The role of multiple ‘reading influencers’ in supporting children’s reading journeys

Findings from BookTrust research with early years families from low-income backgrounds

Research shows that reading in the early years brings a wide range of immediate and lifelong benefits that can transform children’s life chances. Sharing stories with babies and toddlers creates special moments of closeness, shared attention and enjoyment. In turn this supports bonding, positive attachment and wellbeing in families. Children who have regular exposure to books and stories experience important developmental benefits such as improved language skills, social-emotional growth, and enhanced creativity.

Our research shows that children are more likely to become independent readers when they experience reading with and are inspired by multiple people or ‘reading influencers’ from the earliest moments in childhood (see our recent research). These positive ‘reading influencers’ can include different family members, teachers, or other trusted people in families’ lives.

At a time when the disadvantage gap is widening, it is essential that we support and encourage as many people as possible to read and share stories with young children so they can enjoy the life-transforming benefits of reading.

What does this research tell us?

Through this new research we have learnt that 69% of young children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland experience shared reading with multiple people in their lives. It reveals that a range of individuals act as positive ‘reading influencers’ for young children, supporting them on their reading journeys. However, it also makes clear that nearly a third of children do not have multiple ‘reading influencers’ in their lives.

Our research highlights the important role ‘reading influencers’ such as family members and caregivers play in helping children to develop a love of reading. Not only do they share books and stories, they influence children to enjoy reading by finding ways to make reading fun, discovering new books to explore together or modelling their own enjoyment of reading. Children aged 0-7’s enjoyment of reading is influenced by mothers (77% of children), fathers (73%), siblings (63%), grandparents (61%), and aunts/uncles (39%). For 57% of children in school (aged 4-7), teachers are also among key ‘reading influencers’.

Our research shows that some groups of potential ‘reading influencers’ face particular challenges in supporting young children on their reading journeys:

  • 33% of fathers tell us they do not regularly read with their children (relative to 5% of mothers).
  • Many fathers tell us that they want to support their children’s reading journeys but lack confidence or knowledge to do so. 31% of fathers say they do not feel confident choosing books that their children would enjoy (relative to 17% of mothers).
  • Some grandparents lack confidence in reading books with their grandchildren. Others face challenges due to geographic distance from their grandchildren.
  • Many teachers have limited time to discover new books to inspire children in their schools.

We are working to address these needs and barriers as part of our strategy for every child to benefit from the transformative power of reading.

We have a particular focus on supporting families with children aged 0-5 and the multiple ‘reading influencers’ in children’s lives to develop sustained shared reading behaviours:

  • Bookstart, our early years programme for all families in England is designed to support easy, enjoyable and interactive shared reading experiences across families with diverse structures, circumstances and preferences. Bookstart resources have been developed with families and practitioners for use by different ‘reading influencers’ with different levels of skills and confidence in sharing stories with young children.
  • BookTrust is currently running a series of innovative pilots with families with children in their early years and practitioners in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to increase early shared reading. The pilots have a particular focus on ensuring children and different ‘reading influencers’ experience the immediate benefits of shared reading moments including family bonding, wellbeing and making memories.
  • We are developing new training and tools for early years practitioners to support their work with families.
  • We are improving the quality and accessibility of our support for teachers. This includes our Bookfinder platform which helps teachers to easily discover high quality books for use in their schools.

Download the report in full

More research

Our research and evaluation helps us to continually learn about how to inspire children to read for pleasure. Explore research and reports across early years, primary, secondary and wider reading for pleasure. Find out what impact our programmes have on children and families.

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