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How often do you read to your child? New study says: Step it up!

Kacy Andrews and Jack Messitt read a book before nap time to their 3-year-old son Sawyer in their Glendale home.
Kacy Andrews and Jack Messitt read a book before nap time to their 3-year-old son Sawyer in their Glendale home.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

As the costs and benefits of subsidized preschool are being hotly debated, a new study from Australia finds that the path to success in life for a preschooler begins with the bedtime story.

The study, conducted over eight years, concluded that when parents read to children on a daily basis, they are up to a year ahead of who are not read to.

And that’s regardless of socio-economic status. With consistent and frequent reading at home, the study found, children from low-income homes where parents have limited education are doing as well as children from higher income, more educated homes.

"It doesn't matter if a child is from a poor or rich family, or if the parents are highly educated or not, doing this basic thing of reading to them leads to better developmental outcomes," said Guyonne Kalb, a co-author of the study and director of the Labor Economics and Social Policy Program, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

Kalb told the Australian newspaper, the Age, that his team wanted to test the impact of reading on a variety of socioeconomic groups to see what the outcome would be. The researchers deliberately chose children “representing a whole range of families, from all different backgrounds and economic circumstances.”

They studied about 4,000 children, beginning in 2004. They started with a group of 4- to 5-year-olds and followed them up to age 11. The goal was to gauge the effect of reading to children on not only the children's own early reading abilities, but also on other developmental areas.

A preschool-aged child who is read to at least three times a week, the study found, will herself be a better reader and thinker--she'll develop the reading ability of a child six-months older.

Another finding: Consistent reading to small children improves their development of numeracy skills.

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