Reading with pre-school children boosts language by eight months
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > Reading with pre-school children boosts language by eight months

Reading with pre-school children boosts language by eight months

by Freya Lucas

January 17, 2019

Parents and carers who regularly read with small children are giving them a language advantage of eight months, research released last week by Newcastle University has shown.


Led by James Law, Professor of Speech and Language Sciences in Newcastle University’s School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, a team of experts found that receptive language skills – the ability to understand information – are positively affected when pre-school youngsters read with someone who cares for them.


Researchers carried out a systematic review of reading intervention studies from the past 40 years, using either a book or electronic readers and where reading was carried out with a parent or carer.


In the report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the researchers were looking for effects on receptive language (understanding), expressive language (where a child puts their thoughts into words such as vocabulary and grammar) and pre-reading skills (such as how words are structured). The results were positive for each category but the biggest difference was with receptive language skills.


The review showed socially disadvantaged children experienced slightly more benefit than others.


Professor Law said: “While we already knew reading with young children is beneficial to their development and later academic performance, the eight month advantage this review identified was striking. Eight months is a big difference in language skills when you are looking at children aged under five.”


Describing the effect observed with receptive language skills as “very important” Professor Law added “This ability to understand information is predictive of later social and educational difficulties. And research suggests it is these language skills which are hardest to change.”


The average age of the children involved in the 16 studies included in the review, was 39 months and the review looked at studies from five countries: the USA, South Africa, Canada, Israel and China.


Numerous research studies have shown that children with delayed language development do worse at school and have poorer outcomes later in life.


As a result of their research, those conducting the study are now calling for public health authorities to promote book reading to parents.


“There have been lots of initiatives over the years to get books into the homes of young children,” said Professor Law. “What we’re saying is that’s not enough. Reading with small children has a powerful effect.  For this reason, it should be promoted through people like health visitors and other public health professionals as this simple act has the potential to make a real difference.”


The Parent-child reading to improve language-development and school readiness – A systematic review and meta-analysis, was written by James Law, Jenna Charlton, Cristina McKean, Fiona Beyer, Cristina Fernandez-Garcia, Atefeh Mashayekhi & Robert Rush. It is also available to download at

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