Children and reading: literature review

28 Feb 2014


The Australia Council for the Arts commissioned this literature review in response to the decline in children’s reading measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The review aimed to summarise current knowledge on Australian children’s leisure reading, and identifies gaps in knowledge and opportunities for further research.

The literature review explores findings across the following areas:

• Australian children’s reading habits – the who, what, when and how of children’s reading behaviour.
• Barriers to and opportunities – why (and why not) are children reading?
• Key sources and influencers – where do children get reading material? Who influences what they read?
• The significance of technology for Australian children’s reading behaviour.
• Emerging issues and trends in research on Australian children’s reading.



Australian children are reading less, according to research from the ABS. In 2012, 71% of children read for pleasure, compared to 75% in 2003. This decline is in line with research from the US and UK. However, there has been an increase in children’s participation in other art and cultural activities such as dancing, attending performing arts events and art galleries.

A number of factors are related to some children reading more than others including:

• having a substantial number of books in the family home
• access to a library at a young age (pre-school) and
• parents who enjoy reading and encourage their children to read.

Reading rates also vary by socio-demographic factors. For example, children become less interested in reading as they get older, especially boys. Also Australian children with one parent born overseas are more likely to read for pleasure than children with both or no parents born overseas.

Libraries are a key source of reading material for Australian children (50%) and around a quarter of are getting reading material from bookstores. 

However, there are also many gaps in the research on children and reading. For example, there is no research on the use of technology (such as e-books) by Australian children. Additionally, little research explicitly includes more diverse forms of reading (such as reading online or in narrative based games), and may be underestimating reading levels.


This literature review was conducted by Dr Dianne Dickenson, Associate Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, with the assistance of Susan Barclay.

The review focused on leisure reading by children aged between 5 and 14 years. While Australian data was used where possible, this was supplemented with recent international research. It included digital and multimodal forms of reading in addition to traditional paper-based forms.

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