Dads have a unique impact on their child's language... here's why

We all know the importance of encouraging early literacy and child’s language development in kids under five. But with mums still often being the primary carer during the early years, dads are not always involved in everyday literacy activities.

However, research from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) has found that fathers who read to their children can have a unique impact on their child’s language development. The study also found that a child’s language development increased as they grew older, finding that children whose dads read to them at age two predicted better language development at age four.

“This may be because parents in the same household are reading the same books, but that the different ways in which they read has further helped child language development,” said Dr Quach Postdoctoral research fellow at MCRI and Melbourne University lead author.

“Adults all tend to read books differently, such as focusing on different words, pronouncing things differently or emphasising different parts of the story. All these differences help children understand the different ways they can use language,” said Dr Quach. “There is some research which suggests fathers are more likely to scaffold children’s reading, which means they divide the reading into smaller sections to enable the child to better understand the sections.”

Also, dads are wonderful at silly voices! And, as Karen Gawen Young People’s Services Supervisor from Sunshine Coast Council explains, these silly voices do so much more than entertain. “Dad’s silly voices can spark more imaginative discussions, and bring the story to life in a completely different way than mum’s reading might.” Here’s some simple ways for dads to get more involved in early literacy activities:

  • Shared book reading: Mum does a story one night, Dad the next. Mum might tend to focus on the character’s feelings, whilst Dad might link narrative to something more pertinent to the child. ‘They have a football! Remember when we took the football to the park last week to kick around?’. And always ask questions to see if they have understood what you are reading.
  • Children respond to your enthusiasm! So, read something that you are enthusiastic about. If you prefer non-fiction, choose books about famous people, how things work, or sport. If you need some ideas, head into your local library.
  • If you don’t see your child every day, try to arrange a regular night that is special reading night with Daddy. If you work away, read over the phone or Facetime.
  • Make up your own stories. Kids love dads being silly, and this is the perfect opportunity to use those silly voices and get into a story with your child as the main character.
  • Tell stories about when you were young. Kids love to hear about their parents as a child, and they are easy to recount.
  • Get your child involved when you are doing household projects. Describe what you are doing, let them help write shopping lists, label items, or assemble furniture.
  • When you are driving, read billboards you see and signs.
  • If you play a board game with your child, pretend you’ve forgotten the rules and then read them with your child.
  • Do you have old magazines around the house? Let your child look at the pictures, tear out pages, cut out letters and search for words they recognise.

Need more ideas on how supporting your child’s language development? There’s plenty of early literacy programs such as Storytime and Rhymetime at your local library, as well items available to borrow. Just head to or pop into your nearest branch.

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