Home Literacy Experiences
This article focuses on young children’s home environments in an attempt to discover factors that promote emergent literacy development.
Early studies in this area focused on umbrella characteristics such as family income and parents’ levels of education (Sulzby & Teale, 1991). Results revealed positive relationships between these variables and reading achievement in the early grades. For example, children from middle-income families tend to be better readers than those from low-income families. Unfortunately, such findings do little to explain how these variables directly affect children’s literacy growth.
Later studies have narrowed their focus and attempted to describe the actual literacy-related experiences that children have at home. These home literacy studies have identified several factors that appear to have important roles in emergent literacy acquisition. These factors are described below.
Access to Print and Books
In order to learn about literacy, young children must have opportunities to see lots of print and must have easy access to books. Plentiful home supplies of children’s books have been found to be associated with early reading (Durkin, 1966), interest in literature (Morrow, 1983), and positive orientation toward schooling (Feitelson & Goldstein, 1986).
Because of the literate nature of our society, all children are surrounded by large amounts of environmental print. For example, they see print on product containers (Cheerios, Pepsi) street signs (Stop), and store signs (McDonald’s, Pizza Hut). Differences do occur, however, in children’s exposure to books and other forms of reading materials. Bill Teale’s (1986) descriptive study of the home environments of twenty-four low-income preschoolers revealed that while some of the homes had ample supplies of children’s books, other homes contained none. This is not to suggest that all children from low-income families lack exposure to reading materials at home. Purcell-Gates’s study of twenty low-income families of differing ethnic backgrounds revealed great variability in the literacy experiences of children. The total number of literacy events in the low-income homes ranged from .17 to 5.07 per hour, meaning that some children had opportunities to experience more than twenty-five times the amount of literacy than other children! While on average the home literacy experiences of low-income children may not be as rich as those of average middle-class children, some nonmainstream children do have frequent interactions with print. Unfortunately, those children who do not have access to books at home are at a great disadvantage in acquiring literacy.
Larger societal factors, such as community access to literacy, also enter the picture. Neuman and Celano (2001), for example, found that low-income families had much more restricted access to public libraries and places to buy books. In addition, the school libraries in low-income neighborhoods had fewer books per child, lower-quality books, less-qualified librarians, and fewer computers. So limited access to literacy materials and good places to read, caused by societal inequities, may be contributing factors to many low-income children’s “at-risk” status.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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