Reading to babies gives them a head start in maths when they go to school, according to new research.
Children whose families were encouraged to read to them from the age of nine months did noticeably better in all subjects than a control group.
Professor Barrie Wade of Birmingham University, who researched the city's Bookstart project, said he was surprised by the findings. "When the Bookstart children were only two-and-a-half they already showed dramatic differences in concentration and general attention span, so we were expecting strong results when they started school.
"What has surprised me is how far ahead they were in maths. It's particularly exciting to think that reading skills can encourage standards in maths, and possibly across the whole curriculum. That's something we'd like to explore further."
He said many early books included a mathematical content. "If you think how many children's books have counting games, rhyming games, shapes and numbers, that will go some way to creating a familiarity with maths."
When they started school this autumn the Bookstart children were most frequently ahead in speaking and listening, and reading and writing. They were also better at using and applying maths, number and shape, and space and measures.
Bookstart is a five-year pilot scheme run by the Book Trust charity in Birmingham. It concentrated on 300 families with nine-month-old babies who were each given a free book, a poetry poster, advice on how to read with children and information on local libraries.
Over the five years researchers Professor Barrie Wade and Dr Maggie Moore monitored those children, comparing them with a second group matched for background and age who weren't given books. This autumn all the children started school.
Since the pilot around 30 local authorities have set up similar schemes. This week Book Trust received a Pounds 150,000 grant from the Basic Skills Agency to promote Bookstart nationally.
Brian Perman, director of Book Trust, said: "We'll use the money to produce basic core materials which can be used by local authorities and libraries. "
The Birmingham scheme now has links with children in hostels, hospitals and Travellers' sites.