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UK sees steep decline in parents reading to pre-school children

Article By: Sue Learner

The number of pre-schoolers being read to by their parents has dropped by a fifth over the last five years, according to new research.

The survey into the reading habits of children in Britain found the amount of three and four-year-olds being read to fell from seven out of ten children to just over a half from 2013 to 2018.

The Nielsen Book Research’s annual Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer survey found a lack of energy at the end of the day as well as the child’s preference to do other things, have deterred 58 per cent of parents from reading to their pre-school children.

Alison David, consumer insight director at Egmont Publishing, which funded the research said: “It’s no surprise that parents of toddlers are exhausted – the pressure on families is enormous, especially as parents struggle to balance returning to work and meaningful time at home.

“However, at such a crucial time in a child’s development, it’s essential that parents understand the enormous benefits that reading for pleasure will bring both them and their child, both in terms of attainment and enjoyment.”

The research revealed that during that same period of time, there has been an increase in toddlers watching online video content daily. On the upside, the amount of children aged up to 17 reading for pleasure, has risen by four per cent year-on-year.

The data also revealed that one in five parents of children in aged three to four don’t feel comfortable in bookshops, and nearly half are overwhelmed by the choice of children’s books, which acts as further barriers to raising children who enjoy reading.

Further research by Egmont also revealed parents often felt anxious about taking noisy toddlers into a bookshop or library.

Ms David added: “We know that parents are increasingly concerned about screen time, especially the popularity of YouTube amongst young children. Our research tells us we need to give children a real range of print alternatives to choose from: whether that’s a magazine, a graphic novel, a comic or a picture book. A sense of agency, and being given the freedom to pick their own reading material, is far more effective in creating life-long readers than a strict reading list.”

Egmont has been working with retailers on a number of projects to explore how to increase the numbers of children being read to and reading for themselves, and how to reach those families who buy the smallest proportion of books a year.

In autumn 2017, Egmont partnered with WHSmith to see whether weekly in-store sessions with a professional storyteller would inspire reading and book buying in parents.

Tools as simple as learning how to read to a child in the style of a storyteller changed the family’s reading experience at home. Over a six-week period, parents showed a marked improvement in their own reading skills, along with reassessing reading as an enjoyable shared experience instead of a chore.


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