Parents frequently read to children despite work pressures, study finds

Vast majority of junior infant children happy or excited to be at school

Parents frequently read to their junior infant children despite the pressures of managing work and caring routines, according to a major new study.

The findings are contained in Children's School Lives in Junior Infants, a landmark study which is following 4,000 children across almost 200 primary schools. The bulk of the data was collected prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was carried out by UCD's school of education on behalf of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

When asked about the home learning environment, just over half of parents reported that an adult read to their child every day (52 per cent) or four to six times a week (29 per cent).


Most parents also reported teaching their child to count or learn songs, poems or nursery rhymes during the week.

Researchers noted, however, that the findings are based on online questionnaires and may be skewed as a result.

Interviews with parents carried out by researchers highlighted many of the challenges of contemporary family life, including the pressure of managing working life with care routines.

They study also shows teachers are least enthusiastic about teaching religious education to pupils.

Just under half (47 per cent) reported enjoying teaching RE often or a lot, followed by drama (59 per cent) and PE (65 per cent).


By contrast, subjects with the highest enjoyment are English (99 per cent enjoy often or a lot), maths (93 per cent) and social, environmental and scientific education (91 per cent).

Schools are currently required to spend two and a half hours on teaching RE every week, although there are proposals to reduce this by half an hour under draft curriculum reforms.

The vast majority of junior infant children, meanwhile, say they are excited or happy in school. Almost a quarter reported feeling nervous, and 6 per cent were bored.

Teachers reported that a key priority was to create a happy, safe and stress-free environment in class for children’s learning.

Social development, learning to share, listen to others and adapt to co-operative ways of learning were also prioritised.

A key challenge, they said, was finding the time, resources and continuous support needed to sustain this kind of learning environment.

Teachers also referred to their efforts to find ways to respond to children’s specific needs.

Parents and grandparents who were interviewed also frequently referred to the enthusiasm and dedication of junior infant teachers and their sensitivity toward the children’s needs.

The research shows that almost half of teachers (46 per cent) reported that they sometimes felt stressed by their job, with a further 33 per cent feeling stressed frequently.

Despite this, levels of job satisfaction appeared high with 66 per cent reporting that they frequently felt satisfied by their job, and a further 19 per cent were always satisfied.

Some of the challenges and stressors they referred to revolved around ensuring children had the skills to engage with the curriculum, as well as managing parental expectations, even at this young age.

UCD assistant professor Seaneen Sloan, a lead researcher on the study, said the findings provide a unique insight into infant classrooms in primary schools in Ireland.

“The early years of primary school are crucially important for children, not just in terms of their academic development, but as a foundation for their holistic social and emotional development and wellbeing,” she said.

“Our findings highlight the work of teachers and principals in creating a positive learning environment in junior infant classrooms, and the value placed on this by children and their families.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent