The On Track study performed at the Norwegian Reading Centre at the University of Stavanger found a strong connection between a child’s home reading environment from the time they’re very young and the progress that child makes in learning to read and learning to read better when they’re in school.
Study researcher Vibeke Bergersen indicated there’s a wide variation in six-year-old students’ abilities with the written word. Some new first-graders can already read on their own, while others don’t even understand that each of the letters represents a sound. What the study revealed, though, was that a number of home factors were responsible for this discrepancy. They include:
- Parents’ attitudes about reading
- The number of children’s books in the home
- The age at which parents started reading aloud to their children
- How often the parents read to their children
Combined, these factors determine “how well prepared children are to learn to read when starting school.”
The study involved 1,171 first grade students and their parents from 19 different schools in Rogaland County, Norway. Each of the students was tested in a number reading and writing skills when they started school in the fall of 2014, and the information was correlated with the parents’ input about home reading habits.
Bergersen explains that 18 months to three-years-old is the most influential time for a child’s language learning. Children read to regularly during this time, and those who have many children’s books in the home have a vocabulary almost twice that of children read to only after four years old and who have a few-to-no children’s books. Children with a large vocabulary understand more of what goes on in the classroom and can better keep up with the material being taught.
In addition, reading to children early and often increases phonological awareness, the understanding that language is made up of different sounds; that leads directly into phonics, the idea that a written letter is analogous to a spoken sound. Children who are read to regularly are exposed to the linguistic games, rhymes, and jingles found in children’s books that help them learn these concepts. This allows them to read by themselves earlier than their peers without that background.
The On Track study found that 80% of the Norwegian parents taught their children letters before they started school, and as many as 20% of the first-graders could already read. That still leaves a lot of children behind. So what does this mean for balancing out instruction in the classroom?
Kjersti Lundetræ, an associate professor at the Norwegian Reading Centre, believes instruction needs to find a balance between the differing abilities, but it’s important that both children who can already read and those who can’t be given challenges suitable for their abilities. Students who become unmotivated by lack of achievement become accustomed to learning little and no longer put in any effort.
Part of the effort to reach all the students should be assessing individual students’ skills at the time they begin first grade. That, and the teacher taking the time to get to know each student personally, can help all students improve their reading skills and move forward with their education.
 na. (October 16, 2015). “Home reading environment is crucial for children’s reading skills.” Retrieved from http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-10-home-environment-crucial-children-skills.html#nRlv.