Supportive Book-Sharing

There is an enormous amount of research demonstrating that reading to little children and sharing picture books with them is of considerable benefit to the development of children’s language and social understanding . There is also evidence that if parents are provided with support in how to share books sensitively with children this leads to marked improvements child language development.

‘Dialogic (i.e. supportive) book-sharing’ differs from merely reading books to young children. It  involves the adult encouraging the child to interact during the sharing of a picture book. This is achieved by following the child’s interest, asking open-ended questions, expanding on the child’s responses, and praising the child for their involvement.

Virtually all of the research on dialogic reading has been done in high income countries. In recent years we have been carrying out intervention research in poor communities in sub-Saharan Africa, using ‘dialogic book-sharing’. For example, in one study, carried out in Khayelitsha, families with 14 to 16 month old children received a programme of eight weekly group sessions. The training both improved parenting and had a beneficial effect on child language, attention, and social understanding.

For further information:

Cooper, P.J., Vally, Z, Cooper, H, Sharples, A, Radford, T., Tomlinson, M. & Murray, L. (2014) Promoting mother-infant book-sharing and child cognitive development in an impoverished South African population: a pilot study. Early Childhood Education Journal, 43, 143-152.

Murray, L, De Pascalis, L, Tomlinson, M, Vally, Z, Dadomo, H, MacLachlan, B, Woodward, C, Cooper, P.J. (2016) Randomized controlled trial of a book-sharing intervention in a deprived South African community: effects on carer-infant interactions, and their relation to infant cognitive and socio-emotional outcome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry In press.

Vally, Z, Murray, L., Tomlinson, M. & Cooper, P.J. (2015) The impact of dialogic book-sharing training on infant language and attention: a randomized controlled trial in a deprived South African community. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 56, 865-873.

We are carrying out further research in South Africa and Lesotho.

For further information see:

Dowdall, N., Cooper, P.J., Tomlinson, M., Skeen, S., Gardner, F. and Murray, L., (2017) The Benefits of Early Book Sharing (BEBS) for child cognitive and socio-emotional development in South Africa: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials18.1, p.118.

Tomlinson, M., Skeen, S., Marlow, M., Cluver, L., Cooper, P., Murray, L., Mofokeng, S., Morley, N., Makhetha, M., Gordon, S., Esterhuizen, T. & Sherr, L. (2016) Improving early childhood care and development, HIV testing, treatment and support, and nutrition in Mokhotlong, Lesotho: a cluster randomized control trial of an integrated intervention. Trials, 17.1, 538.

We are involved in ongoing or planned book-sharing research in England,  India, Brazil, Italy, and America.


Thula Sana

A preliminary study of the benefit of the Thula Sana intervention was carried out in a small series of mothers in Khayletisha, a poor community in South Africa. A clear benefit to the mother-infant relationship was shown in comparison to a control group

On the basis of these promising findings, a full scale randomised controlled trial was run. This study involved almost 450 pregnant woemen from Khayleithsa, half of whom received the Thula Sana intervention. It produced reliable evidence of a benefit to the quality of the mother-infant relationship, as well as a benefit to the children themselves: compared to the control group, the children whose mothers received the Thula Sana intervention were much more likely to be securely attached to their mothers. This is important because security of attachment is known to be associated with a wide range of long term favourable outcomes.

For further information:

Cooper, P.J., Landman, M., Tomlinson, M., Molteno, C., Swartz, L. & Murray, L. (2002). Impact of a mother—infant intervention in an indigent peri-urban South African context. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 180 (1), 76-81;

Cooper, P.J., Tomlinson, M., Swartz, L., Landman, M., Molteno, C., Stein, Al., McPherson, K. & Murray, L. (2009). Improving quality of mother-infant relationship and infant attachment in socioeconomically deprived community in South African randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal,338:b974

 A pilot RCT of the Thula Sana intervention, currently underway in El Salvador, will be completed around the middle of 2017.