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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
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National Year of Reading

READING: THE HOME AND FAMILY CONTEXT

INTRODUCTION

Reading is an activity enjoyed by many, and widely held to be an essential component for success in education. Therefore, educators and policy-makers have been keen to promote an appreciation for, and engagement in, reading by children. Reflecting this, the National Year of Reading 2012 seeks to support “... children learning to read and keen readers finding new sources of inspiration.”[endnote 1] Parents, and the family context more generally, are known to play an important role in helping children learn to read and in stimulating a continuing interest in independent reading. This article examines the important relationship between family context and children’s reading in Australia, using the available data from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC).

Data from LSAC indicate that family context, according to such measures as visits to the library or reading to the child, strongly influences children’s engagement in reading. The study also finds that while the majority of children enjoy reading, only a minority are very frequent readers. About one in ten children do not enjoy reading and did not read on the diary day, though this proportion varies according to family context.

Image: National Year of Reading [endnote 2]

Image: National Year of Reading.[endnote 2]


MEASURING CHILDREN’S READING

There are different ways to measure children’s engagement in reading. Some studies ask children to report the frequency of reading using predetermined categories such as ‘reads every day’, ‘a few times per week’, ‘per month’, ‘per year’, or ‘not at all’ (e.g. Clark and Foster, 2005). A second option is to ask children whether they read during a specified time period. For example, the ABS publication Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities (4901.0) reports on whether children read at all in the two weeks prior to interview. A third source of information on children’s reading is time-diaries, where individuals report all their activities on a specified day or days (Egerton and Gershuny, 2004).

These measurement options vary in the extent to which they place restrictions on the time period over which children are asked to recall information on their engagement in reading. The first option tends to place few or no restrictions on the time period, while the second and third options are increasingly restrictive (two weeks and specified days respectively). As the time period narrows, there is an increasing likelihood of capturing the most frequent readers only (Mullan, 2010). This article uses information about children’s reading for leisure gleaned from children’s time-diaries in LSAC. As this measure tends to capture relatively more frequent readers, it is combined with information in LSAC about whether or not children enjoy reading. The results provide a comprehensive insight into children’s reading in Australia.


Measures of children’s reading in LSAC

Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) is conducted in partnership between the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA); the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS); and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). However, the findings and views reported in this paper are those of the authors and should not be attributed to FaHCSIA, AIFS or the ABS.

LSAC is a major study that follows the development of children and families from all parts of Australia. The study commenced in 2004 with two cohorts – 5,107 families with children aged 0–1 year and 4,983 families with children aged 4–5 years. By following children over time, the study is able to examine the individual, family, and broader social and environmental factors that influence a child’s development. Growing Up in Australia is investigating the contribution of children’s social, economic and cultural environments to their adjustment and wellbeing. A major aim is to identify policy opportunities for improving support for children and their families and for early intervention and prevention strategies.

The older cohort of children, aged 4–5 years at the commencement of the study and 10–11 years by the time of the collection wave in 2010, is the focus of this article. LSAC collected responses from the 10–11 age group using time-diaries completed by children. This was the first time that time-diaries had been collected from children in an Australian context. They have been used previously in other countries including the United States of America and the United Kingdom. A time-diary is a record of the sequence of all activities the child engaged in during the day prior to interview, and represents one of the most reliable methods of collecting information about children’s engagement in different activities (Robinson, 1999). In addition to collecting information on children’s engagement in reading for leisure on the diary day, LSAC asked the children whether they enjoyed reading. Enjoyment of reading is a natural precursor to engagement in reading and in particular reading for pleasure, which has been highlighted as an important aspect in the promotion of children’s reading (Clark and Rumbold, 2006). Results from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that, in Australia, more than a quarter of the differences in reading performance are associated with students’ reading enjoyment.

To maximise the information about children’s reading available in LSAC, data about children’s self-reported enjoyment of reading and children’s engagement in non-school reading for leisure (recorded in the time-diary) have been combined, creating a four-point indicator of children’s reading, namely:
  1. children who enjoy reading and who read for leisure on the diary day
  2. children who enjoy reading but who did not read for leisure on the diary day
  3. children who do not enjoy reading but read for leisure on the diary day, and
  4. children who do not enjoy reading and did not read for leisure on the diary day.

The first part of the analysis is cross-sectional. Children’s reading habits are examined in terms of their current characteristics, for example their mother’s employment status. The second part of the analysis looks at the children’s current reading habits, at age 10–11 years, in light of the family reading context when the child was aged 4–5 years, for instance, the numbers of days they were read to each week. The data here are particularly useful because LSAC is a longitudinal study. This means that the necessary data were collected at the time and hence are much more accurate than retrospective data collected at a later time, which may be affected by recall bias (i.e. when people’s recollection may overstate or understate past behaviours). LSAC therefore has the potential to identify early childhood influences on reading accurately.


LSAC sample description

In 2010, the older cohort comprised 4,164 children; of these, 3,961 completed a time-diary and reported whether they enjoyed reading or not, yielding a response rate of 95%. Although the sample is restricted to children aged 10–11 years, it encompasses the period of middle childhood, which is critical for later adolescent development (McHale, Crouter and Tucker, 2001), and in which the influence of the family context is particularly important (Hofferth, 2010).

The sample is split almost equally between boys and girls. Just over two-fifths (43%) of children live in families where at least one parent has a university degree. For 77% of children, the mother is employed either full-time (36%) or part-time (41%). In 13% of families, the mother speaks a language other than English at home. Most children (86%) live with two parents (including step-parents). The sample is split fairly equally between those who did and those who did not visit a library (any type of library, in the month prior to the parent interview) when they were aged 4–5 years. The majority of children (85%) had more than 30 books in their home when they were aged 4–5 years, and 97% of children were read to at least one day per week (79% being read to at least three days per week) when aged 4–5 years (table 1).


1. SAMPLE DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS(a)
Children 10–11 years
Number
%

Child gender
Boy
2 022
51
Girl
1 939
49
Parental education
No degree
2 251
57
Degree
1 709
43
Mother’s employment status
Employed full-time (30+ hours/week)
1 406
36
Employed part-time (less than 30 hours/week)
1 591
41
Not currently employed
913
23
Mother’s language spoken at home
English
3 384
87
Non-English
509
13
Family type
Dual parents family
3 357
86
Lone mothers
558
14
Visited library aged 4–5 years
No
1 857
47
Yes
2 103
53
Number of books in household when aged 4–5 years
0–29 books
576
15
30 or more books
3 384
85
Days read to in previous week when aged 4–5 years
None
109
3
1–2 days
706
18
3–5 days
1 168
30
6–7 days
1 976
49

(a) Numbers may not sum to total due to missing values on some variables.

Source: LSAC Wave 4.



RESULTS FROM LSAC [endnote 3]

Reading by children aged 10–11 years

Overall, 30% of children enjoy reading and report reading on the diary day. A further 1% read on the diary day but do not enjoy reading. Therefore, a total of 31% of children read on the diary day, with the vast majority of children (87%) enjoying reading (graph 2). This is comparable with results from children’s time-diary data in the United States of America showing that 27% of children aged up to 12 years were engaged in reading (Bianchi and Robinson, 1997).

The largest group of children enjoys reading but did not read on the diary day (57%). This group is likely to encompass less frequent readers, many of whom may read at least once over a period of at least a couple of weeks. The data on children’s reading from LSAC are consistent with figures from the ABS Survey of Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, 2009 stating that 72% of children aged 5–14 years participated in reading at least once over a two-week period.

Just over one child in ten (11%) does not enjoy reading and did not read on the diary day. This group is broadly comparable with non-readers or extremely infrequent readers in other studies. In the United Kingdom, Clark and Foster (2005) reported that 15% of children aged 6–16 years never or almost never read. In the United States of America, Yankelovich and Scholastic (2008) reported that 9% of children aged 5–17 years never or almost never read. The age range of children varies in both these studies, but LSAC data on low or no reading engagement seems comparable with data elsewhere.

More girls than boys enjoy reading and read for leisure on the diary day, while fewer girls than boys do not enjoy reading and did not read on the diary day. Girls and boys are equally likely to enjoy reading but not to have read on the diary day. They are also equally likely to be reluctant readers. Overall, girls read more often, and are more likely to enjoy reading.

2. READING OF CHILDREN AGED 10-11 YEARS(a), By Gender



Family characteristics

Parental education

Research has consistently shown that children with more highly educated parents are more likely to enjoy reading and to read more often (e.g. Hofferth and Sandberg, 2001; Mullan, 2010). This finding is confirmed by the LSAC data.

Overall, children with highly educated parents are more likely to enjoy reading than those in low education households (90% compared with 85%). However, parental education has a stronger association with children's engagement in reading on the diary day. Almost twice as many children in high education households enjoy reading and read on the diary day (41%) as children in low education households (23%). Moreover, twice as many children in low education households (14%) do not enjoy reading and did not read on the diary day as those in high education households (7%). The overall association between children’s reading and parental education is clear (graph 3).

3. READING OF CHILDREN AGED 10-11 YEARS(a), By parental education


Mother’s employment status

Many studies on the impact of maternal employment on children’s cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes have failed to find significant differences between children with a mother in employment and those without (Russell and Bowman, 2000; Pleck, 1985; Yunos and Talib, 2009). Similar results from LSAC suggest that the reading behaviour of children aged 10–11 years does not vary according to mother’s employment status (graph 4).

Irrespective of whether the mother was employed full-time, part-time or not employed at the time of the survey, around 87% of children reported that they enjoy reading, with around 30% reading on the diary day. Among children who enjoy reading, those who live in a household with mothers employed part-time are slightly more likely to report reading on the diary day (32%) than are children living in a household with mothers employed full time (28%) or not employed (28%).

4. READING OF CHILDREN AGED 10-11(a), By mother's employment status


Mother’s language spoken at home

Results from LSAC show that, in Australia, children’s reading may well benefit from having a mother who speaks a language other than English at home. Overall, children aged 10–11 years in households where the mother speaks a language other than English at home are more likely to enjoy reading (91%) than are children in households with a mother who only speaks English at home (87%) (graph 5).

Mothers speaking a language other than English at home also had a strong positive effect on whether a child read on the diary day. The proportion of children who enjoy reading and who read the diary day was 38% for those living in a household with a mother speaking a language other than English, compared to 28% of children in households with a mother who spoke English only.

5. READING OF CHILDREN AGED 10-11(a), By mother's language spoken at home


Family type

A considerable body of research shows that children growing up in a single mother family face a number of disadvantages compared to children growing up in two-parent families (Haurin 1992; McLanahan and Sandefur, 1997). However, the differences in children’s reading outcomes may be related to broader socio-economic characteristics rather than family type alone (Edwards et al. 2009; OECD, 2011). For example, results from the 2009 PISA suggest that there is no significant relationship in reading performance between children in single parent families and children from dual-parent families, once socio-economic background had been taken into account (OECD, 2011).

Results from LSAC show that 88% of children in households with two parents enjoy reading, and 32% of children in dual-parent families enjoy reading and report reading on the diary day. The vast majority of children in lone mother households enjoy reading (85%), with 21% enjoying reading and reading on the diary day (graph 6). These results suggest that family type has no effect on overall enjoyment of reading, but there is a significant difference by family type in whether a child who enjoys reading actually read on the diary day. The difference in reading behaviour on the diary day might also be due to other factors (e.g. different daily routines between children from different family structures).

6. READING OF CHILDREN AGED 10-11(a), By family type


The family reading context

We now use the longitudinal dimension of LSAC to look back at the family reading context of the older cohort when they were aged 4–5 years. The influence of the family reading context in children’s early years strongly influences children’s reading later in life (Baker, Scher and Mackler, 1997; Senechal and Le Fevre, 2002). Moreover, using indicators derived when children are aged 4–5 years enables the exclusion of any influence of school upon children or parents, thus keeping the influence of the family context separate from potential school effects. Factors related to the family reading context available from LSAC are: the number of books in the family home, whether the child visited a library, and the extent to which the child was read to in the week prior to interview.


Number of books in household at age 4–5 years

Children who lived in households with 30 or more books when aged 4–5 years are more likely to enjoy reading (88%) at age 10–11 years than are those who lived in households with fewer than 30 books (82%). Those from households with 30 or more books are slightly more likely to enjoy reading and read on the diary day (30%) than those from households with fewer than 30 books (28%). This suggests that for those aged 10–11 years, the presence of a relatively large number of books in the home when aged 4–5 years is more strongly associated with the enjoyment of reading in general than with reading on the diary day. Finally, a higher percentage of children from households with fewer than 30 books do not enjoy reading and did not read on the diary day (17%) than of those from households with 30 or more books (10%) (graph 7).

7. READING OF CHILDREN AGED 10-11(a), By number of books at home at age 4-5 years



Library visit at age 4–5 years

A ‘library visit’ refers to a visit to any type of library in the month prior to interview. Results show that visiting a library when aged 4–5 years is positively associated with children’s engagement in reading at age 10–11 years. Children who had visited a library when aged 4–5 years were more likely to read on the diary day and enjoy reading (34%) than those who had not (26%). Children who did not visit a library when aged 4–5 years are more likely to not read on the diary day and not enjoy reading (14%) than children who visited a library (9%) (graph 8).

8. READING OF CHILDREN AGED 10-11(a), By library visits at age 4-5 years



Reading to a child at age 4–5 years

Graph 9 shows that children aged 10–11 years who were read to when aged 4–5 years were more likely to enjoy reading and to have read on the diary day than were children who were not read to.

A relatively high proportion (37%) of children who were read to six to seven days per week (in the week prior to interview) when aged 4–5 years enjoy reading and read on the diary day. By contrast, only one-fifth (21%) of children who were not read to when aged 4–5 years or read to only one to two days per week enjoy reading and reported reading on the diary day. Children who were read to three to five times by a carer in the week prior to interview lie between these two extremes (27%).

Image: Victorian Government’s Young Readers Program 2007–11 Final Report (Kelly et al, 2011) (photo by Andrew Lloyd courtesy State Library of Victoria)
Image: Victorian Government’s Young Readers Program 2007–11 Final Report (Kelly et al. 2011) (photo by Andrew Lloyd, courtesy State Library of Victoria).


Children who were not read to when aged 4–5 years are reasonably likely to not enjoy reading and to have not read on the diary day (18%). This proportion is 8 percentage points higher than for children who were read to six to seven days per week (10%).

9. READING OF CHILDREN AGED 10-11 YEARS(a), By parental reading at age 4-5 years



Reading and other activities

Looking again at the diary day without reference to the past, children aged 10–11 years who watch TV and play computer games are less likely to read for leisure while children who do homework and play board games are more likely to do so (table 10). It is important to stress that these are cross-sectional associations and are not conclusive evidence of the displacement of one activity for another.

There were no significant differences between boys and girls aged 10–11 years with respect to the association between reading and other activities.

Television viewing is the most common activity among children aged 10–11 years, with 86% of all children reporting this activity on the diary day. The proportion of children who watched TV is lower among those who read on the diary day (81%) than among those who did not read (88%). Boys who engage in organised sports were less likely to report reading than boys who did not. However, this association was not observed for unorganised sports, or among girls.

Children who reported reading were less likely to report playing computer games (45%) than those who did not report reading (49%). This association is concentrated in games using ‘PlayStation’ or other similar game consoles, rather than games played on a personal computer. This may be associated with differences in the cognitive or other developmental aspects of different types of computer game formats.

Reading is positively associated with homework and board games. The proportion of children who report doing homework is higher among those who read (45%) than among those who do not read (30%). This represents the largest gap between children who read and those who do not read on the diary day in engagement in any of the other activities. This result likely highlights a correlation between interest in reading and concern with doing well at school on the part of both parents and children, which is likely related to parental education and socio-economic status.


10. ENGAGEMENT IN OTHER ACTIVITIES FOR ALL CHILDREN 10–11 YEARS(a), By those who report reading for leisure, and those who do not
TV
Sport
Computer games
Homework
Board games
(%)
(%)
(%)
(%)
(%)

No reading
88
79
49
30
25
Reading
81
78
45
45
30
Total
86
79
48
35
27

(a) Weights applied.

Source: LSAC Wave 4.


CONCLUSION

This article has described children’s engagement in, and enjoyment of, reading using data from LSAC, including data from the first self-completed child time-diary in Australia. It highlights the importance of the family context in promoting children’s reading, in particular in more active involvement such as organising visits to the library or by reading to children. In this National Year of Reading, it is important to note that while the majority of children enjoy reading, only a minority are frequent readers. Furthermore, the data from LSAC show that overall about one in ten children do not enjoy reading and did not read on the diary day, ranging from 7%–18% depending on family context. Efforts to increase children’s engagement in reading will likely be enhanced if the full range of children’s attitudes towards, and engagement in, reading are taken into consideration in the design of specific programs.


ENDNOTES

1. National Year of Reading 2012 <Back>
2. National Year of Reading 2012 <Back>
3. All differences presented in the text are statistically significant at the 5% level or higher, unless stated otherwise. <Back>


BIBLIOGRAPHY

ABS products

Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia, Apr 2009 (4901.0).


References

Baker, L, Scher, D and Mackler, K 1997, “Home and family influences on motivations for reading”, Educational Psychologist, 32(2), 69–82
Bianchi, SM and Robinson, J 1997, “What did you do today? Children’s use of time, family composition, and the acquisition of social capital”, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59(2), 332–344
Clark, C and Foster, A 2005, Children’s and young people’s reading habits and preferences: the who, what, why, where and when, London: National Literacy Trust
Clark, C and Rumbold, K 2006, Reading for pleasure: A research overview, London: National Literacy Trust
Edwards, B, Baxter, J, Smart, D, Sanson, A and Hayes, A 2009, “Financial disadvantage and children’s school readiness”, Family Matters, 83, 23–31
Egerton, M and Gershuny, J 2004, The utility of time use data: report to the DfES, Colchester: University of Essex
Glick, JE and White, MJ 2003, “The Academic Trajectories of Immigrant Youths: Analysis Within and Across Cohorts”, Demography, 40 (4), 759–783
Haurin, R J 1992, “Patterns of Childhood Residence and the Relationship to Young Adult Outcomes”, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 846–860
Hofferth, SL 2010, “Home media and children’s achievement and behavior”, Child Development 81(5), 1598–1619
Hofferth, SL and Sandberg, JF 2001, “How American children spend their time”, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63: 295–308
Kelly, P et al. 2011, Victorian Government’s Young Readers Program 2007–11 Final Report, State Library of Victoria
McHale, SM, Crouter, AC and Tucker, CJ 2001, “Free-time activities in middle childhood: links with adjustment in early adolescence”, Child Development 72(6), 1764–1778
McLanahan, S and Sandefur, GD 1997, Growing Up with a Single Parent, Harvard University Press
Mullan, K 2010, “Families that read: a time-diary analysis of young people’s and parents’ reading”, Journal of Research in Reading, 33(4), 414–430
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2011,”How do students from single-parent families perform in reading?”, in OECD, PISA 2009 at a Glance, OECD Publishing
Pleck, JH 1985, Working wives/working husbands, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage
Robinson, JP 1999, “The Time-Diary Method: Structure and Method” in Pentland, WE, Harvey, AS, Lawton, MP and McColl, MA Time Use Research in the Social Sciences, 47–89, New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publisher
Russell, G and Bowman, L 2000, Work and Family, Current thinking, research and practice, prepared for the Department of Family and Community Services as a background paper for the National Families Strategy
Senechal, M and Le Fevre, JA 2002, “Parental involvement in the development of children’s reading skill: A five-year longitudinal study”, Child Development, 73(2), 445–460
Yankelovich and Scholastic 2008, Kids and family reading report, New York: Scholastic Inc.
Yunos, N and Talib, J 2009, “Mothers at Work: What Happen to Children?” International Review of Business Research Papers, Vol. 5 No. 3 April 2009, 179–188

Websites

The longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)
National Year of Reading

 

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