Early learning success starts at home

Issue: Volume 99, Number 2

Posted: 14 February 2020
Reference #: 1HA5S4

New research has found that parents reading with young children has a positive impact on their early literacy and language learning.

Information collected from longitudinal child development study Growing Up in New Zealand found that shared book reading and parents encouraging children’s early literacy and numeracy skills were important contributors to early learning outcomes. 

The evidence shows that shared reading can help children develop their vocabulary and comprehension skills and benefits the transition to school-based literacy learning. This research confirms that reading with children from an early age has long-lasting benefits for children, particularly in the development of foundational oral language skills.

The research by the University of Auckland, University of Otago and Ministry of Education is the first in New Zealand to look at a range of factors that can impact early learning success. 

University of Auckland senior lecturer in education and lead researcher Dr Kane Meissel says it’s also the first New Zealand study to explore whether there are ethnic differences in the determinants of early learning success.

 “This is important research because discovering what contributes to successful early learning across ethnic and socio-demographic groups helps us provide equitable and optimal early learning environments for all children in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“This demonstrates the importance of ‘parents as first teachers’ and we need to look at how we can support parents to ensure they have the skills and resources necessary to help extend their child’s early learning,” he says.

Dr Meissel says parents across all ethnic groups demonstrated a similar commitment to their children’s early literacy and numeracy skills, which suggests widespread acceptance of the importance of shared activities such as reading together.

Key findings

Key findings from the Factors of the Early Learning Environment that promote Early Learning Outcomes in Aotearoa New Zealand report: 

  • Parents engaged with children around reading, writing and counting is a contributor to early learning success.
  • Most factors explored in the models remained important predictors across ethnicities. However, there was considerable variation within groups.
  • Mothers from all ethnic groups reported engaging in teaching behaviours to similar extents, indicating that a broadly similar value is placed on teaching activities across all groups.
  • Children whose mothers reported some concerns about their child’s behaviour at 24 months tended to have poorer early learning outcomes at 4.5 years. Further, the mothers of these children tended to report them engaging in fewer teaching behaviours at 4.5 years.
  • Mothers of children living in homes with more children’s books reported fewer concerns about emotional and hyperactivity difficulties at 24 months.

Rich language opportunities

The Communication strand/ Mana Reo of Te Whāriki sets out the curriculum to be used in early learning settings and includes a number of learning outcomes such as: children developing oral language for a range of purposes, recognising print symbols and concepts and using them for enjoyment, meaning and purpose. 

Te Whāriki states that early literacy learning emerges through opportunities that arise when teachers provide a print and language-rich environment, and when teachers actively support children to talk to each other, model new words and phrases, play word games and share a widening range of books, songs and poems.

Early learning settings are only one of many influences on children’s development. Some family practices are known to promote children’s learning and development related to progress and achievement at school. Adults play a critical role of engaging infants and young children in ‘back and forth conversations’ encompassing babbling, facial expressions, gestures and words, which wire the brain for development, communication and learning. 

Families promote children’s learning and development through creating opportunities in everyday experiences for shared reading, singing, playing together, counting together, recognising patterns, and interactions with a wide range of people, places, things and experiences. 


Education Counts report(external link): He Whakaaro: What affects how often mothers read books to their pre-schoolers?

Literacy integrated in a rich language environment in early learning is supported by research discussed in a Ministry of Education resource, More Than Words(external link).

Education Counts report(external link): He Whakaaro: How can teachers and whānau effectively teach and support reading?

Further information updates about early learning can be found in the early learning bulletin. Click here to subscribe.(external link)

Sign up now to receive the Education Gazette newsletter here(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:27 am, 14 February 2020

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