Learning within Learning: Picture Books and their effects on children’s cognitive development

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, The Secret Power of the Children’s Picture book, the author highlights how early experiences reading picture books with caregivers supports children’s cognitive, oral language and vocabulary development, thereby laying the foundation for subsequent development. In contrast to both purely listening to a story without any visualizations, which is too little to support young children’s sustained attention, and watching animations, which stimulates their brain too much to enable them to interact with the content, research suggests that reading picture books provides young learners with a “just right” amount of neural stimulation to positively contribute to their development (1).

An Early Childhood Education teacher reading a picture book to learners in Eastern Province, Zambia. Photo taken with consent.

The results of the baseline 2018 Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), administered by USAID Education Data activity to over 15,000 Grade 2 learners in five target provinces in Zambia also underscores the importance of reading with parents and other caregivers for literacy skills development. Learners who reported that someone reads to them at home, were on average able to read 6.59 more correct words per minute than learners who were not read to at home. However, only 7 percent reported that they were read to everyday and more than one in three learners reported that they are never read to at home.

The infrequent occurrence of reading at home is likely in part due to a lack of access to print materials in many of Zambia’s rural and remote communities. Only 41 percent of learners reported that they had access to reading materials at home and only 14 percent of primary schools in the five target provinces had libraries. However, learners who did attend schools with libraries on average read 7.2 more correct words per minute than learners in schools without a library, which suggests their important contribution to learning outcomes.

The baseline EGRA results highlight the on-going need for innovative approaches that allow for the development and distribution of children’s books at scale to ensure that globally, there is at least one book in every caregiver’s hand to enable them to provide the “just right” amount of stimulation to support their children’s development.


  1. Gurdon, M.C., (2019). The Secret Power of the Children’s Picture Books. Accessed from: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-secret-power-of-the-childrens-picture-book-11547824940?mod=e2fb&fbclid=IwAR3-lPtGtPZDrdBwKbXAQsxf8EgiMtrJSUxXb8tIdf5j9POT5ZxQwnnWjHA
  2. DevTech Systems, Inc. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), 2018, USAID/ZAMBIA Education Data Activity: Early-Grade Reading Assessment in Five Target Provinces, 2018 Baseline Report. Accessed from: https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00TZM9.pdf

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