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Reading with children: enhancing outcomes, being ‘special’ and personal meanings



It makes you feel very special if someone reads to you...you can enjoy being read to more than television...it gives you opportunities to talk if you don't understand, and pleasure


I think one of the lovely things is having a child snuggle down your lap reading something


It's the bond, that five minutes for you and them...this is their loving and special time

Parents cited by Seden, J. (2008)


Child/parent[1] reading is well known by educationalists to be an important component of child development and social inclusion. It is less considered by social work and care practitioners. This paper identifies how it is part of the capacity (ability) to parent and contributes to a child's wellbeing on a range of dimensions. It suggests that this understanding is important for practitioner interventions with vulnerable children and their families both in the community and when children are accommodated. It is relevant from the earliest of contacts and interventions with small children through to contacts and remedial therapeutic work with accommodated and other young people.




The paper draws from a study which demonstrates how parent/child reading contributes to the parenting capacity dimensions of The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (Department of Health et al. 2000), now incorporated into the Common Assessment Framework used in Every Child Matters (DfES 2008). For the purposes of this paper, the findings are linked to the five broad outcomes of the Every Child Matters paradigm in England.


The paper briefly outlines the study and focuses on findings in relation to parenting capacity and the wellbeing of children. The paper illustrates how the process of reading children's literature with a child contributes to parent/child emotional warmth, basic care and stability. It also considers how the content of children's books can be stimulating and enable considerations of safety, guidance and boundaries (the parenting capacity dimensions of the assessment frameworks). It argues that parent and practitioner use of children's books is a creative and natural practice tool relevant to a range of activities which seek to enhance and safeguard children's wellbeing.


Key findings

The research showed that:

  • All the parents, irrespective of social background, ethnicity or class read with their children and considered this an important activity across a range of dimensions.
  • That within this there was a wide range of practice, ranging from saturation of children's lives with stimulating books and the discussion of them, to parents who could hardly read themselves learning alongside children of school age.
  • Reading with a child enhanced the relationship between child and parent in relation to parenting capacity attributes such as: basic care, emotional warmth, ensuring safety, guidance and boundaries, and stability and stimulation.
  • Reading with a child is relevant to the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters paradigm in England (be healthy; stay safe; enjoy and achieve; make a positive contribution; achieve economic wellbeing) and to similar policy frameworks in Wales and Scotland.
  • Parenting capacity can be enhanced through child/parent sharing of books, and there is a key contribution to the quality of attachment and parent/child empathy.


Implications for policy, practice and research

  • The process of reading with children is important for the child/parent relationship.
  • The content of books is important when books are used therapeutically and to help with particular issues.
  • This is a process that has to be enjoyed in order to have this impact.
  • The absence of family reading experience will socially exclude children and their families.
  • Social workers, parents, other practitioners and volunteers can improve their own assessments and interventions, in a creative way, through supporting child/parent shared literacy and pleasure in reading together.



As argued by Yabsley writing in The Independent in July 2007:

...the happiness level and behaviour of children are directly affected by the amount of time parents spend singing, reading and playing with them. The more time children spend on these activities, either with an adult or on their own, the more intelligent, cooperative and happier they are.


The paper concludes that this is something that those in contact with children can take more account of, not just in a generalised way as above, but also in a focused, intentional, thoughtful way as part of their assessments, supportive and therapeutic interventions with vulnerable children and their families.


Key references

Seden, J. (2008) 'Creative Connections.' Child and Family Social Work 13, 2, 121-239.


Department of Health, Department for Education and Skills and the Home Office (2000) The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families. London: The Stationery Office.


Department for Education and Skills (2008) Making It Happen: Working Together for Children and Families. London: Department for Children, Schools and Families.


Contact Details

Dr J.P. Seden, Senior Lecturer, The Open University, England.

Faculty of Health and Social Care, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK.

Email: j.p.seden@open.ac.uk


[1] The term 'parent' is used here as shorthand and can include anyone in a parenting/caring role with children e.g. step-parent, foster carer etc.



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