By Rob Kemp for Telegraph uk
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. A new study from Harvard University in the USA reveals that children benefit more from their father reading them bedtime stories. Dads, the research revealed, spark more "imaginative discussions" and are more instrumental to their children’s language development because of the way they read to their kids.
Over the course of a year researching the impact that parents reading had upon their children the study leader, Dr Elisabeth Duursma, found that girls in particular benefited more when read to by a male. “The impact is huge – particularly if dads start reading to kids under the age of two,” explains Duursma. “Reading is seen as a female activity and kids seem to be more tuned in when their dad reads to them – it’s special.”
Unfortunately a recent poll – of 1,000 mums and dads – by the charity Book Trust found that young parents especially are reading less to their children than older generations. Just 19pc of dads under 25 said they enjoyed a bedtime read with their children – whilst 78pc of older fathers said it was their favourite part of the day.
Author and comedian David Walliams has since led an initiative to get more dads reading stories to their children, emphasising to fathers the many benefits that reading for just 20 minutes a day can have upon their kids … and themselves.
Here, in no particular order, are five reasons why all dads should take heed ...
Dads Take The Stories To Another Level
Shared book reading – mum does a story one night, dad the next – has been found to more than just improve language skills. When mothers read, they often focus on characters’ feelings whilst dads will link the narrative to something more pertinent to the child.
“Dad is more likely to say something like, ‘Oh look, a ladder. Do you remember when I had that ladder in my truck?’” Dr Duursma explains. “That is great for children’s language development because they have to use their brains more. It’s more cognitively challenging.”
Joe Bernstein is a dad who enjoys adding a bit of challenge to his four-year-old daughter’s favourite tales. “When she knows the story well, I will change one of the words every couple of pages so she can interject and correct me, usually laughing," he explains. "We call it reading silly. 'Dad, read it silly'."
Bedtime Stories Lead To Better Real Life Ones
Research published by the British Journal of Educational Psychology into the role of early father involvement and its impact upon children’s educational attainment showed "a positive relationship between the amounts of literacy fathers engage in for their personal use and their children's reading test." Dads who are seen to be reading a lot around the home – books, newspapers, Viz etc – send out a positive sign to their children that it’s an enjoyable thing to do.
“I’ve found myself laughing hysterically when reading The Twits aloud to my five-year-old twin boys,” explains Wesley Doyle. “My wife and I read different types of story to the boys – though we both do the silly voices.
"I’ve read Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man to them recently and they’re gripped by it. I think it’s because Ted was a poet that the language he uses is so engaging for them.”
Boys Especially Benefit From Dad’s Tall Tales
While the Harvard Study highlighted the positive influence dads reading has upon girls, previous research also shows how doing the bedtime read is one of the strongest forms of ‘bonding’ between fathers and sons.
According to a study entitled ‘Why Fathers Matter To Their Children’s Literacy’ by the National Literacy Trust, time-pressured dads reported reading as a major way to develop a unique relationship with their children.
Father of two boys, Will Callaghan, concurs. “My youngest (age four) likes The Tiger Came To Tea, Have You Seen My Cat and George! He enjoys reading more when we’re snuggled in the bed – I use the torch on my phone to add to atmosphere and make it more fun.”
Books Build Better Behaved Kids
Studies have also found that the time a father spends reading with his child is one of the most consistent links to that child achieving positive literacy scores throughout his or her schooling.
But it’s not just your child’s language and literacy – along with your own Gruffalo impersonations – that will improve if you read to your kids at night. The Fatherhood Institute found that children whose dads read to them regularly displayed better behaviour and concentration at nursery, and performed better at maths too.
Even in families where childcare has been disrupted by divorce or separation, the influence of dads when it came to encouraging their children to read has been found to be a key factor in the ongoing educational progress of boys especially.
Dads De-Stress When Reading Aloud
Bedtime stories not only provide a relaxing routine for children – they can also calm adults down too.
University of Sussex research shows that reading is the most effective way to overcome stress. Participants experienced relaxed muscle tension and decreased heart rate within six minutes of turning pages.
“My boys particularly love Roald Dahl, and it puts me in a better frame of mind reading those books too,” says Mike Shallcross, father of two. “When you read the chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where he finds the golden ticket, you see what an amazing writer Dahl was.”
The Literacy Trust study also reported numerous benefits for the dads who read aloud at night – including greater skill acquisition, greater confidence and self-esteem, a better father-child relationship, and increased engagement with learning.
Rob Kemp is author of The New Dad’s Survival Guide