Our programmes at Mikhulu Trust are underpinned by academic research about the benefits of book-sharing on young children. This research is now accessible via our new #MakingSenseAtMikhulu infographics – a range of easy-read materials that clearly explain the research projects that we have been involved in.
Research is at the core of our work
Mikhulu Trust has been involved in academic studies, led by child development experts, that research the benefits of dialogic book-sharing. Of note is a 2015 study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, that used randomised controlled trials to understand the impact of dialogic book-sharing training on infant language, attention, relationships and behaviours. The study involved 91 mother-baby pairs living in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
Through this study, it is proven that book-sharing with a child improves a child’s attention span and language skills. Book-sharing can also positively impact a child-carer relationship and lead to less aggressive behaviour later in life. This is pertinent in a context like South Africa, where addressing matters such as educational equality and gender based violence requires a holistic approach – including interventions at the early childhood development level.
Dialogic book-sharing training is relatively simple and inexpensive to deliver – and it has a positive impact on children’s development, their relationships and their future prospects. In this light, it is a fitting programme to roll out in ‘less economically developed countries’ – like South Africa.
Through our involvement with the University of Reading (UK) and the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa), we continue to be at the forefront of studies on book-sharing and early childhood development. Some of these studies are connected to research projects in other countries such as Brazil, Namibia and Turkey. More about this can be read about here.
Our #MakingSenseAtMikhulu infographics look at different findings of the studies on book-sharing.
How we gathered data for our first major research project on book-sharing in South Africa
In our research project, which took place in Khayelitsha in Cape Town, 91 child-carer pairs were randomly assigned to groups (a book-sharing group and a control group). The impact of the book-sharing programme was measured using different tools and analyses.
Book-sharing improves children’s language skills
The research found that book-sharing resulted in markedly improved language skills in young children. Young children’s language abilities were measured before and after the book-sharing training, in both the book-sharing group and the control group.
Book-sharing improves a child’s attention span
Our study measured children’s attention spans before and after the book-sharing training – comparing the group that underwent the book-sharing training, and those that were in the control group. The children whose carers had received the book-sharing training almost doubled their attention spans! Researchers in early childhood development have found that the ability of young children to concentrate helps the development of their brain – and that good attention abilities early on in life result in good future educational progress. Book-sharing is important for our children’s educational future.
Book-sharing improves child-carer relationships
Our research looked at how carers interact with their children before and after book-sharing training. Researchers measured different aspects of the carer-child relationship – such as the carer’s sensitivity and engagement with the child, and how much the carer and child interacted together. The research found that book-sharing resulted in significant improvements in the relationship between child and carer. Because a loving relationship is so important to early childhood development and the future of that child, book-sharing is an important activity in improving future outcomes for young children.
Book-sharing makes children more emotionally aware
The study looked at the empathy of young children, and measured if this improved after book-sharing. Researchers used different scenarios, with the young children, to measure their levels of empathy and social understanding. Compared to controls, children whose carer had received training in book-sharing were more likely to be empathetic and showed signs of better understanding social behaviour. These capacities are important because children who learn early to understand social interactions, and who are empathetic, grow into older children and adults who are sensitive to the needs of those around them – which contributes to a more understanding and peaceful society!
Book-sharing has an especially large benefit for children with the lowest language and attention skills
Our research looked at the impact of book-sharing on children who showed particularly low levels of language and attention skills. It was important to find that those children with the lowest baseline performance in language and attention benefited the most from the book-sharing intervention. This means that book-sharing could be a major force towards educational equality – which is particularly relevant to a context like South Africa.
Could book-sharing contribute to the challenge of reducing levels of violence?
High levels of violence and related crime has long been one of South Africa’s major challenges, and addressing this requires interventions at several levels, including early childhood development programmes. Long-term studies on violence reveal that early book-sharing is one of the few predictors of reduced levels of adult violence.
About Mikhulu Trust: Academic roots
The Mikhulu Child Development Trust was established by two research professors: Peter Cooper and Lynne Murray, who are both Emeritus Professors at the University of Reading in the UK. We focus on developing evidence-based programmes for parents and caregivers of young children. We develop and test programmes for parents and their young children. We also design systemic approaches to implementing these programmes by working with government and NPO partners.