between the school career and the number of books at home is stronger in the case of children from highly educated families (Evans et al., 2010).

The possession of books has a less favourable effect than supervision of reading. If parents wish to stimulate pleasure in reading, reading proficiency and the education careers of their children, it is advisable, above all, to read aloud to them regularly (Gottfried et al., 2015).

The more developed a country is in terms of culture, technology and economics, the more the presence of books at home determines the education career of children (Notten, 2012). 

Gap between higher and lower educated parents

More highly educated parents pay more attention to reading education than lower educated parents. Firstly, they more often set a good example to their children. More often they read Dutch and translated literature (a serious example), and detectives and romantic fiction (a popular example), even though in the latter case the gap relative to the lower educated is smaller. In addition, more highly educated parents spend more time on direct reading guidance. They read aloud to their children more often and also discuss books more often (Notten, 2012). Finally, they bring more reading materials into the home, including picture and children’s books (Rodriguez, Tamis-LeMonda, Spellman, Pan, Raikes, Lugo-Gil & Luze, 2009).

More highly educated parents also distinguish themselves in a positive sense in the daily use of language. On average, their children hear 2,153 words an hour. The children of parents with secondary education hear 1,251 words an hour, while in the case of parents with a low level of education the average is 616 words an hour. This translates into the vocabulary of their children. While children of more highly educated parents have mastered 1,100 words by the age of three, children of parents with secondary education have mastered 750 words and children of parents with a low education 500 words (Hart & Risley, 1995). This gap grows as children grow older. Between the ages of 18 months and two years, children learn 30% more new words from parents who are more highly educated than children of parents with a low level of education (Fernald, Marchman & Weisleder, 2012). There is therefore a risk of a Matteüs effect: richly literate children become richer, while poorly literate children become poorer.

Within the various levels of education, however, the differences are also considerable. For instance, within the group of parents with a low level of education the number of words used daily varies from 2,000 to 30,000 words. The level of education therefore does not appear to be the main predictor of children’s language development. More important are the variety and the quality of language offered. It is of particular importance if parents seek interaction directly, for instance in relation to shared symbols (‘Look, a dog!’, ‘Yes, that is a bus!’) and rituals (‘Do you want to go to bed after your bottle?’, ‘Daddy’s going to tell you a story.’). Conversations between adults in the presence of children do not have an effect (Weisleder & Fernald, 2013).

The level of education is not the only family characteristic that determines reading education. Parents who are divorced and/or have many children generally have less time available to invest in their children. As a result, not only do they have less time for reading books themselves, but they also read aloud less and talk less often about books (Notten, 2013).

Professional support works

Government programmes for literacy and promoting reading offer family support for reading education. The target group is parents with a low level of education, multilingual parents or parents with a low level of literacy. They learn how to stimulate the language development of their children by talking to them, doing language exercises together or reading aloud from picture and children’s books. It appears from a meta-analysis of 30 studies that such programmes encourage (early) literacy. The younger the child, the greater the benefit: start early is the motto. Children from families at risk achieve results comparable to those of children from families which are not at risk. It makes no difference whether the trainers are (semi) professionals or volunteers (Van Steensel, McElvany, Kurvers & Herppich, 2011).

Reading education of parents is related to online reading behaviour

Apart from reading behaviour in relation to printed books, there is also a correlation between online reading and the reading education of parents. Fifteen-year-olds who regularly read email messages, news reports and encyclopaedia lemmas on the web, who search for information and visit forums more often had stories read aloud to them as a child. In addition, their parents told them stories more often, talked to them more often about the day’s events, sang songs together more often and had a larger number of books present in their parental home (Notten & Becker, 2017). 

Friends also make a contribution

Besides parents, friends also contribute to reading education. Children and young people who often receive reading tips, discuss books with friends, are encouraged to read and often see their friends reading, read more often and are more motivated to read. This is the case in comparison with children of their own age who are not exposed to these reading influences (Klauda & Wigfield, 2012). The attitude to reading of adolescent boys appears to be influenced to a greater extent by their friends than that of girls (Merga, 2014).

What children and young people read is also influenced by their friends. For instance, after their mother, children receive help most often from their friends when choosing a book (Maynard, MacKay, & Smyth, 2008; Huysmans, 2013). The book recommendations made by friends are also followed more often than those of other reading educators, such as (grand) parents, brothers and sisters, teachers and library assistants. After the school and library, friends are also often the most important source of borrowed books (Maynard, MacKay, & Smyth, 2008).

Leesmonitor (2020). Reading education by parents.
Reading Monitor (2020). Reading education by parents.