Research finds reading and talking to children early makes starting school easier

This project was led by Professor Sue Roulstone, Underwood Trust Professor of Language and Communication Impairment at the University of the West of England in collaboration with Professor Tim Peters from the University of Bristol, Professor James Law, from Newcastle University, Dr Judy Clegg from the University of Sheffield and Dr Robert Rush from the University of Edinburgh.

The researchers used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, led by the University of Bristol, which showed children with a positive communication environment had a better expressive vocabulary by their second birthday.

These children went on to achieve higher scores on tests of language, reading and mathematics when they entered school. In the early years, the communication environment was a better predictor of children’s success with language than their more general social background.

This project is the first large scale longitudinal study to examine the impact of the child’s very early environment – before their second birthday – on their language and school. In the study, the child´s communication environment is defined by the number of books available to the child, the frequency of trips to the library, the mother teaching a range of activities to the child, the number of toys available and attendance at preschool. The amount of time that the television is on in the home is included: as the amount of time increases, so the child´s language scores or success later in school decreases.

The findings emphasise that even before children have begun to talk, their activities with parents can help to prepare children for school.

Professor Roulstone, who is also Director of the Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit for North Bristol Trust, said: “These findings are an encouragement to all parents to provide a positive communication environment for their child from the very start of their lives. The project did identify particular aspects of the communication environment, like having children’s books around and not having the television on too much. But the main message is that, as parents, we can have an impact on how our children learn to talk by providing a range of communication experiences. And the better our children at talking by the age of two years, the better they will do when they start school.”

One of the study’s researchers, Dr Judy Clegg, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Human Communication Sciences, said: “This large scale study clearly shows that services aimed at children in the early years, and their parents and carers, must focus on enabling parents and carers to provide rich communication experiences for their very young children. Resources need to be in place to support parents and carers to achieve this.”

Professor James Law, Newcastle University, another researcher on the study, said: “Although we recognise that traditional indicators of social risk such as material wealth remain influential later on, what you do with your child and how you communicate with them when they´re under two is far more important than having a flash car or a detached house in the country.

“This is a very positive message as it gets us away from the belief that a child’s educational future is pre-determined by standard measures of socio-economic disadvantage such as income, housing or the mother’s education.

“Social disadvantage is often measured by parental income or education but this doesn´t tell us how parent choose to spend their time or money. Simple activities such as visiting a library more often, playing simple games together or joining a Surestart group can help improve a child’s communication skills immensely.”

Notes for Editors:
To find out more about the University of Sheffield’s Department of Human Communication Sciences, visit:
Human Communication Sciences

The project was funded by the Department for Education. The full report can be found at:
Full report

The research brief can be found at:
Research brief

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