Researchers are encouraging families to read to their children before they start school as a new study from the University of South Australia has found that reading aloud can triple a child’s resilience at school, especially for children who had suffered maltreatment.
Reading has long been associated with school readiness and scholastic outcomes, but for the first time, a study has shown the benefits of reading to mitigate some of the negative effects of adverse life circumstances in children.
The researchers analysed data covering 65,083 children from 5 to 6 years old and found that one of the biggest predictors of resilience in both boys and girls was being read to at home.
They defined resilience as having well-developed strengths when they started school in five domains including physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, communication skills and general knowledge.
Reading also has many holistic benefits for both parent and child, lead researcher and professor Leonie Segal said.
“Reading out loud can create many positive outcomes for children. As a shared experience between parent and child, it encourages connection,” Segal said in a release.
“Children in families that are struggling to create a nurturing environment will especially benefit from reading with a parent or carer, improving their resilience and keeping them developmentally more on track, despite their adversity exposure.”
The study also found that boys had a much higher risk of being developmentally behind than girls, as did children living in remote or rural areas, and those with a physical, sensory, or learning disability.
“Paying particular attention to boys, especially those who are victims of child maltreatment is critical. Encouraging parents to read to their boys while valuable, is not enough, the onus is on the education sector to identify other mechanisms to support boys,” she said.
“This could include recruiting more male educators into early childhood settings and ensuring learning approaches are sensitive to the specific needs of boys.”
Males currently make up just one per cent of the early childhood education workforce, falling from two percent in 2018, according to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s National Teacher Workforce Characteristics report.
Their presence in primary schools is also declining, with numbers falling from 18 percent in 2018 to 16 percent today.
Segal said this research revealed the ways that children can be supported to be more resilient.
“Understanding which attributes can help young children to be more resilient can form the basis of interventions for child victims of maltreatment to improve life trajectories,” she said.