Growing Up in Scotland is a large-scale longitudinal project which is currently tracking the lives of two cohorts of Scottish children from the early years, through childhood and beyond. The study is funded by the Scottish Government.
This report uses data from the two birth cohorts in the Growing Up in Scotland study which were selected to be representative of children aged 10 months and living in Scotland in 2004/05 (Birth Cohort 1 or ' BC1') and 2010/11 (Birth Cohort 2 or ' BC2'). Data from both cohorts is used to compare language development at age 3 and explore whether any differences are linked to changes in early parent-child activities across the two cohorts. The report also explores whether any changes in home learning activities across the cohorts appear to be linked to the introduction of the Scottish Book Trust's Bookbug programme and the Scottish Government's PlayTalkRead campaign. These are national interventions aimed at improving parents' access to information and resources on parent-child activities in the early years. Although GUS was not designed to be an evaluation of these inititiatives, the timing of the two programmes meant that only the youngest GUS cohort of children ( BC2) was exposed to them, meaning that GUS provides an interesting source for exploring these questions. The limitations of this analysis are set out below. Finally, data from children in the older cohort themselves is used to examine the relationship between early parent-child reading and enjoyment of reading at age 8.
Vocabulary at age 3
- Children who were aged 3 in 2013 had slightly better vocabulary than children aged 3 in 2007/08. This difference remained even when controlling for known differences between the cohorts such as parental level of education.
- The difference in vocabulary between the most and least advantaged children (as measured by parental level of education) appears to have reduced slightly between the two cohorts.
Participation in home learning by age 3
- At the time they were aged 10 months, children in BC2 (69%) were slightly more likely than children in BC1 (66%) to be read to or to be looking at books most days, whilst they were slightly less likely to sing every day or most days (88% in BC2 compared with 90% in BC1).
- The overall frequency of home learning activities undertaken with the children when they were aged 3 did not differ between the cohorts. However, children who were aged 3 in 2013 (59%) were slightly more likely than children aged 3 in 2007/08 (56%) to have played at recognising letters, words, numbers or shapes 'most days' in the last week.
- Children aged 3 in 2013 were more likely than children aged 3 in 2007/08 to be doing activities by themselves, with their mother, and with their father. Specifically, there was an increase in the proportion of children doing all four activities with their father. This increase was only partially explained by other differences between the cohorts such as maternal and paternal working patterns.
- In both cohorts, children living in advantaged circumstances were more likely to undertake frequent home learning activities than children living in less advantaged circumstances. Overall, this relationship was similar across the two cohorts. The analysis found no evidence of any 'narrowing of the gap' in relation to the frequency of activities undertaken at age 10 months or 3 years.
- Amongst parents who read with their child once a week or less when the child was aged 10 months, almost nine out of ten had increased the frequency at which they read with their child by the time the child was aged 3. Parents in BC2 were slightly less likely to increase their frequency of reading than parents in BC1.
Relationship between participating in home learning and vocabulary ability at age 3
In both cohorts, undertaking frequent home learning activities was positively associated with higher vocabulary scores at age 3. No evidence was found to suggest that this association had changed between the cohorts.
The positive relationship between participating in frequent home learning activities and increased vocabulary scores applied equally to children whose parents had high levels of education and those who had no formal qualifications. This applied across both cohorts.
Relationship between home learning and receipt of the initial Bookbug pack and use of the PlayTalkRead website
Between the time children in the two GUS cohorts turned 3, two flagship invervention schemes focusing on home learning were introduced in Scotland. First, Bookbug, a universal book gifting scheme launched in 2010 that aims to encourage parents to share books with their child or children from an early age. Second, the PlayTalkRead campaign, launched in 2009, which provides parents and carers of children up to 3 years of age with free or low cost ideas of how to positively engage with their children in fun and playful ways.
As mentioned above, neither the questions asked in GUS nor the analysis presented here were designed to be an evaluation of these initiatives. This means that there are some limitations to what the analysis can take into account. First, the Bookbug scheme included free song and rhyme sessions and has since expanded to include outreach work targeted at children in disadvantaged circumstances. However, the questions asked in GUS allow us to establish only whether parents recalled receiving and using the initial Bookbug pack issued when their child was a baby. Second, the PlayTalkRead campaign has been delivered through a combination of TV, outdoor, online advertising, social media, PR, partnerships, a website, and a roadshow element. However, the questions asked in GUS focused only on whether the parent engaged with one element of the initiative - the website. Nevertheless, the GUS data present an interesting opportunity to explore the relationship between home learning practices and these specific elements of the inititiatives.
The points below set out the key findings which relate to the two initiatives.
- The majority of parents recalled having received a Bookbug pack by the time their child was aged 10 months. Of those who recalled receiving the Bookbug pack, the vast majority had used at least one of the items enclosed in the pack.
- At the time of the 10 month interview in 2010/11, 8% of parents had accessed the PlayTalkRead website. At the age 3 interviews in 2012/13 this figure had risen to 15%.
- Those living in more advantaged circumstances (such as in high income households, in the least deprived areas, and with high levels of educational qualifications) were more likely to report having received and used the Bookbug packs and were more likely to have accessed the PlayTalkRead website.
- A child's main carer recalling having received and used the initial Bookbug pack was found to be positively associated with doing frequent reading activities with the child at 10 months. This relationship remained after controlling for other background factors known to affect reading frequency. The association was equally evident amongst all parents - including both those with lower and higher levels of education.
- A parent having accessed the PlayTalkRead website was found to be positively associated with doing frequent home learning activities both when the child was aged 10 months and 3 years. Again, this relationship remained significant after controlling for other factors. When the child was 10 months, this relationship was stronger in families where parents had higher levels of education. By age 3, however, no such variation was observed.
- While receipt and use of the initial Bookbug pack and having accessed the PlayTalkRead website were found to be positively associated with doing frequent home learning activities, it is not possible to conclude that using these resources led to home learning. It is possible that parents who were already predisposed to undertaking home learning activities were simply more likely to use or recall using them.
Relationship between vocabulary and receipt of the initial Bookbug pack and use of the PlayTalkRead website
- A positive association was found between a child's main carer having received and used the Bookbug pack and the child having better expressive vocabulary at age 3, also when other factors were controlled for. This relationship appeared to be stronger in families where parents had higher levels of education.
- While receipt and use of the initial Bookbug pack and having accessed the PlayTalkRead website were found to be positively associated with expressive vocabulary at age 3, it is not possible to conclude that using these resources led to better vocabulary. Again, it is possible that parents who were predisposed to undertaking home learning activities, which in turn would have improved their child's vocabulary, were simply more likely to use or recall using these resources.
- No evidence was found to suggest an independent association between a parent having accessed the PlayTalkRead website and their child's vocabulary score at age 3.
Enjoyment of reading at age 8
- At age 8, most (66%) children liked reading 'a lot', with around a quarter (24%) saying they liked it 'a bit', and one in ten not liking it.
- Girls were more likely to say they liked reading than boys (74% of girls liked reading 'a lot' compared with 58% of boys). There were no statistically significant differences by socio-economic characteristics.
- Unsurprisingly, enjoyment of reading was more common among children who had a more positive attitude to school (always looked forward to going to school, never hated school, liked doing number work; liked doing sports and outside games and enjoyed learning) than amongst those had a negative attitude to school.
- After controlling for other factors, neither being read to frequently at age 2 or age 5 was associated with liking reading 'a lot' at age 8.
Overall conclusions and recommendations
Overall, the results from this report present a mixed picture. On average, children aged 3 in Scotland in 2013 had better vocabulary ability than those aged 3 in 2007/08 and whilst there is still a large gap between the most and least advantaged children there is some suggestion that this has narrowed slightly.
Home learning activities continue to be positively associated with better vocabulary development at age 3 for all children. This implies that if more parents can be encouraged to engage frequently in home learning activities with their child or children, this could lead to an improvement in language outcomes for children and a narrowing of inequalities between children with different social backgrounds.
Although most parents engage frequently in home learning activities with their children at 10 months and age 3, social bias is still evident in the extent to which parents do so. It is parents in the most disadvantaged groups who are least likely to engage frequently in such activities. These parents were also less likely to have reported using a Bookbug pack when the child was very young and to report having accessed the PlayTalkRead website.
Effective communication of these benefits to all parents may improve uptake, and may lead to increased home learning activities for disadvantaged children and the benefits to early vocabulary development that this will bring. Given their close involvement in the lives of many children, it would also seem beneficial to ensure that grandparents are equally aware of the important benefits of these activities to their grandchildren.
The fact that the behaviour of parents and children who are the most disadvantaged had changed so little suggests that while universal initiatives like the Bookbug packs and the PlayTalkRead website may be helpful for engaging some parents, targeted and perhaps more creative approaches are needed to reach the most vulnerable. The targeted Bookbug and PlayTalkRead approaches which have been launched since the GUS data was collected are aimed at facilitating greater engagement from parents in more disadvantaged circumstances. For example, 'Bookbug for the Home' is targeted and delivered by professionals and volunteers who are already working with vulnerable families, and the roadshow element of PlayTalkRead, has a particular focus on areas of multiple deprivation. Going forward, it will be important to monitor the penetration of these initiatives amongst the target groups. Even when delivered in deprived areas there is a risk that it will be relatively advantaged families who will tend to use them, because of a greater recognition amongst these parents of the benefits of such activities.
Importantly, this analysis explored parents' use of the Bookbug pack and the PlayTalkRead website among only a single cohort of parents who were exposed to the initiatives shortly after they were introduced. As such, it has not explored whether use and reach of the resources extended as the initiatives matured.
In terms of the relationship between parent-child activities and children's enjoyment of reading, the analysis found no differences in enjoyment of reading according to the frequency the child was read to in their early years. This suggests that if a child is not frequently exposed to reading during the early years of their life this does not make them less likely to enjoy reading during later childhood. However, the measure of enjoyment used here does not tell us anything about the frequency at which children read at age 8, or the extent to which they read for pleasure rather than as an exercise for school. Further research exploring these relationships would be useful to understand more about the influence of early reading on children's later reading behaviour. Encouragingly, at age 8 the vast majority of children enjoyed reading and a great many liked it 'a lot'. Also, whilst girls were more likely than boys to enjoy reading, there were no differences by socio-economic characteristics; children of all social backgrounds were similarly likely to enjoy reading.
In summary, there is modest evidence of improvement in parental involvement and child outcomes over this period. Given the limitations of the data that was collected in GUS, it is not possible to attribute these improvements directly to Bookbug or PlayTalkRead.