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A Review of Research on Environmental Print.

This article summarizes the research on children and environmental print. There are three sections. The first section describes what we know about learning and early literacy. The second part is a literature review. Since the research clearly shows that exposure to environmental print, even before formal education begins, contributes to early literacy, the final section discusses suggestions for appropriate uses of environmental print in the classroom.

The joint literacy statement published by six professional national educational organizations included a list of what young children already know before they come to school (Schickedanz, 1986). These organizations agreed that many children are reading environmental print, such as road signs, grocery labels, and fast food signs, before they come to school.

Children often engage in reading environmental print before reading print in books. Marie Clay found that children explore the details of print in their environment, on signs, cereal packages and television advertisements. They have developed concepts about print in their environment and about books before they start their formal education. Consequently, more advanced concepts emerged out of children's earlier understandings. Exposure to environmental print led them to form primitive hypotheses about letters, words, or messages they saw enabling the development of early literacy.

This article is divided into three sections. The first section describes what we know about learning and early literacy. The second part is a literature review explaining what researchers have discovered about children and environmental print. This includes research on environmental print and children with special needs, environmental print and elementary students, and environmental print and school readiness. Finally, suggestions for appropriate uses of environmental print in the classroom are discussed.

What do we know about learning and early literacy?

Since the use of environmental print is based on the theories of constructivism and developmental contextualism, as well as what we know about early literacy, it is worthwhile examining how these theories and knowledge contribute to ascertaining the value of environmental print.

While there are many "brands" of constructivism, Piaget (1970) is the most recognized for his general scientific theory about how children construct knowledge. Although he did not propose a specific theory about reading and writing, his theory of how children construct knowledge provided a much broader framework, which allows individuals to understand any process of acquiring knowledge. Simply put, children construct knowledge from the inside out through interacting with their environment. This would be true of literacy in general, and more specifically, environmental print. Vygotsky (1978) also recognized the importance of children's construction of knowledge but took a more contextual view. Since literacy is specific to each language and culture, he believed young children need some assistance in making sense of environmental print from a more able peer or teacher.

Bronfenbrenner (1989) believed that the child is influenced by multiple contexts in which there are reciprocal interactions between children and their environments. While children are impacted by face to face interactions, they are also influenced by the guardian's workplace, and the social, historical, political and economic realities of the time. The day to day context of a child is especially important in utilizing environmental print to plan and implement an integrated curriculum to meet the child's needs.

Environmental print is also based on what we have learned about early literacy. Ferreiro and Teberosky (1982) explored the literacy knowledge of first grade children before instruction in reading began and later on at various times during the school year. They found that children's learning processes may take paths unsuspected by the teacher. Even children with limited exposure to print had accumulated knowledge about print before they came to school. After studying children in different settings in both private and public schools, they found that young children progress through various hypotheses about written language until they develop ideas similar to those of older children. They observed that children were not passive learners of language, but active participants in the language of their environment.

Yetta Goodman also spent many years studying how children construct literacy. She realized that children's inventions and approximations about literacy in a society full of print, begin much earlier than when the child comes to school. She recognized the importance of social context and a developmental view of learning. Just as children develop ideas in other areas of learning, they also do the same with literacy. Children actively construct their notions concerning literacy through their participation in a literate society.

Literature Review

There is a fairly large research base on children and various forms of environmental print. Yetta Goodman (1986a) reported that when shown print such as cereal boxes, toothpaste cartons, stop signs, and soft drink logos, 60% of the 3-year-olds in her study and 80% of the 5-year- olds could read it. Masonheimer, Drum, and Ehri (found that when children are shown a color photograph of McDonald's restaurant, 92% of the 2- through 5-year-olds questioned could read the logo. Even though the children could not read the actual words they were able to read the meanings of the logos.

The complex visual and contextual cues associated with logos may be responsible for the ability of young children to understand environmental print. Several researchers have found that once the visual and contextual cues were removed, the child often had more difficulty recognizing the logo.

Ylisto (1967) believed that children proceed through a process of learning to read environmental print in six identifiable steps: (a) seeing a photograph of a symbol in its natural setting; (b) seeing a drawing of the symbol in its natural setting; (c) seeing a drawing of the symbol in its immediate setting; (d) seeing the symbol printed in isolation; (e) seeing the symbol printed in a sentence; and (f) seeing the symbol printed in story context. She tested her hypothesis by using twenty-five symbols, consisting of words a child might see in the environment. The inventory of 150 items (25 logos X 6 steps) was administered to 229 children ages 4, 5, and 6 in the kindergarten or first grade programs of several schools. The children were tested on two occasions. She found that many of the children could proceed through the first three levels, but were unable to read the words in levels four, five, and six, in which there were no contextual cues.

Cloer, Aldridge, and Dean (1981/82) completed a similar study, using only five levels or stages. Level A was the actual physical logo. Level B was a black and white photocopy of the logo. Level C consisted of only the words of the logo, with all identifying information cut away. Levels D and E were the same as in Ylisto's study; the word was used in manuscript and embedded in a sentence, respectively. The 71 subjects were rural. African American children from low-income homes, ages 3 to 6 years, who were in a public pre-school program. The test was administered by the teachers' aides, beginning with level A. The child only proceeded upward if s/he were successful. The results confirmed what Ylisto had found. There was a negative correlation between the decontextualizing of the logo and the ability of the students to read the print.

In Kuby, Aldridge, and Snyder's (1994) study, teachers in five kindergarten classes were encouraged to use environmental print in their classrooms to help the children become more aware of print in their immediate ecology. At the beginning of the school year, the 86 children were asked to bring in logos they could read and share with the class. These logos were put into an "environmental print box" to be used in various individual and group activities. In December, the twenty logos, which the teachers felt were the most familiar to the children, were used in a teacher and researcher developed instrument. Six levels of each logo were used. The levels were (a) the actual color product logo, (b) a photocopy of the actual product logo, (c) a photocopy of the actual logo without supporting pictures or other cues, (d) the logo printed in manuscript form, (e) the logo printed in manuscript form and embedded in a sentence and (f) the logo typed. A multivariate analysis of variance was employed with two repeated measures of within-subject factors (logo and trial) and two between-subjects factors (teacher and student gender). Across all sets of logos, significant interactions were found for Teacher x Logo and Logo x Level. Main effects were found also for Logo and Level across all sets. The main effect for level was due largely to the substantial declines in scores between level 3 and level 4. Just as Cloer, Aldridge, and Dean (1981/1982) had found earlier, children were less likely to recognize a word out of logo format even though there had been some use of environmental print in the classroom.

The significant effects involving the between-subjects teacher factor appear to have occurred because students in one of the five classrooms performed significantly better on levels 4, 5, and 6 than did students in the other four classrooms. This class had the teacher with the most experience with environmental print. She reported that she had written the logos in manuscript form during environmental print instruction. Therefore, her students were better able to make the transition between levels.

Morgan (1987) investigated the development of written language awareness in African American preschool children. The 43 subjects were 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds from an urban community, mainly from upper lower-class and lower middle-class homes. Data collection was completed in three individual interviews using environmental print and other media in a sequence of semi-structured tasks over a 6-week period.

The environmental print portion consisted of having each child identify the names of 45 labels of familiar household items. A child had to give the exact label name when the examiner pointed to the brand name on each label and asked what it said. Most children identified the labels as either categories (toothpaste) or functions (to clean teeth). The ability to give the exact name was not well developed in this sample. As with many of the other studies mentioned, the older children were able to respond specifically to labels and signs more often than were younger children.

Goodman and Altwerger (1981, also used familiar household products to administer print awareness tasks. Their 11 participants were 3-, 4-, and 5-year old children. Each child was asked to identify the product by its complete label, then by the same label without accompanying context clues, and finally by the name of the product printed in black. The results indicated that the more contextual information presented the greater the likelihood that the child would identify the label name correctly. When print was presented to these children without any supporting context they became restless and impatient and lost interest in the task. The authors suggested that this might have important implications for instruction. The older children responded correctly with greater frequency on all tasks. When the children were asked to point to where "it says that" they always pointed to the print. This suggests that preschoolers know that the print gives the message, even though they may not know what the print says. The children's awareness of environmental print was more developed than their knowledge of book handling or book print.

McGee, Lomax and Head (1988) described attempts by children they classified as non-readers, novice word readers, and expert readers to read environmental and functional print items. The 81 children, 3 to 6 years of age, attended a private preschool/elementary school. One environmental print and eight functional print items were used to elicit reading responses. Children were shown the entire print item. The environmental print item was the front of a Ruffles potato chip bag including written words, numbers, logo, and a picture of chips. The functional print items were a page from a telephone directory, a page from TV Guide, a grocery list, a typed business letter, the front page of a newspaper, a book, a map, and a coupon. Most children attempted to read the potato chip bag, even if they could not read anything else. Far fewer children who were non-readers and novice readers attempted to read the functional print items. The expert readers were able to read all of the meaningful functional print. Once again, the older children made more attempts to read and read more words correctly.

Several of the researchers so far, believe that learning to read can occur naturally through practice with written language, such as that found on meaningful labels and signs. However, Masonheimer, Drum, and Ehri (1984) believe that children must acquire certain prerequisite skills such as alphabet letter knowledge and left-to-right orientation to print in order to learn to read. They stated that the reading of signs in the environment was merely "reading" the environment, not the print. They maintain that for children to shift their attention from environmental contexts to print, they need to master the alphabet. According to these researchers alphabet learning is a difficult task, which must be taught and cannot be learned without explicit instruction and practice. They designed their study (a) to discover when children could identify 8 out of 10 signs and labels from a list, (b) to scrutinize the print-reading skills of preschoolers who were selected for their ability to read signs and labels in the environment, and (c) to determine whether these experts would notice letter changes in familiar signs and labels.

One hundred and two participants were made up of 3- to 5-year-olds who were able to read at least 80% of the sign-label survey, were utilized in this study. The researchers identified only six of the children as readers. The pre-readers were able to identify over 80% of the words in the environmental context correctly, but could identify only 23% of those words in isolation. They also could detect only a few letter changes in environmental print words. Readers, on the other hand, read all words in environmental context correctly, although they read most of the words in isolation. Readers had no problem recognizing logos with altered letters and also named 98% of upper and lower case letters correctly; whereas, pre-readers could only name 62% of upper and lower case letters. Masonheimer and colleagues concluded that being experienced in environmental print reading does not, by itself, lead to word reading skills.

Stahl and Murray (1993) had similar conclusions to Masonheimer et al. (1984). They studied 113 kindergarten and first-grade children and found that their "subjects' ability to recognize words from a logo was markedly more related to their ability to recognize words from a graded word list than to their recognition of the logos themselves" (p. 230).

Several studies have focused on adult intervention and/or supervision using environmental print in learning centers or play episodes with young children. These studies included Vukelich (1994), Neuman and Roskos (1993), and Kuby and Aldridge (1997). Vukelich (1994) studied the influence of interactions with environmental print in a literacy play setting among 56 kindergarten children and adult partners. Results indicated that print-enriched play with an adult offered numerous opportunities for children to associate meaning with print.

Neuman and Roskos (1993) used eight Head Start classrooms with 177 minority children (98% African American and 2% Hispanic) to create three groups who were exposed to three conditions. The first was a literacy-enriched generic "office" play setting with an adult encouraged to give active assistance to children learning about literacy. The second group was a literacy-enriched office play setting with a parent-teacher asked to monitor the children in their literacy play without direct intervention. The last group was a non-intervention group.

The children's handling, reading, and writing of environmental and functional print were assessed through direct observation. The office play setting was videotaped weekly to examine children's uses of print and functional items and their interactions with peers and parent-teachers. After completing the intervention, each child was administered environmental print tasks. No difference was found for children's understanding of functions of print items used (letter, stamp, calendar, telephone book), but the parent-teacher active engagement with children in the office setting significantly influenced the children's ability to read environmental print and label functional items. This research indicated that the office play setting influenced children's environmental word-reading and that the role of the interactive parent-teacher significantly contributed to children's learning of print in these contexts. These findings strongly suggest that the office play setting with the interacting adult assisted the children in learning more environmental print. This study reported the importance, not only of exposure, but also of interactions with a capable adult in learning environmental print words.

Patricia Kuby (1994), however, found that indirect instruction using environmental print with kindergarten children faired better in her study than direct instruction. The purpose of this study was to determine if environmental print instruction, either direct or indirect, enhanced the early reading ability of kindergarten children. "Children who received indirect instruction with environmental print scored higher on the TERA-2 posttest than children who were given direct instruction". However, a control group did as well as the direct instruction group and even better than the direct instruction group. Since these results were baffling and incongruent with previous studies, more research on direct and indirect instruction with environmental print needs to be implemented.

Wepner (1985) studied 20 children, 3- and 4 -years old, from middle-class homes. She administered pretests and posttests to the children on book-handling tasks, logo identification, attitude toward reading and word/sentence identification. The researcher saw each child for 15-20 minutes once a week for eight weeks. Treatment consisted of using a logo book in which the child would paste a new logo as the researcher dictated the child's sentence about the new logo. Children then read the books to the researcher. After 8 weeks, the 3-year-olds had been exposed to 7 logos, and the 4-year-olds to 12. The experimental group showed increased knowledge of book-handling skills, even though no direct instruction was given in this area. The control group showed no improvement in this skill. The experimental group of preschoolers could identify more logos, even some they had not used during the treatment. They were also more positive about their abilities to learn to read compared to the control group. Children given the logo reading instruction were able to read words and sentences in the word/sentence identification task, whereas the control group could read none. All children knew some logos in the pretest, but those who worked with logos learned more in and out of the instructional situation and became more aware of print in their environment.

Wepner believed that by using print in children' s natural surroundings, children learn to recognize logos in and out of context. She also believed that linking logos of places and things with important people in the children's lives helped them to develop competence and self-esteem. Children who have been successful will begin to approach reading eagerly as beginning readers instead of with fear. She further advocated beginning with what preschoolers know of environmental print and using this as a beginning reading strategy.

Susan Smith (1996) conducted a longitudinal study in which environmental print was a part. At the beginning of this study she took 57 four-year-old nonreaders who spoke English as their primary language. Thirty of the participants were from lower-income homes; the rest were from middle-class homes. She found that all of the preschoolers in this sample could identify a majority of the environmental print materials she used in this study. By third grade, children who had shown the greatest familiarity with the alphabet at four years of age scored higher on reading measures than those who did not. What is noteworthy about this study is that all of the children could identify environmental print materials used in the study when they were four. However, those who were proficient in letter recognition scored much higher five years later than those who were not. If this is such a good predictor of future reading ability as Smith (1996) and other researchers such as Adams (1990) suggest, then we should embrace what children already know (environmental print) and use it to teach the letters of the alphabet.

Case studies have also been done on early literacy development. Bissex (1980), who wrote an account of the observations of her son learning to read and write, noted that the first two words Paul learned to read were his name and "Exit," in the context of a green sign on the side of the road. Laminack (1991) studied his son Zachary's reactions to many different print forms beginning at 15 months of age. Miller (1996, studied her daughter, Katie, from 3 to 5 years of age and found that she explored environmental print on a daily basis, including junk mail and the newspaper.

Environmental Print and Children with Special Needs

Shaffer and McNinch (1995) conducted a study which asked two important questions about environmental print. The first question was, "Do academically at-risk children respond to environmental print in the same manner as do academically advantaged preschoolers?" (p. 282). The second question they asked was, can parents of these two groups predict their children's successful or unsuccessful recognition of environmental print? What they found was that advantaged preschoolers could recognize significantly more environmental print logos in both the actual names of the product and their meaning than the at-risk group. Also, the parents of advantaged preschoolers were more accurate in predicting their children's responses.

Aldridge and Rust (1987) found that first grade children in a special education class for children with mental retardation benefited from environmental print instruction. Two major findings of this study were that the children were more proactive in seeking out print in their environment, and they saw themselves as readers and writers. In another study with preschool atypical children environmental print, in conjunction with a strong emphasis on letters and sounds, was used over a two-year period. Results showed an increase in the children's attention span, parental participation with the children and teacher, and active involvement of children and their families in reading.

Environmental Print and Elementary Students

Briggs and Richardson (1993) asked 46 second graders (22 girls and 24 boys) to write "all the printed words that they remembered seeing in their environment" (p. 228). Children had to recall these words without any verbal or visual cues. The researchers then arbitrarily divided the words, which the children wrote into nine categories; The nine categories (in order of frequency from the most to the least) were stores, meats, vegetables, fruits, desserts, road signs, other grocery items, drinks and miscellaneous. It would seem from this research that second grade teachers could use children's prior knowledge to enhance literacy interest and development.

In summary, environmental print research has demonstrated that children know a lot about reading and writing even before they begin formal schooling. Children are especially apt at reading the meaning of the environmental print in context even if they cannot read the logos in manuscript form. Most of the studies cited mentioned the fact that the younger children had more difficulty with the environmental print tasks.

Environmental Print and School Readiness

Clay (1993) wrote about the widely held belief that school would be easier for the child who has a rich preschool literacy experience than for the child who has had few such opportunities for learning. She believed that all children are "ready" to learn something but they start at different places. When children enter school, it is the teacher's responsibility to find out who they are, what they know, what they can do, and build on that foundation, whether it is rich or meager. She thought that each child must be allowed to start with what s/he already knows and use that to support what has to be learned next.

Adams (1990) suggested that children who grow up in a print-rich environment seem to learn that print is different from other kinds of visual patterns in their environment. They also learn that print is found across a variety of physical media. Children notice that print is all around them and that it forms different categories, such as books, newspapers, lists, and price tags. It appears on signs, boxes, television, or fabric. They notice that adults use print in different ways. Children soon realize that print symbolizes language and that it holds information.

From major research on early literacy development conducted with Spanish-speaking children in Mexico and Argentina, Yetta Goodman (1986b) concluded that the differences in language did not constitute a barrier to the application of the basic ideas in a field so language dependent as literacy. Lee's (1989) research on emergent literacy of Chinese-speaking children in Taiwan supported Goodman's conclusions. She found that children in Taiwan were aware of environmental print, just as American children seemed to be, even before they received formal reading and writing instruction. These Taiwanese children also relied on contextual clues, with the younger children (3-year-olds) being less able to read environmental print than older children.

Harste, Burke, and Woodward attempted to explain further the process of growing print awareness in children by having 4-year-olds perform several tasks, the first of which involved environmental print. The authors concluded that: (a) preschool children have discovered much about print prior to formal language instruction; (b) formal instruction programs often assume that the young child knows little if anything about print; (c) educators should begin formal language instruction by building on the many language strategies which children have already developed on their own; and (d) educators need to assist children in discovering the predictability of written language in a variety of real world, whole language contexts. They concluded that the children's responses concerning the logos were the direct outcome of their previous experiences.

Yetta Goodman (1984) noted that even those children who had taken standardized tests predicting failure in reading demonstrated that they had knowledge about written language. They knew that the print in books and on other objects in the environment communicated written language messages. They understood the meaning of the sign that says, "stop," even though sometimes they referred to the words as "don't go" or "brake car" before they had learned the word "stop." In another study, Goodman found that children learn about reading and writing as they participate in environmental print activities.

Using Environmental Print in the Classroom

Research clearly shows that exposure to environmental print, even before formal education begins, contributes to early literacy. Consequently, it would make sense for educators to implement this knowledge that the children come to school with as a springboard to higher learning. Table 1 summarizes some environmental print activities and their objectives.
Table 1
Environmental Print Activities for Young Children

 Activity Objective

1. Parents who cannot read books Bridge the gap from
 may use environmental print found home to school
 in the home or community to work
 with their child.

2. Point out letters and words in Teach letters and words
 environmental print. in meaningful contexts.
 Print the logos on the board or
 on paper.

3. Begin With the most familiar logos Boost confidence and
 so that the child experiences self-esteem of all
 success. Use that logo to move them children
 through the different levels
 mentioned in the earlier research.

4. Have children bring in their Give students some
 print and place it in a box or ownership in their own
 trashcan. Use these items to learning
 encourage discussion during circle
 time. Put information into the news.

5. Use environmental print to make Transcend traditional
 maps, determine distance, reading curriculum boundaries.
 lessons or singing jingles

6. Reflect on the children's community Be a reflective
 and invent original ways of using practitioner.
 environmental print in the classroom.


Environmental print is an excellent way to make the home-school connection. Some educators have children in their classrooms whose first language in not English. Their parents may have difficulty speaking, reading or writing English. Environmental print can be an especially effective tool with these families. For example, most reading experts recommend that parents read to their children every day. Parents who cannot read books can use environmental print found in the home, neighborhood and the community to work with both the children and the school to become an active, contributing member of the classroom community. Further, environmental print is inexpensive and helps bring in parents, grandparents and guardians into school participation who might not participate.

Many of the studies cited point to the fact that children may be able to recognize logos although they can't recognize the letters or words of the logos when they are typed or written out. This is where instruction comes in. The educator can use environmental print in the classroom, such as a Coke can, to point out letters and words. This can be expanded to include the printed logo in stories or in some other meaningful context. Several studies have also reported that children see themselves as readers and writers and actively seek out print in the environment when environmental print is part of the curriculum.

A proactive attitude towards learning can be developed by allowing the students' to take some ownership through the use of environmental print. Beginning readers can bring in environmental print and place it in a community box. At circle time, or daily planning time, the educator can pull out the items the children have brought and ask them to describe the experience surrounding it. The educator can expand on this by writing what the child says in the daily news. Using environmental print this way will enable the educator to transcend traditional curriculum boundaries. Logos can be used for language, art, math, and social studies. The only limitation is the imagination of the educator. Reflecting on the needs of the children and determining how items from their community can be integrated into the curriculum will enable the educator to become a more active and positive practitioner.

References

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Bronfenbrenner, U. (1989). Ecological systems theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of child development, Vol. 6 (pp. 187-252). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

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Stahl, S., & Murray, B. (1993). Environmental print, phonemic awareness, letter recognition, and word recognition. In D. Leu & C. Kinzer (Eds.), Examining central issues in literacy research, theory, and practice: Forty-second yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 227-233).

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Vukelich, C. (1994). Effects of play interventions on young children's reading of environmental print. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 9, 153-170.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interactions between learning and development. In M. Cole, V. John Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman (Eds.), Mind in society (pp. 79-91). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wepner, S. (1985). Linking logos with print for beginning reading success. Reading Teacher, 38, 633-639.

Ylisto, I. (1967). An empirical investigation of early reading responses of young children. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Patricia Kuby, Assistant Professor, Early Childhood/Elementary Education, Athens State University, Athens, Alabama. Isabel Goodstadt-Killoran, Doctoral candidate in Earch Childhood Education, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama. Jerry Aldridge, Coordinator and Professor of Early Childhood Education & President of the United States National Committee of the World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP), University of Alabama at Birmingham. Lynn Kirkland, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Patricia Kuby, Athens State University, 300 N. Beaty Street, Athens, Alabama 35611.
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The impact of environmental print instruction on early reading ability.
Journals on electronic devices and unconventional computing from Old City Publishing.
Giving a voice to environmental health research.

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