Parent Support of Early Literacy Development
This article, by the U.S. Department of Education, is intended to help parents support young children's literacy learning. It begins with definitions of literacy, then follows with suggestions for parent involvement in children's early literacy development. Additional resources for supporting young literacy learners are included.
Definitions of Literacy
Over the years, scholars from different disciplines have struggled to define the concept of literacy, but little consensual agreement has been achieved (Soares, 1992). The definition of literacy is often subject to historical, social, economic, political, and other forces. For example, in the Middle Ages, literacy was generally associated with the ability to speak, read, and write Latin, and only members of a few elite groups had access to formal education or to the Latin texts in which it was presented. By the 16th century, the invention and advancement of printing technology in Europe, and the growing use of languages other than Latin, resulted in an explosion in literacy levels, extending even to people of traditionally lower social classes, such as peasants and merchants (Heath, 1996). Literacy was no longer the possession of a few selected groups, but had become a means by which a broad spectrum of people could gain power and status.
In 1951, UNESCO defined literacy as the ability of a person "who can with understanding both read and write a short, simple statement on his every day life", and it revised this definition in 1978 as one's ability to "engage in all...activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning in his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing, and calculation for his own and community's development." The change in UNESCO's definition reflects a change from a narrow set of behaviors in reading and writing to a broader sense of community functions including mathematics. In this Digest, literacy is viewed from a socio-psycholinguistic perspective, one in which literacy is more than the ability to read and write, but extends also to the use of oral and written language as well as other sign systems, such as mathematics and art, to make sense of the world and communicate with others (Berghoff, 1998; Harste, Woodward, & Burke, 1986; Heath, 1984; Halliday, 1975).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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