Parents who encourage their children to read for pleasure could be doing them more good than they know. A recently published study by the Institute of Education concludes that youngsters who enjoy books have better language and spelling skills and, in a more surprising development, also perform better in mathematics.
The seed for the improved academic results is planted early. Children whose parents read to them while they were infants outperformed peers whose parents did not on almost all academic metrics. However, in later years, the impact of books put even parental influence in the shade. Simply put, books were more vital to children's educational development than even their family environment was.
The study by academics at the Institute of Education, part of the University of London, found that reading had the strongest effect on vocabulary development but the impact on maths and spelling was "still significant".
The findings come amid continuing concerns that too many children are shunning books in favour of iPads, games consoles and television.
Research earlier this year found the relative difficulty of books read by pupils "declined steadily" as pupils got older, with large numbers of children ditching them altogether in secondary school.
Dr Alice Sullivan, co-author of today's research, said: "There are concerns that young people's reading for pleasure has declined. There could be various reasons for this, including more time spent in organised activities, more homework, and of course more time spent online.
But where technology taketh away, it can also giveth, according to Sullivan. She predicted that growing popularity of e-readers as well as e-reading apps on smartphones and tablets could expand access to beneficial reading materials and encourage more children to read. Sullivan also notes that government must play a role as well by developing policies that promote reading, especially among teens.
According to Graeme Paton of the Daily Telegraph, reading habits of more than 6,000 kids were closely monitored over the course of the study which also looked at lives of people born in 1970. Researchers then compared their early childhood reading habits with their academic performance further down the road.
Children who were read to regularly by parents at the age of five performed better in all three tests at 16 than those who were left without a bedtime story.
But it emerged that the greatest effect was felt between the age of 10 and 16.
It emerged that children who read books regularly at 10 and more than once a week at 16 gained higher results in all three tests at the end of secondary education.
Reading was found to be more important for children's cognitive development at secondary school than the influence of their parents.