Reading to babies gives them a head-start

Image by superhuaToddlers read to daily by their mothers from an early age have bigger vocabularies and superior cognitive skills.

Helen Raikes and colleagues asked 2,581 mothers from poor families enrolled on the Early Head Start programme in America how often they read to their child at age 14, 24 and 36 months. At each time point, children read to daily, or several times a week, had a larger vocabulary.

Of course it’s probable that parents are more likely to read to children if they have a larger vocabulary, but the researchers also found that children read to more at 24 months had a larger vocabulary at age 36 months, irrespective of how much they were read to at that later time point. Moreover, among English speaking families only, those children read to daily at the age of 14, 24 and 36 months, had superior cognitive skills when tested at the age of 36 months.

“This study shows relations between reading to children and children's language and cognitive development begin very early and implies that parent-child bookreading and other language-oriented interventions for vulnerable children should begin much earlier than has generally been proposed”, said lead researcher Helen Raikes of Nebraska-Lincoln university.

The researchers also found first born children were more likely to be read to, as were girls, and the children of better educated mothers.

Raikes, H.H., Raikes H.A., Pan B.A., Luze, G., Tamis-LeMonda, C.S., Rodriguez, E.T., Brooks-Gunn, J., Constantine, J. & Tarullo, L.B. (2006). Mother-child bookreading in low-income families: Correlates and outcomes during the first three years of life. Child Development, In Press.
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