Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Shared Reading in Infancy and Later Development: Evidence from an Early Intervention

O'Farrelly, C., Doyle, O., Victory, G., Palamaro-Munsell, E. (2018) Shared Reading in Infancy and Later Development: Evidence from an Early Intervention. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 54, 69-83.,

Access: Institutional Access

Publication year


study description

Secondary analysis of a randomized controlled study.

core topic(s)

Shared Reading

Population Characteristics

Infant/Newborn , International

Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Child Behaviors and Skills , Child Development (general) , Language and Literacy Development , Parent Behaviors and Skills , Preparing for Life , Programs and Interventions (other) , Reading Frequency , Social-Emotional


This study uses data from an evaluation of an early intervention programme, Preparing for Life, to estimate the impact of book gifting on shared reading during infancy and the association between reading and later development.


Preparing for Life (book gifting and visitation).

outcomes evaluated

Reading frequency and childhood development.


The larger intervention study included two randomized conditions, of low and high intensity, recruited in one disadvantaged community in Dublin, Ireland. The catchment area had above national average rates of unemployment, early school leaving, lone parent households, and public housing.


Participants were randomized during pregnancy to a high intensity intervention group, receiving mentoring and book packs (n = 78), and a low intensity intervention group, receiving book packs only (n = 80). A no-intervention comparison group were allocated using non-random assignment (n = 78).

sample size

n=78 (book gifting and mentoring); n=80 (book gifting only); n=78 (no intervention)


Measure of Participant Characteristics: socio-demographics, maternal wellbeing, health and pregnancy, parenting and social support.


Measure of Book Reading Frequency: Mothers were asked how often they read to their child when infants were 6 and 12 months of age. Different response options were used at each time point as the questions were embedded in different instruments.


Measure of Language Development: Communicative skills and language development was assessed by maternal-report on the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories (CDI) Words and Gestures at 12 months.


Measure of Cognitive Development: assessed using maternal report on the cognitive subscale of the Developmental Profile 3 (DP-3) at 12 months.


Measure of Social-Emotional Development: assessed using maternal report on the Brief Infant-Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment (BITSEA) and the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social-Emotional (ASQ:SE) at 12 months.


At 6 and 12 months both the high and low intensity groups were more likely to read to their infant a few times per week or daily than the comparison group. The intervention groups did not differ statistically on reading frequency. Daily reading at 6 months predicted higher vocabulary comprehension and production, cognition, and socioemotional competence at 12 months.


Book gifting may offer an efficient means of reading promotion in disadvantaged communities.


"It is important to note that while few families in the low intensity condition availed of the services of the support worker, we cannot be certain that the effects attributed to the book gifting would be replicated in the absence of the other provisions available to the group. In addition, it is possible that parents in the comparison group received information on the importance of literacy activities elsewhere... It is possible that the estimated effects are an underestimation if the comparison group received such information...Survey questions of reading frequency were not identical at 6 and 12 months and it is possible that this may have led to differences in responding at the two time points, which may explain the different findings at 6 and 12 months concerning reading frequency. Our results also rely on maternal- report, which may be less reliable than objective measures of reading frequency... In addition, while misreporting may imply an overestimation of reading frequency, Mol and Bus (2011) report that single questions on reading frequency, as used here, may in fact underestimate associations between reading and development...The study is also limited by an absence of data on the quality of parent-infant reading interactions, particularly as the PFL logic model predicts gains in this area... Thus, it would be important to include observed measures of these interactions in future research. In addition the use of observed (Murray et al., 2016) or broader measures of socioemotional development, rather than the screeners used here, may better capture the underlying construct and offer greater predictive power for positive educational outcomes...Another limitation is that knowledge of programme fidelity is limited to self-report by programme staff and parents... The generalizability of the results is also limited by the small sample size and the individuality of the PFL programme, as HVPs are characterized by their differences (Sweet & Applebaum, 2004)... While observable differences between the groups were controlled for, if there were any unaccounted differences, the impact of the programme on reading may be an underestimation of the true treatment effect. Finally, findings relating to outcomes with lower levels of internal consistency (i.e. cognition and socioemotional competence) should be interpreted cautiously until further replicated.