Literacy Development Begins at Home, With a Literate Home Environment

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Jan 2, 2009

One of the most effective approaches to helping young children develop literacy skills is to have a home environment that supports literacy. Research clearly shows that instructional environments "have a powerful impact on children's growth in reading." (Morrow & Weinstein, 1986) While much of the research on instructional environments focuses on classroom environments, researchers believe that the same effects may be found in supportive home environments. On this subject, Rasinski and Fredericks, (1991, p.438) write: "It seems clear to us that home environments for reading and writing should be given at least equal consideration."

A literate home means more than just having books and writing materials on hand. To be effective, parents need to plan for how these materials will be used. According to experts, the best approach is to set up a specific family reading area. This sends children a dual message: (1) reading is an important value in this family and (2) everyone in this family-no matter what his age-reads.

Having a literate home also doesn't mean that parents have to be literate in English. Reading and writing in one's home language is every bit as strong a literacy message as reading and writing in English. The important point is that parents value literacy, no matter what the language they read and write.

In setting up a family literacy area, parents need to consider three things: (1) where this area should be located, (2) what materials should be housed here, and (3) how these materials can be best used.


Any place in the home can serve as a reading area. Ideally, it will be a space that is comfortable and well lit. If the room can be made cozy with cushions, beanbag chairs, and pillows, all the better. The room should also have space for family members' preferred reading styles-be it nestled on a couch, lying on the floor, or sitting at a table.


A literate home needs books-- lots and lots of them. Young children need access to a variety of books. Cloth and cardboard ones are good for babies who like to read with their mouths. So too, are feelie books like Pat the Bunny (by Dorothy Kunhardt) that use touch to teach. Toddlers and preschoolers adore storybooks, especially ones with wordplay and predictable phrases. They also like wordless books like Alexandra Day's Good Dog, Carl where the parent and child can supply their own text, which builds language skills. Young children are attracted to both nonfiction and fiction. ABC books and informational stories are as appealing as the many wonderful story books.

It is recommended that parents build a permanent library, so that children can go back to favorites again and again. Family trips to the public library can augment the collection with exciting, new titles.

Because this is a family reading area, be sure to have reading materials on hand that appeal to all family members. And the inventory doesn't need to be limited to books-magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias, an atlas, the Bible, and even comic books are all appropriate. The point is that everyone has something here that she will be eager to read.

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