What Do The Experts Say About Shared Reading?

Prof. Genevive McArthur, Emeritus Board Member, Street Library Australia

Shared book reading with young children may help their development, particularly their spoken language and cognitive development.

Learn more about the work of Prof. Genevieve McArthur.

Claire Gallea, National Shared Reading Week Patron

Shared book reading has the potential to change a child’s life by giving them the chance to connect with their caregiver during the reading, enjoy the imagination of stories, nurture a love of books as well as develop their language and early reading skills. 

Claire is a PhD Candidate at the School of Psychological Sciences and Macquarie University Centre for Reading (MQCR). She is also a Senior Impact Analyst for United Way Australia.

A Summary By Professor Genevieve McArthur (Emeritus Board Member, Street Library Australia) and Claire Galea (PhD Student)

Some bold claims have been made about the importance of reading books to children before they start  school. National departments of education in multiple countries – including Australia and the US – have stated that “shared book reading” can have a large impact on a child’s later success in school and life (1, 2). Indeed, the American Academy of Paediatrics has declared that to “immunize kids against illiteracy, break out a book in infancy” (1).

One would think that such claims were backed by strong evidence. However, even a quick look at studies of shared book reading reveals that many are of poor quality. This would explain why so many have produced different results. In other words, the evidence is a bit of a mess.

To try and make some sense of this mess, Claire Galea – who holds a joint PhD position at United Way Australia and Macquarie University – led a systematic review. Claire started by searching for all the studies that had ever been done on shared book reading. She found 10,215! Her research team then read the titles and summaries of every single one of these studies – twice – to decide if they might be relevant. This reduced the number of studies to 151. Then the team read each of these studies in detail to decide if they were good enough to produce accurate results. This brought the number of studies down to just 44 studies, which included 46,043 children who had not yet started school.

Claire then used statistics to average the results across all 44 studies. These averages suggest that shared book reading is related to some aspects of children’s development – in particular the child’s understanding of words, spoken language, and general cognitive development (e.g., memory and problem solving (3)). This in turn suggests that shared book reading with young children may help their development, particularly their spoken language and cognitive development.

1. Cline, K. D. &  Edwards, C. P. (2017). Parent-child book-reading styles, emotional quality, and changes in early head start children’s cognitive scores. Early Education and Development, 28(1), 41–58. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2016.1177392

2. Kalb, G., & van Ours, J. C. (2014). Reading to young children: A head-start in life? Economics
of Education Review, 40, 1–24.

3. Spencer-Smith, M. M., Spittle, A. J., Lee, K. J., Doyle, L. W., & Anderson, P. J. (2015). Bayley-III Cognitive and Language Scales in Preterm Children. Pediatrics (Evanston), 135(5), e1258-