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Do infants learn new words from educational picture books?

Researchers: Dr Jeanne Shinskey | Dr Jessie Ricketts

Project overview

This project will investigate how babies learn words from commercial ‘first words’ picture books.

Babies may struggle to learn words from picture books because they have limited symbolic understanding, and some picture-book features, such as textured features and drawings, may hinder babies’ word learning. Despite known benefits of reading to pre-schoolers for language learning there is surprisingly little research on reading to babies.

For this study parents will read books with pictures and photos, as well as textured and untextured features, to their babies at home over a 6-week period. Before and after this period researchers will measure babies’ receptive vocabulary through picture and object identification to work out the optimal format for first word picture books to maximise babies’ learning through shared reading.

The findings should yield substantial theoretical advances in our understanding about babies’ symbolic insight and clarify which picture-book features promote learning. This information will be useful to educational publishers, practitioners, and parents alike.


  • Dr Jeanne Shinskey
    Royal Holloway
  • Dr Jessie Ricketts
    Royal Holloway

  • Eleanor Ireland
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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