Survey finding raises fear that very young children are ‘missing out on a crucial window for language development’.

Nearly two-thirds of parents never read to their babies and are therefore missing out on a crucial window for their children’s language development, according to new research.

The survey, carried out on more than 500 parents of babies by ICM and the Fatherhood Institute on behalf of the charity Booktrust, found that 64% of parents were not reading with their babies at seven months, and that 57% did not own a single book until they received their pack of free titles from Booktrust’s Bookstart programme. Three-quarters of parents said they began sharing books with their babies as soon as they received their free Bookstart books.

Bookstart’s chief executive Viv Bird called the findings “worrying”, as “the enjoyable routine of sharing books, stories, songs and rhymes with babies is vital in building pre-literacy skills as well as providing important ‘cuddle’ time”. Leaving reading with children until later in their lives means they are “missing out on a crucial window for language development,” said Booktrust, which is now working with health professionals to explore ways of reaching families at an even earlier age.

Booktrust gives free books to almost 3 million children a year in the UK, with 30m titles given away by Bookstart since 1992 to promote the benefits of reading aloud to young children. The government-funded charity is fighting for its survival, having weathered a 50% cut last year and a 20% cut in 2012. It is now “urgently” seeking to sustain its grant of £6m a year, with its current Department for Education funding contract running only until the end of March 2013. “For every £1 the state invests, Bookstart turns a total £25 of value to society,” the charity said. “Without ongoing funding from government, [we] face the possibility of having to reduce or cut key services and children missing out on the joys of sharing books.”

Former children’s laureate Michael Rosen threw his support behind the Bookstart programme, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week with National Bookstart Week. “We now know that if we share books with children right from the time they are babies, we are helping them enormously to understand the world,” he said. “It’s all about looking, listening and talking. Bookstart offers the perfect way in: free books in your hand with all sorts of great suggestions about keeping up the habit of sharing books with our children. It’s a great scheme.”

By Alison Flood

Source: The Guardian –