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Practices that Promote Children’s Literacy Skills/learning at Home

Posted on 4th Apr 2017 @ 9:21 PM


Families practice literacy in the home environment in different ways using both direct and indirect methods for developing their children’s literacy skills. Some activities can be described as systematic and deliberate while others are achieved informally through daily activities. Some families engage in shared book readings, read aloud to children, provide print materials, and foster a positive attitude towards reading in their children (Vacca, Vacca, Gove, Burkey, Lenhart & McKeon, 2006). Naturally occurring literacy activities within families may include activities such as parents smiling, talking and encouraging child play, reading newspapers, writing grocery lists, or reading books. Families may engage in other activities such as reading recipes, reading road signs, writing letters and notes, and reading television texts. In some homes, parents may also engage in direct or intentional literacy activities such as storybook readings, teaching of alphabet songs, teaching of letter names and sounds, practicing of writing skills, and shared book readings (Burkey, Lenhart & McKeon, 2006; Neumann & Neumann, 2009; (Vacca, Vacca, Gove, Burkey, Lenhart & McKeon, 2006)).

Researchers identified several domains of activities that families engage in to promote children’s literacy development in the home. These include: daily living routines, entertainment, school-related activities, work, religion, interpersonal communication, storybooks and literacy for the sake of teaching/learning literacy (Moschovaki, 1999). As it relates to literacy for the sake of teaching literacy, many parents often engage in direct or formal instruction to help develop their children’s literacy skills in the home. This may include teaching children alphabet knowledge in a systematic way or focusing on helping children write letters and words. In one study, Lynch, Anderson, Anderson and Shapiro (2006) asked parents to list the five most important activities they engage in at home to develop their children’s literacy skills. The respondent listed direct teaching of activities such as letter recognition, letter writing and writing of their child’s names among the top three activities.

However, it is important to note, such literacy practices differ among and within families of different cultures, educational and income levels. In one study, McCarthey (1997) conducted an ethnography study on how students and teachers made the connections between home and school literacy practices. She found the amount of literacy materials and the nature of the literacy activities and goals differed between middle and working class families. While the middle class families relied on regular attendance at school functions, visiting their children’s classrooms and talking to teachers to learn about their children’s academic lives, the working class families relied on descriptions from their children as well as gaining information through homework. Further, the middle class families seemed to possess a large quantity of reading materials in their homes and were quick to discuss their reading habits for enjoyment. On the other hand, the working class families had to be prompted into a discussion regarding their literacy related habits. Still, both sets of families implicitly and expressly showed an appreciation for the value of literacy. The working class families placed less emphasis on reading for leisure and tend to focus on materials related to daily functioning such as employment. McCarthey cautioned educators and researchers against viewing the amount of materials found in a home as an indicative of the level of literacy activities taking place there.

Some types of literacy activities in the home are more likely than others to improve students’ literacy skills. For example, when parents taught their children specific literacy skills at home such as alphabet knowledge, they were two times more likely to develop children’s reading skills than parents who just read aloud to their children (National Institute for Literacy, 2006).  Further, some parents use fewer opportunities to engage their children in these naturally occurring practices and this may result in their children being at risk for academic failure when they enter school (Vacca, Vacca, Gove, Burkey, Lenhart & McKeon, 2006).

Researchers and teachers now recognized the more parents initiate literacy activities at home, the better their children’s academic performance (Izzo, Weissberg, Kasprow, & Fendrich, 1999; Kirby & Hogan, 2008; Richardson, Miller, Richardson, & Sacks, 2008; Uludag, 2008). This recognition has led to many attempts by these educators to involve parents in children’s literacy development at home from the preschool to high school levels. However, in looking at the home literacy environment which can be described as complex and multifaceted Wasik and Hendrickson (2004), urged educators and researchers to understand the differences between the processes occurring and the resources available to carry out these processes in this environment. 

Barbara L. Fearon