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Training mothers in sharing books with their children boosts literacy skills – University of Reading

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Training mothers in sharing books with their children boosts literacy skills

Release Date 04 September 2013

Sharing books with children boost literacy

Training mothers in poor South African communities how to share books with their children helps to strengthen crucial early foundations of literacy and education, a new study has found.

The findings of the study suggest that showing parents how to share books with their children could have a major impact on chronically low levels of literacy in poorer communities in developing countries - one of the greatest bars on social and economic advancement to millions of people across the world.

In a randomised controlled trial, psychologists from the University of Reading tested 91 infants in Khayelitsha, an informal suburb of Cape Town, South Africa - a country where stubbornly low levels of literacy and educational attainment among the indigenous black population is a major target for the government.

The infants were tested on their levels of attention, vocabulary, and comprehension, and parents were asked about their language skills development.

The mothers in half of the group were then given simple training in how to share books with their children - with advice including how to hold a book, how to point out pictures, and responding to the child's interest  - with the other half receiving no training.

After eight weeks, the children whose mothers had received the training showed markedly improved attentiveness, better comprehension, and improved vocabulary, and their parents reported a better improvement in their language skills than the infants whose mothers had received no training.

Professor Peter Cooper, from the University of Reading's Department of Psychology, who led the research, said: "Poor educational attainment is one of the greatest scourges of the developing world, but attempts to improve literacy rates can be difficult for people living in areas of entrenched poverty.

"Book sharing is known in the developed world to be of major benefit to children's development, but the implications of this for low-and middle-income countries have barely been explored.

"These initial results clearly demonstrate the benefits to infant development of training mothers in book sharing. If such training were widely delivered in South Africa this could have a profound positive impact on the cognitive development of the country's children. There is no reason why a similar approach could not also be successful in other countries around the world."

The research is presented today (4 September 2013) by Zahir Vally, the Research Fellow who worked on the project, at the British Psychological Society's Cognitive Developmental Psychology Annual Conference, a major international conference being held at the University of Reading this week.


For further information contact Pete Castle at the University of Reading press office on +44 (0)118 378 7391 or .

Notes to editors:

‘Evaluating dialogic book-sharing and infant language development in an impoverished South African peri-urban community' by Zahir Vally1, Lynne Murray1, Mark Tomkinson2 and Peter Cooper1 (University of Reading (1) and Stellenbosch University (2)) was presented on 4 September 2013.

The 2013 Joint Annual Conference Cognitive and Developmental Sections conference (CogDev 2013) will run from 4-6 September. The full programme can be accessed here.

The British Psychological Society is the representative body for psychology and psychologists in the UK, responsible for the development, promotion and application of psychology for the public good.

The University of Reading is a top 1% world university (THE World University Rankings). Its School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences has a long-standing reputation for excellence in experimental psychology, perception, learning, memory and skilled performance, and includes the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN), a pioneering centre for interdisciplinary neuroscience.

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