The image of a parent sharing a picture book with a child is one of the most culturally popular pictures in contemporary America. The sharing of a book is a manifestation of love and the parental commitment to the future of the child. It helps in instilling the goals of educational advancement among children at an early age. Shared reading is a component of emergent literacy. The aim of this paper is to determine the impact of home reading on the development of early emergent literacy skills among preschoolers. The paper will first analyze the component skills of emergent literacy and determine the link between emergent literacy and conventional literacy. The paper will then review how changes in the natural environment support or inhibit the development of emergent literacy skills among preschoolers. The paper will use evidence from different scholars who have undertaken extensive research on the topic.
Emergent literacy refers to the acquisition of literacy as a developmental continuum, which begins at the early life of a child instead of beginning when the child joins school. Emergent literacy provides a different perspective of reading and pre-reading. It appreciates ‘reading readiness’ which usually precedes reading that is taught in educational settings. As such, emergent literacy views behaviors that occur prior to a child joining school as vital in the aspects of literacy of the child.
Another major difference between emergent literacy perspective and other contemporary perspectives on literacy is based on the assumption that reading, writing and comprehension of the oral language usually develop simultaneously and interdependently due to the child’s social interactions. Certain approaches also claim that writing is secondary to reading. Therefore, the approaches put more emphasis on the formal instructions that should be used to enable a child know how to read and write.
Research on emergent literacy involves a broad field of study that allows researchers to use different perspectives and research methodologies. The changing conceptualizations of what comprises of literacy complicates research on the field even further. For example contemporary definitions of literacy usually attach the term with the ability of an individual to interact with the environment using a symbolic system such as maps. Previously, definitions of literacy focused on the ability of an individual to read or write using alphabetical texts. Most of the research on emergent literacy has been undertaken using English-speaking children who use the alphabetical system. This makes it difficult to analyze emergent literacy among children who use other writing systems or languages. For instance, there is limited research on emergent literacy among children who speak Chinese or use Chinese symbols, which are significantly different from the English alphabetical system.
There are several components of emergent literacy. Two types of research provide information on the components. One of the research perspectives is mainly made of quantitative studies, which strive to determine the relationship between emergent literacy and the ability of a child to acquire conventional literacy. The second research perspective mainly focuses on the analysis of the developmental behaviors of pre-school children that are related to the literacy materials and tasks that the children are given. Studies in the second perspective are usually qualitative.
Language is one of the emergent literacy skills. The development of language skills is vital in a child. Language skills are vital at different points in the literacy acquisition process of the child. Vocabulary is vital in the initial development of language skills. Reading involves the translation of the visual codes into a language that can be easily understood. During the earliest stages of development of reading skills, children that use the alphabetical system decode the letters and associate them with certain sounds. They consequently link the sounds to certain single words. During the early stages of the development of reading skills, children are motivated by the extraction of meaning. It is hard for a child to strive to know the pronunciation of a word such as, car, if the child has never seen the item. The parent or teacher may help in the extraction of meaning. Several studies have also shown that there is a longitudinal relationship between proficiency of oral language and later reading proficiency among different children (e.g. Bishop & Adams, 1990).
Other studies (such as Mason, 1992,; Snow et al., 1991, Whitehurst, 1996) have shown that if a child is learning to read to decipher the meaning of words, the semantic and syntactic abilities of a child become more important later in the sequence of learning. On the other hand, if the child is learning to sound out single words, the semantic and syntactic abilities become more important early in the sequence of learning. The acquisition of decontextualized language enables children to comprehend texts and narratives. Decontextualize language refers to the language used in story narratives and other written means of communication. As such, pictures used in children’s narratives may be a form of decontextualized language. Children’s decontextualized language skills are related to the traditional language skills, which include comprehension of story narratives and decoding.
Conventions of print are also one of the emergent literacy skills that children acquire due to home reading. It is a fact that books are made using a certain convention that enables them to be understood. For instance, words in books written in English are written from left to right and preceding sentences are read from top to bottom. It is also vital for children to know the sequence and direction of the print in a book from the front to the back pages. They should also know the difference between pictures and print on a page, the meaning of various punctuations, which include full stops, and spaces between different words. This enables the children to know how to read.
Knowledge of letters is vital in a child’s ability to learn how to read. It is vital for children who use the alphabetical system to translate the print into sounds to decode words. On the other hand, writing involves decoding sound into prints. To undertake this task, children should at least know the names of the letters. Readers who do not know the letters of the alphabet cannot learn the sounds that are related to the letters. Children who have knowledge of the alphabet when they enroll in school have a high likelihood of having long-term literacy success (Adams, 1990).
Linguistic awareness is also one of the important emergent literacy skills that pre-school children strive to learn. It is vital for children to not only know how to differential units of print such as letters and words, but also units of language, which include propositions and phonemes. Children in the late preschool period have a linguistic awareness that enables them to differentiate the units mentioned above. However, it is vital to note that a child may be aware of how language is organized – for instance, that propositions are used to make words – but fail to know other aspects of language organization, such as the fact that words are made from phonemes. Research shows that children have a developmental hierarchy to sensitivity to linguistic units. For instance, children usually achieve syllabic sensitivity much earlier than when they start having sensitivity to phonemes. Research also shows that differences in phonological sensitivity among different children are caused by the differences in their rate of acquiring reading skills. The phonological sensitivity of children also affects their ability to spell words.
Emergent reading is also one of the emergent literacy skills. Emergent reading comprises of both pretending to read and reading. Before children know how to read, they start by recognizing labels, print, and other depictions in the environmental print. This implies that the children have the ability to decipher the meaning of text within a certain context.
Emergent writing is also one of the emergent literacy skills. It refers to certain behaviors, which include pretending to write or learning to write certain letters. Children may scribble an indelible content on a paper and request their parents to read it. This implies that despite the fact that the child does not know how to read and write, the child knows that print has meaning. Very young children usually associate writing with pictography. These children later start using different numbers and forms that resemble letters to represent certain texts. The writing task assigned to children determines how the children move between the levels of writing.
Print motivation also helps in improving the learning ability of preschool children. Print motivation refers to a child’s interest in reading and writing activities. It makes the children make active efforts to understand print. Research by Scarborough & Dobrich, (1994) showed that print motivation is related to the development of emergent literacy skills and reading achievement later in the child. Therefore, it is vital for parents and teachers to ensure that they formulate measures that elicit print motivation among children.
There are two major domains of emergent literacy. The domains are made up of two sets of interdependent skills and processes. These include outside-in and inside-out. In the outside-in units children strive to understand the environment in which reading or writing occurs. On the other hand, the inside out units refer to the child’s knowledge of rules of translating certain writings that they are trying to read. The ability of the child to decode a sentence into the right phonological representations is dependent on whether a child knows the sounds, letters, and links between sound, letters, and the correct grammar in the sentence.
The home environment and the daycare and preschool environment are some of the major emergent literacy environments. There is a significant relationship between the home environment and the preschool language capabilities of a child. The home literacy environment is linked with the development of various components of emergent literacy in children (Purcell-Gates, 1996). The home environment has several language and non-language outcomes on children.
Home literacy, such as shared book reading, provides children with an opportunity to learn language in a context that is sensitive to their level of development. According to Wells (1985), about 5% of the speech of 2-year olds happens in the context of storytime. Shared reading facilitates vocabulary development among preschool children. Exposure to print also has a significant impact on the development of reading skills even among older children who already know how to read. According to Senechal, Thomas, and Monker, (1995), other factors in the literacy home environment of children also play a major role in a child’s vocabulary. These factors include the number of books that the family has, the number of times they visit the library, how often the parents have shared reading with the child. These activities should involve the child direct to have any impact on the child’s vocabulary. Other features of the parents’ conversations also play a major role in the development of decontextualized language skills among children. Conversations among parents or with their children during mealtimes are some of the verbal interactions that shape the decontextualized language development of the children.
The home literacy environment also has nonlanguage outcomes. According to Purcell-Gates (1996) children of families that have more high-level literacy events such as reading and writing texts, had a higher knowledge on the functions and uses of written language that children from families that had little high-level literacy events. According to Mason (1992) shared reading and writing in the home environment were closely linked with a child’s ability to comprehend environmental print.
However, studies do not show that there is a relationship between shared reading and the development of phonological skills (e.g. Whitehurst, 1996). According to Whitehurst (1996), the written language knowledge of children in kindergarten and first-grade was not linked to the parental efforts to expose the children to storybooks. Instead, it is linked to the parental efforts to teach the children about print.
Rhyming plays a major role in the development of phonological sensitivity. It is a fact that preschool children can easily detect rhyme even when it is difficult for them to detect other phonological sensitivity measures. Rhyming helps the children in subsequent identification of a certain word. It enables children to learn orthographic patterns using analogy, since it is an early form of phonological sensitivity. Rhyming helps in sensitizing children to the sound structure of certain words. However, it is difficult to determine the link between rhyming experiences and rhyming ability in the home environment (Walton, 1995).
Children’s daycare and the preschool environment have a significant impact on the emergent literacy of the children. The Early Childhood Environmental Rating System (ECERS) is one of the most common rating systems that are used to determine the quality of day-care. ECERS helps in determining the aspects of a curriculum, the environment, and teacher-pupil interactions. The Home Screening Questionnaire may help in determining the quality of home environment. If the home environment is controlled, the ECERS scores helped in determining the cognitive and achievement scores of the child. This is due to the fact that the main focus of ECERS is a wide variety of center variables. On the other hand, the teacher behavior during shared reading activities had a significant impact on the child’s phonological processing ability. Dickinson and Smith (1994) undertook a study that showed that the proportion of teacher and child talk during reading is closely related to child’s vocabulary and the comprehension of the story.
The study recruited children from three schools within the state. All the schools taught in English. They also had a common integrated curricula, and parent and community involvement. The schools used multiage groupings in teaching children. Therefore, a significant proportion of children in grades 1, 2, and 3 in the school had the same teacher. Children in the state usually enroll in kindergarten at the age pf 4 years and attend it for two years. Four and five year old children in the schools that took part in the study were integrated into the same classrooms. Therefore, the research recruited both four year and five year old children.
The study used a sample of 110 kindergarten children. The study followed 93 children (41 girls and 52 boys) until they completed grade 1. It also followed 66 children (36 boys and 30 girls) until they completed grade 3. Children in this group were referred to as K-cohort children. The study also followed the remaining 58 grade 1 children who were initially tested in grade 1. 45 (23 boys and 22 girls) were followed until they completed grade 3. These children were referred to as Gr1-vohort children. The study used children from English-speaking homes. In addition, all the children were white. The study had significant loss rates due to the transfer of children to other schools, which is common among children in this age.
The study used several measures to assess language and emergent literacy and literacy experiences of the children. The study measured how often parents taught their children to read and write. They also detailed their exposure to children’s storybooks. Parents used a five point scale to portray how often they taught their children to read and print words. The scales ranged from never, which was represented by 1 and very often, which was represented by 5.
The parents also completed a questionnaire on their home literacy experiences. The questionnaires strived to determine the frequency of storybook reading, number of children’s books in the home, the age at which the parents begun reading for the child, how often they visit the library, among other features. It was also vital for the study to measure a child’s exposure to print when they enrolled in school. Therefore, the measure of the child’s exposure to print was completed when they completed grade 2. The children in the study were shown major illustrations from 37 popular children’s books and were asked if they can remember the title of the book. Gr1-cohort children accomplished the recall task. K-cohort children were asked to select among three pictures the picture that represented the title of a book. However, this task was unreliable. Therefore, it was not used in the study.
Parental exposure to adult literacy was used to determine their literacy level. Therefore, the parents completed the Author Recognition Test to test their literacy level. The parents stated the names of authors they knew from a list of popular authors. To reduce guessing, the parents were informed that the checklist included foils.
Table 1 details the descriptive statistics of K-cohort children. The results are mainly on the language and emergent literacy tests at the beginning of grade 1. They also comprise of reading skills tested at the end of grades 1 and 3. Table 2 provides comparisons between Gr1-cohort and K-cohort children.
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