Last reviewed 8 June 2023

Almost a quarter of parents and carers from low-income backgrounds are not sharing books with their children before their first birthday despite the majority seeing reading as an important thing to do, according to new research from BookTrust.

In the survey, families said that a lack of time or confidence choosing books are the main barriers they face that prevent them from reading more. Where families are regularly reading and sharing stories together, this reaches its peak when children are between two and four years old, but the frequency of children being read to daily after the age of four drastically reduces and continues to decline throughout childhood.

BookTrust highlights that sharing books, stories and rhymes can have huge benefits for children in the early years by enhancing cognitive, physical, social and emotional growth and development during a period of significant brain growth. Shared reading also supports bonding between children and their parents, carers or other family members as well as boosting parental positivity and improving children’s sleep.

The charity says that establishing a reading habit as early in life as possible means that children from low-income backgrounds can especially benefit from the transformative benefits of reading. For example, children from disadvantaged backgrounds who achieve highly at the end of primary school are twice as likely to have been read to at home in their early years compared to their peers. Research also shows that reading for pleasure in the early years has four times the impact on a child’s progress by age 16 than their parent’s education or socioeconomic status.

The charity’s work includes the Bookstart programme which provides a free book pack and top tips to every baby within their first year of life to kickstart families’ reading habits. To provide further support to children from low-income backgrounds, it also offers Bookstart Toddler and Preschooler packs for children aged one to two and three to four respectively, and storyteller resources are provided to support those working closely with families. In addition, BookTrust Storytime launched in 2021 in partnership with libraries to encourage families to make visiting their local public library a regular part of family life.   

Diana Gerald, Chief Executive at BookTrust, has now called for a greater focus on establishing early reading habits, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who stand to benefit the most. She said:

“As this research shows, families recognise the importance of reading in their children's early years. Much of this can be attributed to the hard work of the early years practitioners, libraries and health visitors with whom we work closely to inspire families to read and share books and stories together early on. Yet parents and carers tell us that a lack of time or confidence choosing books are the main barriers they face that prevent them from reading more.”

The full research report is available here.