Many children in low- and middle-income countries fail to reach their developmental potential. We sought to determine if a parenting program focused on the promotion of reading aloud enhanced parent-child interactions and child development among low-income families in northern Brazil.
This was a cluster-randomized study of educational child care centers randomly assigned to receive an additional parenting program (intervention) or standard child care without a parenting component (control). Parent-child dyads were enrolled at the beginning of the school year and were assessed at enrollment and at the end of the school year. Families in intervention centers could borrow children’s books on a weekly basis and could participate in monthly parent workshops focused on reading aloud. We compared parents and children in intervention and control centers 9 months after the start of the intervention on measures of parent-child interaction and child language, cognitive, and social-emotional development.
Five hundred and sixty-six parent-child dyads (279 intervention; 287 control) in 12 child care clusters (26–76 children per cluster) were assessed at enrollment; 464 (86%) contributed follow-up data. Parents in the intervention group engaged in significantly greater cognitive stimulation (Cohen’s d = 0.43) and higher quantity and quality of reading interactions (d = 0.52–0.57) than controls; children in the intervention scored significantly higher than controls on receptive vocabulary (d = 0.33), working memory (d = 0.46), and IQ (d = 0.33).
An innovative program focused on the promotion of parent-child reading aloud resulted in benefits to parent-child interactions and to child language and cognitive development that were greater than those provided by educational child care alone. This promising approach merits further evaluation at scale.