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Two-thirds of parents read the classics to kids as they don't know how to find out what the latest books are

New Oxford University Press (OUP) research finds two-thirds of UK parents (63%) prefer to read their children books they enjoyed in their own childhood, rather than choosing newer titles. The recent survey gathered the views of 4,000 parents across the UK, Australia, Hong Kong and China.

When asked what their favourite book or author was to read to their child, parents overwhelmingly named Roald Dahl as their top pick, 60 years after James and the Giant Peach was first published. Classic stories from Enid Blyton, Astrid Lingren’s Pippi Longstocking and Beatrix Potter also proved popular. Other favourites included Julia Donaldson, Michael Morpurgo, Valerie Thomas and Winnie the Witch.

The research also "revealed the power of reading in helping young people to make sense of the world around them," according to OUP. Two-thirds of parents see reading to their child as an opportunity to discuss difficult or sensitive topics with them and look for books that teach their child about wider society or have a meaningful message at their heart.

However, almost four in 10 (37%) parents said that they did not know how to find out what the latest books are, and almost half (47%) prefer to re-read books to their child, rather than look for something new. Six in 10 (56%) said their children preferred them to revisit the same books at story time, and half (48%) of those whose children read independently said their children prefer to re-read books to themselves.

Drawing on the insights from the research, OUP is calling on parents "to broaden the types of books they turn to at story time to prompt questions and build greater understanding of global issues. The publisher’s Oxford Language Report: Bridging the Word Gap in Transition, revealed that 92 per cent of teachers believed that the ‘word gap’ – where a child’s vocabulary is below expectations for their age – had widened because of COVID-related school closures. It also highlighted the value of talking about books and encouraging discussion in addressing the issue. Many parents surveyed supported this, with 61% saying they talk to their child about books outside of reading time."

Nigel Portwood, CEO of OUP, said: "We all recognize the importance of reading and the positive impact it can have on a child during key development years. It provides an opportunity to bond with family, while also opening people’s eyes to new worlds and ideas. It is wonderful that family favourites continue to be loved and enjoyed by parents and children alike.

"However, reading is also a valuable tool for helping young people to understand current and future societal issues. It’s clear that more must be done to support parents in accessing materials for reading at home—including helping them to identify new titles that they can read alongside family favourites—to ensure that all children experience the benefits that reading has to offer."

Other key insights from the research include that the top three reasons parents cited for reading to their child were building a love for learning and reading, improving literacy and vocabulary, and developing communication skills.

Three-quarters of parents said that reading to their child helps them to bond and connect, and 51% wish they had more time to read to their child.

One in five (21%) never read to their child outside of school, compared with just 2 per cent of Chinese parents, with two in six (15%) saying they don't have time and a third (32%) worrying about their own reading abilities.

A lack of sufficient support materials for reading at home (10%) and not having access to books (7%) were reasons that they don’t read to their child.

69% of parents cited that their child talks to them about the books they are reading independently.

The number of parents reading to their children drops off around aged 10, with almost half (46%) of 4–6-year-olds being read to every day compared with just one in five (20%) 10–12-year-olds.

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