The vital role of shared reading in early education and childcare

Published on: 10 July 2024

To secure the best life outcomes for our children, we need high-quality early education and childcare – and that means investment and support for shared reading in settings across the country.

Children learn and develop more from birth to five years old than at any other time in their lives. High-quality early years education, with a strong focus on communication and language skills, can bring enormous benefits to children’s development – particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

“Through conversation, storytelling and role play, where children share their ideas with support and modelling from their teacher, and sensitive questioning that invites them to elaborate, children become comfortable using a rich range of vocabulary and language structures.”
- DfE’s Development Matters 

Shared reading brings a wide range of benefits for children's development. It supports early vocabulary learning and social development, and is a core part of the curriculum and Early Years Foundation Stage. Ofsted’s Best start in life: a research review for the early years emphasises the importance of reading with children early in life. 

Shared reading is an essential element of a high-quality early education and childcare systemBookTrust’s research shows that when early years practitioners encourage parents to share stories and show them how to do it, parents are more motivated and more confident. 

BookTrust is proud to be a member of the Early Education and Childcare Coalition, working together for a high-quality early education and childcare system for all children and families.


Sharing stories at nursery to promote speech and language development 

In Rotherham, Alison Scholes is an Outreach and Engagement Worker (Early Help) for the council, working across several children’s centres, nurseries and through one-on-one interventions with families. For Alison and her team, books and stories are integral to their work encouraging the development of language, communication and social skills in toddlers. 

Families don’t always realise the importance of books,” she says. “I’ll sit with them and demonstrate reading to their child myself and show them what their child has got out of itand we’ll talk through the benefits of shared reading. 

“We have lots of children who are struggling with language and communication. Parents often ask me how they can support their child to communicate better and respond more in conversations. I always tell them it links back to reading. Books are an important way to get through that barrier and encourage a child to talk.” 

Enhancing early years practitioners face-to-face work with families 

For Alison and her team, Bookstart Toddler and Bookstart Pre-schooler programmes are a valuable tool in their work with families who may not have books at home. For example, as part of the play sessions they run for toddlers, staff will include a story and songs for the group, followed up by gifting families a book pack from BookTrust.  

“It’s important for us to engage families with the Bookstart packs so we’ve got something visual to give them,” says Alison. “We’re not just telling them to go off and read to their children. We’re giving them a resource to say: ‘You can read this with your child, they’ll really like it - and here are the benefits they’ll get out of it. Parents often come back to me and sayThey really enjoyed that book, you were right, they do prefer to be read to by me. 

A regular shared reading habit supports bonding and secure attachment 

Paul Swift, Bookstart Coordinator in Rotherham, is responsible for distributing BookTrust packs to settings where families will benefit from them most, including children’s centres and nurseries. He says: “We want every child in Rotherham to be able to read, and to associate reading with fun. Reading together and sharing stories opens up a unique line of communication between parent and child, it creates that bond. 

BookTrust supports our library service to work in partnership with our health centres and nurseries. Giving out BookTrust’s Toddler and Pre-schooler packs to families in these settings means we can encourage more children into libraries – meaning they can continue reading together at home for free.” 

Paul adds: For a lot of families in Rotherham, their first thought is to pay the bills and get food in the house. Books are secondary. It’s massively helpful for us to provide books for them in this way for free - especially such good quality books along with different activities to do in the BookTrust packs. It means they can carry on the reading habit in their own home.” 

BookTrust is calling for the government to commit to a long-term national investment in books and reading for children in their early years. Find out more about our Reading Together campaign. 

Reading Together

Reading Together, Changing Children's Lives is based on decades of experience of working with millions of families and thousands of local partners, including health visitors, nurseries, schools, libraries and food banks.

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