Encouraging Arab families in Jaffa to read with their toddlers

Published August 15, 2022

An evaluation of the Jaffa Reads initiative, supported by the Bernard van Leer Foundation’s Urban95 programme in Tel Aviv-Yafo, shows that it has been effective in encouraging Arab families to read to their toddlers in the city of Jaffa, or Yafo. Before the four-week intervention, 29% of families said they had not read at all to their child during the previous week. A month after the intervention, that figure had fallen to 10%.

The programme is needed because gaps in language development between children of Arab and Jewish parents in Jaffa are more than twice as large as elsewhere in Tel Aviv. Jaffa Reads was set up to tackle issues specific to the Arab community in Jaffa, including low socio-economic status, under-appreciation of the importance of early education, parents being more likely to read Hebrew than Modern Standard Arabic, lack of availability of age-appropriate books in Arabic, and some mistrust of the municipal government.

In partnership with Q Behavioral Thinking, the Jaffa Community Department, CET evaluation and Al Qasemi Academic College, the Jaffa Reads programme reached 90 families with children aged 2 to 3. Divided into six groups, they participated in four weekly workshops that shared tools and tips for joint reading with their children. The sessions incorporated insights from behavioural science, and were supplemented by outreach via WhatsApp groups and individual text messages.

One unexpected but welcome outcome of the programme was a tripling of the proportion of both fathers and older siblings who reported reading with young children. As one dad said, “I learned that story time is important, a time of giving something to my children. Also, the goal isn’t always the message in the story, but the connection and interaction between the father and the child.”

Maintaining the change in behaviour may prove to be a challenge – in a follow-up survey a month after the intervention, the proportion of parents saying they read with their children at least twice a week had dropped from 93% to 46%. Nonetheless the participants enjoyed the workshops, with almost all coming to all the sessions, and the programme now plans to expand further across the city of Jaffa.