The Power of Play

October 3, 2016

  • More than 20 years ago, researchers in Jamaica sought to give stunted, disadvantaged children a boost by teaching their mothers to stimulate them using talk and play.
  • An impact evaluation allowed researchers to measure the progam’s effect by comparing beneficiary children with similarly disadvantaged children whose mothers didn’t get the program.
  • The children have been tracked ever since and the results have been remarkable.

In 1986, Elaine Burke began knocking on doors in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Jamaica’s capital Kingston, asking parents if she could weigh and measure their young children for consideration in the Jamaica study. In this video and in this slide show, Burke returns to meet the families and children whose lives were changed by this program.
Burke answers questions about the program and how it was implemented in this blog,

Quantifying impact is key to giving policymakers and development groups the evidence they need to devise the best programs. A recent follow-up study of the children –now young adults –found they were earning 25 percent more than similarly stunted children whose mothers didn’t get the program.
The evaluation and results are summarized in this Evidence to Policy note.
Paul Gertler, one of the economists involved, discusses the research in this blog.

Sally McGregor was a newly trained physician when she moved to Jamaica in 1965 from England for what she called a one-year “adventure.”  She ended up staying 35 years.  The findings of the evaluation she led are now the basis for early childhood development programs and ongoing impact evaluations around the world. In this blog, McGregor discusses the Jamaica study and her work.

The researcher team’s 1991 Lancet article 
(Link to full article on The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition website)

The follow-up when the children were 11 and 12 years old

The follow-up when the children were 17 and 18 years old

Impact of early stimulation on violent behavior

Early childhood stimulation: If not now, when?




Follow the path of the study through this infographic.