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Parents opt to read old classics to children over new fiction

Parents opt to read old classics to children over new fiction

14 December 2021

At Oxford University Press, we recognize the power of reading. It can open people’s minds to new worlds, ideas, and cultures. It can inspire and motivate people. And it can bring people joy and comfort.

Today, we have launched new research as part of our second annual Gift of Words campaign to understand more about children’s reading habits through the eyes of their parents/ carers. We want to encourage parents, family, and friends to celebrate and share the power of  reading, especially following a second year of disruption to education. 

A survey, gathering the views of 4,000 parents across the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, and China, found that two-thirds (63%) of UK parents prefer to read their children books they enjoyed in their own childhood, rather than choosing newer titles.

When asked what their favourite book or author was to read to their child, parents overwhelmingly named Roald Dahl as their top pick, 60 years after James and the Giant Peach was first published. Classic stories from Enid Blyton, Astrid Lingren’s Pippi Longstocking, and Beatrix Potter also proved popular. Other favourites included Julia Donaldson, Michael Morpurgo, and Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul’s Winnie the Witch.

The research also revealed the power of reading in helping young people to make sense of the world around them. Two thirds of parents see reading to their child as an opportunity to discuss difficult or sensitive topics with them (64%) and look for books that teach their child about wider society or have a meaningful message at their heart (66%).

However, almost four in 10 (37%) parents said that they did not know how to find out what the latest books are, and almost half (47%) prefer to re-read books to their child, rather than look for something new. It isn’t just parents who favour familiar books: six in 10 (56%) said their children preferred them to revisit the same books at story time, and half (48%) of those whose children read independently said their children prefer to re-read books to themselves.

Drawing on the insights from the research, we are calling on parents to broaden the types of books they turn to at story time to prompt questions and build greater understanding of global issues. Our Oxford Language Report: Bridging the Word Gap in Transition, revealed that 92 per cent of teachers believed that the ‘word gap’ – where a child’s vocabulary is below expectations for their age – had widened because of COVID-related school closures. It also highlighted the value of talking about books and encouraging discussion in addressing the issue. Many parents surveyed supported this, with 61 per cent saying they talk to their child about books outside of reading time.

Nigel Portwood, CEO of Oxford University Press said: ‘We all recognize the importance of reading and the positive impact it can have on a child during key development years. It provides an opportunity to bond with family, while also opening people’s eyes to new worlds and ideas. It is wonderful that family favourites continue to be loved and enjoyed by parents and children alike. However, reading is also a valuable tool for helping young people to understand current and future societal issues. It’s clear that more must be done to support parents in accessing materials for reading at home—including helping them to identify new titles that they can read alongside family favourites—to ensure that all children experience the benefits that reading has to offer.’

Other key insights from the research include:

  • The top three reasons parents cited for reading to their child were building a love for learning and reading, improving literacy and vocabulary, and developing communication skills.
  • 75 per cent of parents said that reading to their child helps them to bond and connect, and 51 per cent wish they had more time to read to their child.
  • One in five (21%) never read to their child outside of school, compared with just 2 per cent in China, with two in six (15%) saying they don't have time and a third (32%) worrying about their own reading abilities.
  • A lack of sufficient support materials for reading at home (10%) and not having access to books (7%) were reasons that they don’t read to their child. 
  • 69 per cent of parents cited that their child talks to them about the books they are reading independently.
  • The number of parents reading to their children drops off around aged 10, with almost half (46%) of 4–6-year-olds being read to every day compared with just one in five (20%) 10–12-year-olds.

The report follows a special advent calendar across our Instagram channel where we asked our people and authors to give the #GiftOfWords by sharing a quote from a story that’s shaped their life, who they are, or their own story in some way.

Read the full report here

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Book recommendations

We have put together a list of books for parents, to help their children learn about wider society. Topics include diversity, acceptance, celebrating what makes individuals unique, friendship, caring for the environment, homelessness, love, and loss.

• The Pirate Mums – Jodie Lancet-Grant
• The Perfect Fit – Naomi and James Jones
• Stella and the Seagull - Georgina Stevens
• A Song in the Mist - Corrinne Averiss
• Everybody Has Feelings - Jon Burgerman
• Max Takes a Stand - Tim Allman
• The Soup Movement - Ben Davis
• Bear Shaped - Dawn Coulter-Cruttenden
• Everybody Worries - Jon Burgerman

There is also a free eBook library on Oxford Owl to support parents with children aged 3-11 years old  in developing their reading skills at home.