Do infants learn new words from educational picture books?

Project: Research

Project Details


Do babies learn words from ‘first words’ picture books? One would expect this question to have been researched extensively, given the known benefits of reading to pre-schoolers for language learning. However, there is surprisingly little research on reading to babies. Babies may struggle to learn from picture books because they have immature symbolic insight – understanding that a picture (e.g., of a frog) symbolises a real-world thing. Some picture-book features may undermine babies’ learning by hampering this insight.

We will investigate whether babies learn words from picture books in a highly systematic yet naturalistic way, using commercial ‘first words’ picture books. Parents will read the books to their babies at home for 6 weeks. Before and after this, we will measure babies’ receptive vocabulary (words they understand) by having parents complete checklists and babies point at pictures and objects (‘Where is ____?’).

The findings will yield substantial theoretical advances in our understanding about babies’ symbolic insight. Practically, the project will clarify which picture-book features promote babies’ learning, with implications for those who design educational picture books (publishers), and those who choose them (parents, practitioners, librarians).
Effective start/end date1/10/1931/10/24


  • Nuffield Foundation: £305,823.00


  • Infant
  • Word learning
  • Book reading
  • Symbolic understanding