He Whakaaro: What affects how often mothers read books to their pre-schoolers?

Publication Details

This insights paper uses data collected by the 'Growing Up in New Zealand' (GUiNZ) study to examine what affects how often New Zealand mothers read books to their pre-school aged children. The GUiNZ study has collected a wide range of information, including indicators of the skills and knowledge of a sample of approximately 6,000 children who, at 54 months of age, were nearly ready to start school.

Author(s): Steve Thomas, Kane Meissel (University of Auckland) and Professor Stuart McNaughton (Chief Education Scientific Advisor) Ministry of Education.

Date Published: December 2019


Reading books with children has a predictable impact on children's early literacy and language learning. For example, the evidence shows it can help children develop their vocabulary and comprehension skills and benefits the transition to school-based literacy instruction. This paper identifies factors from the GUiNZ study that influence how often mothers read books to their children. It concludes with some recommendations for how more parents can help their children to enjoy the benefits of shared reading.

Key Findings

  • The frequency that mothers read books with their children was different at different ages. Mothers were more likely to read books to their children when they were two years old than when they were 9 or 54 months old. This suggests these middle years are especially important times to establish reading with children.
  • There was a strong positive relationship between mothers' use of teacher-led, centre-based early childhood education and frequency of shared book reading when their child was 54 months old. This relationship was present even when controlling for other factors and suggests that teacher-led services made a unique contribution to family literacy practices.
  • Mothers who were more educated and/or worked in professional or managerial jobs were more likely to read books to their child. This is  consistent with previous research. These mothers also were more likely to use centre-based early childhood education services.
  • Family backgrounds and family life strongly impacted the frequency of reading books to their child at 54 months. Mothers who were in professional occupations read more. Mothers who read less were more likely to belong to lower socio-economic groups. Having a TV turned on in the same room as their child several times a day when their child was 9 months old was associated with lower frequency of reading at 54 months, but internet access was not.
  • Early support is needed. Programmes and services to support parents and caregivers reading with their children should start early, so that practices are formed by the time their children are aged two or three. Teacher-led early childhood education services may have a particular role to play in the years before school in supporting children's reading.


  1. Authored by Steve Thomas, Kane Meissel (University of Auckland) and Professor Stuart McNaughton, (Chief Education Scientific Advisor) for the Ministry of Education.
  2. Further information about the 'Growing Up in New Zealand' study can be found in Susan M. B. Morton et al., Growing up in New Zealand: Now We Are Four: Describing the Preschool Years (Auckland, New Zealand: Growing Up in New Zealand, 2017).

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