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Worse reading, and less of it, for kids at daycare in poorer areas

Monday, 22 March 2021

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Children at daycare centres in more disadvantaged areas of Western Australia receive just half the time reading with educators than their counterparts in richer areas, according to new research from Edith Cowan University (ECU).

ECU’s School of Education researchers observed educators reading with 3 and 4-year-old children at four daycare centres in Western Australia. They found children at centres in lower socioeconomic areas spent 44 per cent less time reading with educators.

The study also found reading sessions were shorter, with less effective behaviour management and frequent negative interactions between children and educators.

Lead researcher Dr Helen Adam said these results were a real concern.

“We know centre educators faced huge demands on their time and resources, however it was clear from this research that centres in lower socioeconomic areas needed more support to ensure all children could receive the benefits of quality book sharing,” she said.

Dr Adam said some centres also placed restrictions on children’s access to books by using them as a reward or punishment for children.

“All of these practices are meaning kids at those centres in less advantaged areas, including many with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, are missing out and potentially falling behind their peers,” she said.

“That disadvantage only continues when these kids reach school age and we’ve seen, in anecdotal evidence, that similar disadvantage continues with educators in some classrooms spending little or no time reading to children.”

Reading at all daycare centres less than recommended levels

With 87 per cent of Australian children attending some form of daycare centre, Dr Adam said it’s important those children receive quality care and education anywhere in Australia.

“It is important for all children to have large amounts of quality reading time with educators to promote literacy and language skills as they enter school,” she said.

“While there are real concerns at those centres identified in our study, we also found there were many children missing out on reading at each of the centres we visited.

“Even at the centres where educators spent the most time reading, most children were not getting the amount of book sharing which numerous studies have shown can significantly improve literacy outcomes.”

Changes needed

Dr Adam is calling on the federal and state governments to provide more equitable funding and support for early learning so that all children can access quality daycare with well trained and well supported educators.

Dr Adam outlined five key steps to improve book sharing practice based on her research:

  • read frequently
  • read to small groups rather than large
  • spend time on the book
  • encourage and model response and conversation around the story
  • maintain a positive environment for reading.

However, she said parents can also help their children by reading often and engaging children with the books.

“For parents, it’s about reading with kids and then talking about the books, how they relate to their everyday lives, what they think might happen next in a story and ensuring kids are engaged with the story,” she said.

‘Book sharing with young children: A study of book sharing in four Australian long day care centres’ was published in the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy.

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