Not just storybook reading: Exploring the relationship between home literacy environment and literate cultural capital among 5-year-old children as they start school.
What is emergent literacy?
Emergent literacy refers to children's literacy behaviours prior to formally learning to read and write. The time course of emergent literacy stops when the child acquires formal reading and writing skills. Sulzby and Teale (1991) write that emergent literacy is concerned with the earliest phases of literacy development, the period between birth and the time when children read and write conventionally. Emergent literacy represents a range of behaviours and practices shown by children from birth through to school entry where they show growing awareness of language, reading, and writing (Sulzby & Teale, 1991). A wide range of behaviours can indicate growth in emergent literacy, including book and print awareness, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, drawing, and writing. Bailet, Zettler-Greeley and Lewis (2018) took a wider view of emergent literacy. They carried out a psychometric analysis of 30 behaviours that indicated emergent literacy. The 30 items in their screener covered six domains: print awareness, oral language, letter knowledge, phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and beginning drawing and writing. They found that all of these domains were important in terms of predicting literacy except print awareness.
What is home literacy environment?
Home literacy environment is a broad term which can be defined as the rich and diverse activities and experiences that take place in the home that promote literacy development. There is a large literature base on home literacy environment (for example, Baroody & Diamond, 2012; Blake, Macdonald, Bayrami, Agosta, & Milian, 2006; Dexter & Stacks, 2014; Duursma & Pan, 2011; Edwards, 2014; Evans, Fox, Cremaso, & McKinnon, 2004; Hedegaard & Fleer, 2013; Makin, 2006; Trivett, Dunst, & Gorman, 2010; Westerveld, Gillon, van Bysterveldt, & Boyd, 2015). Not included in the present study but also part of home literacy environment is the role of drawing and pre-writing activities (Goin, Nordquist, & Twardosz, 2004; Hvit, 2014; Mackenzie, 2011; Mackenzie & Veresov, 2013; Rowe, 2008; Rowe & Neitzel, 2010).
Literate cultural capital theory, emergent literacy, and home literacy environment
From a theoretical perspective, differences in children's literacy abilities at school entry can be conceptualised as 'literate cultural capital' and are an outcome of differences in home literacy environment (Tunmer et al., 2006). Theorists argue that children from low-income backgrounds often come to school with much less literate cultural capital than children from higher-income, more economically advantaged backgrounds. This is because children from disadvantaged backgrounds are often from homes with lower levels of literacy-related activity and this prevents them from building up higher levels of literate cultural capital (Tunmer, Chapman, & Prochnow, 2003).
Evidence of differences in literate cultural capital at school entry include differences in oral language skills (especially vocabulary knowledge), understanding of 'book language' such as knowing that pages are read from left to right, that letters on the page represent 'words'. It includes alphabet knowledge (letter names and sounds). It includes drawing and writing activities and 'invented spelling', that is, the ability to represent sounds in words with letters, e.g., RAN for RAIN. It includes sensitivity to sounds and syllables in words, for example, understanding of rhyme and alliteration called phonological awareness. It includes grammatical awareness, for example, knowing that a sentence is syntactically or semantically incorrect (Prochnow, Tunmer, & Greaney, 2015). Essentially, children who live in homes where there is access to a greater number of literacy-related activities and opportunities should, in theory, benefit and develop high levels of literate cultural capital, and thus arrive at school more prepared for formal literacy instruction.
However, while some forms of home literacy closely match or mirror the school context (e.g., exposure to print; Haney & Hill, 2004), other forms of home literacy are more closely aligned with the child's family or community setting and do not directly match the literacies found in school (Brice Heath, 1982; Phillips, McNaughton, & MacDonald, 2004). While these other forms of home literacy are integral to consider and co-exist alongside 'school-type' literacies, this paper largely focuses on the latter.
Different categories of home literacy environment
Teale and Sulzby's (1986) model of home literacy environment (active, passive, and child-led) was used in the present study to see if this captured more specifically the impact of a literate environment within the family home on children's early literacy knowledge. Teale and Sulzby (1986) wrote that there are three categories of home literacy environment. First, there is active home literacy environment whereby children interact with adults on literacy-related activities such as storybook reading and learning the alphabet. Second there is passive home literacy environment where children learn implicitly about reading by watching family members model literacy-related behaviours (e.g., observing their parent read a fiction novel). Third, there is child-led home literacy environment where children engage with literacy-related activities on their own initiative (e.g., watching educational television programmes).
Active home literacy environment
The first component, active home literacy environment, includes a wide array of activities that families engage in with their children to foster literacy development (Burgess, Hecht, & Lonigan, 2002). These can include storybook reading, telling stories, singing songs, playing with alphabet toys, talking about things done together, talking about things they have read, playing word games, writing letters or words, reading aloud signs and label (Prochnow et al., 2015). Of these activities, storybook reading has received the most attention (Senechal, LeFevre, Thomas, & Daley, 1998), and a significant amount of research has linked storybook reading to positive literacy development (Bracken & Fischel, 2008; Bus, van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1995; Mol, Bus, de Jong, & Smeets, 2008; Raikes et al., 2006; Scarborough & Dobrich, 1994; Senechal, Pagan, Lever, & Ouellette, 2008; Sonnenchein & Munsterman, 2002). Talking with children about books, have also been found to influence language development (Huttenlocher, Waterfall, Vasilyeva, Vevea, & Hedges, 2010). For example, Hoff (2003) found that maternal speech fully accounted for socioeconomic status-related differences in vocabulary development. Actively teaching the alphabet also influences pre-literacy acquisition. Haney and Hill (2004) found a positive correlation between the extent to which parents provide direct literacy instruction and children's scores on emergent literacy tasks (i.e. alphabet knowledge and writing words).
Some activities in active home literacy environment have not always been consistently associated with children's literacy development. For example, the number of books in the family home is often used in quantitative questionnaires as a measure of home literacy environment (Foy & Mann, 2003; Niklas & Schneider, 2013; Rodriguez et al., 2009). Yet, some research indicates that the number of books in the family home may not be independently associated with children's language development (Foy & Mann 2003; Scarborough & Dobrich, 1994; Senechal & LeFevre, 2002).
Passive home literacy environment
The second component, passive home literacy environment, refers to the literacy environment of the home where parents are engaged in literacy behaviours such as reading books and magazines and reading text digitally, such as on a smartphone or computer. Stainthorp and Hughes (2000) have suggested that a passive home literacy environment may encourage children to learn about literacy incidentally by watching their family members engage in literacy-related activities. Children observe their parents or family members modelling literacy-related behaviours and some observational learning may take place, for example, the child may see their parents reading and then may read their own children's books (Burgess et al., 2002). Bracken and Fischel (2008) and van Steensel (2006) found that children observing their family members read books in the family home had a positive effect on the children's receptive vocabulary.
Child-led home literacy environment
The third component of home literacy environment, child-led, includes activities such as reading or looking at story books on their own, playing literacy-related games (e.g., games on computers, smart phones and tablets), and watching educational television programmes. Engaging in literacy related activities using technology has become much more common among young children (Barr & Linebarger, 2017).
Two studies in the United States (Kabali et al., 2015) and Northern Ireland (Ahearne, Dilworth, Rollings, Livingston, & Murray, 2016) found that up to 70% of toddlers and infants used touch-screen devices on a daily basis. Television remains the most popular form of media accessed by preschool-aged children in the United States (Lapierre, Piotrowski, & Linebarger, 2010), with four- to six-year-olds viewing an average of 90 minutes of television daily. Research on child-led home literacy environment literacy activities has found positive effects on early literacy learning (Hutchison, Beschorner, & Schmidt-Crawford, 2012; Linebarger & Piotrowski, 2009; Mares & Pan, 2013; Wright et al., 2001). Some researchers however have questioned whether learning from video and two-dimensional media is as effective for infants' and young children's literacy learning as live interactions (Anderson & Hanson, 2010; Hipp et al., 2017).
To summarise, the present study was interested in the relationship between the active, passive, and child-led home literacy environment and certain components of children's emergent literacy behaviours at school entry. It is of vital interest to know more about home literacy environment and its relationship with emergent literacy. First, we know that emergent literacy knowledge (or literate cultural capital) predicts later literacy achievement. Thus, early knowledge of how language, reading, and writing work is a crucial foundation for school success and for a successful adult life. Second, we do not know exactly how home literacy environment mediates the development of emergent literacy. Does a rich home literacy environment lead directly to early reading development or does it have an indirect effect, for example, helping children to grow their oral language capability, which then influences more directly their literacy development? Is it oral language capability that enables the child to acquire letter sound knowledge, word reading, spelling, and writing? These questions underpin the study.
The theoretical perspective for the study is that differences in children's literacy related abilities at school entry reflect differences in literate cultural capital that are a result of a rich or impoverished home literacy environment. In literate cultural capital theory, differences in emergent literacy knowledge among children come about due to socioeconomic and cultural differences in the home. The purpose of the present study is to find out more about how each type of home literacy environment (active, passive, and child-led) influences literacy development. It is believed that this knowledge will be of practical value for teachers when discussing with parents which literacy activities at home are more likely to have positive impact on their child's success at school.
Aims and purposes
The aim of the study was to investigate active, passive, and child-led aspects of home literacy environment in terms of their relative impact on literate cultural capital. One possibility is that the main driver of literate cultural capital is active home literacy environment, which includes activities such as storybook reading. Another possibility is that the main driver is child-led home literacy environment. The child may learn to read by engaging in literacy activities such as playing educational games on a smart phone or iPad. A third possibility is that the main driver is passive home literacy environment. The child may observe others at home engaged in literacy activities and this produces a motivation in them to do the same. The purpose of the present study was to find out what aspects of home literacy environment are most important for producing higher levels of literate cultural capital in children at school entry.
Literacy is best conceptualised as complex socio-psycho-linguistic activity (McLachlan & Arrow, 2017; Teale & Sulzby, 1989) and 'a collaborative venture at the skill level' (Suggate, Schaughency, McAnally, & Reese, 2018, p. 82). The present study does not attempt to explore literacy development as a whole, but has rather focuses on some specific components of literacy development (e.g., phonemic awareness, letter-sound knowledge and receptive vocabulary). These measures of children's early literacy skills were chosen because of the large body of empirical evidence that suggests that vocabulary and phonological awareness are important predictors of early reading success (Bus & van Ijzendoorn, 1999; Muter, Hulme, Snowling, & Stevenson, 2004; Oakhill & Cain, 2012; Shankweiler & Fowler, 2004; Suggate et al., 2018; Torgesen, Otaiba, & Grek, 2005). Therefore it is believed that the present study could provide further information about the types of home literacy environment activities that contribute to the development of some of the skills that underpin literacy development (e.g., phonemic awareness and receptive language).
The hypothesis was there would be a positive relationship between active, passive and child-led home literacy environment and children's receptive language and certain components of emergent literacy (i.e., phonological awareness, letter sound knowledge, and early word reading). However, we acknowledge that these three measures of emergent literacy only are a limited sample of emergent literacy behaviour. This is because emergent literacy is a broad and multi-faceted term that encompasses the skills and knowledge that equip young children to learn how to read and write upon formal literacy instruction (Merz et al., 2014). Therefore, although the measures of emergent literacy used in this study were suggested by Whitehurst and Lonigan (1998), they were limited in that they did not include print knowledge and early drawing and writing as suggested by Bailet et al (2018).
The research questions were:
1. Is there a relationship between active, passive, and child-led home literacy environment and certain components of children's early literacy skills?
2. Is there a relationship between active, passive, and child-led home literacy environment and children's oral language as assessed by receptive vocabulary?
The present study was a quantitative survey of children's emergent literacy knowledge at school entry. It surveyed children's language and literacy knowledge and assessed the nature of children's home literacy environment by asking parents to complete a home literacy environment questionnaire.
Children. There were 35 children in the study. Of these children, 45.7% were boys (N=16) and 54.3% were girls (N=19). Their mean age was 61.71 months (SD=1.10), with a range of 60-64 months. Ethnicities for the national population of children at school are 50% European, 24% Maori, 10% Pasifika, 12% Asian, and 3% Other (Education Review Office, 2017). In this present study, the proportion of ethnicities in the study were broadly similar but not the same in that there were more Europeans and Other, and fewer Maori (74% European, 14% Maori, 11% Pasifika, 11% Asian, and 9% Other).
Children were five-years-old and in their first 15 weeks of primary school. Fifteen weeks was the cut-off to minimise school effects. Of the 35 children, 28 were in the first two months of school and seven were in their third and fourth months of school. Although some literacy learning occurs in the first months of school, it may have been too small to affect the present study. In support of this point, Tiruchittampalam, Ross, Whitehouse and Nicholson (2018) found only a small school effect in the first months of the school year. Since the study focused on emergent literacy in English, participants needed to speak English at home. There were no children with learning difficulties.
Parents. Parents who completed the questionnaire were nearly all the mothers of the children (N=31, 89%). The remaining four parents identified themselves as the child's father (11%).
Schools. The sampling strategy was to write to a range of schools that varied in location, decile ranking, size of school roll, and type of school. Decile rankings used by the Ministry of Education are a metric to assess levels of socioeconomic status (SES). Deciles range from low (decile 1) to high (decile 10) based on factors associated with SES such as home address, occupation, and ethnicity. We made contact with nine schools in a semirural area and five of these participated in the study. The schools ranged from those located in low SES (decile 3) to high SES areas (decile 9). There were two rural schools and three suburban schools. Four were state schools and one was a state-integrated Christian-school. It was a purposive rather than representative sample.
British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS-3). The British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS-3) is an individually administered and norm-referenced (in the UK) test of receptive vocabulary for Standard English (Dunn, Dunn, & National Foundation for Educational Research, 2009). The BPVS-3 is for assessment of individuals from three to sixteen years of age. Reliabilities (Cronbach's alpha) for this test were 0.86. Example items for BPVS include 'Put your finger on the picture [dog, comb, bed, cup] that shows 'cup'; put your finger on the picture [plaque, bin, cage, package] that shows 'package'.
Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP-2). The CTOPP-2 is an individually administered, norm-referenced assessment (in the US) that measures phonological processing skills related to reading (Wagner, Torgesen, Rashotte, & Pearson, 2013). It is for individuals from four to twenty-four years of age. We used three subtests from the CTOPP-2 (from age 4-6 test booklet). These were the 'elision', 'blending words' and 'sound matching' subtests. The reason for using only three subtests of CTOPP was that these subtests were the ones needed to calculate a composite phonological awareness score for the study. The composite was a standard score with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. Reliabilities (Cronbach's alpha) for this test ranged from .90 to .95. For the CTOPP subtests total test items were: Elision 34, Blending 33, Sound Matching 26.
York Assessment of Reading Comprehension (YARC). The York Assessment of Reading Comprehension (YARC) Early Reading is a standardised assessment tool (developed in the UK) includes some of the key processes that contribute to reading development, particularly alphabetic literacy (Hulme et al., 2012). The present study used two of the YARC early reading measures: letter-sound knowledge and early word reading. The reason for using these two dimensions of YARC was to add measures of literacy to the BPVS and CTOPP measures of receptive vocabulary and phonological awareness.
We used the test of letter sounds (YARC core test of 11 letters and 6 digraphs) and early word reading (30 items starting with 'cat'). The YARC early reading measure is for students aged from five to seven years (5:00-7:11). The YARC has been standardised on a large representative group of school-aged children in Australia in 2001 (Hulme et al., 2012). Reliabilities (Cronbach's alpha) for the various subtests ranged from .81 to .98.
Parent home literacy environment questionnaire. The research literature indicates that home literacy environment has at least three components: active, passive, and child-led. Home literacy environment is a general description of the kinds of literacy activities that children experience at home prior to school entry. The home literacy environment questionnaire for parents had sections on active, child-led, and passive home literacy environment. There was also a question on parent level of education (see Table 1). There were 10 items for the active home literacy environment section. Question 1 had of the eight of these 10 items. The eight items used a Likert 5-point scale from 'never' to 'very often'. Activities asked about in this question included telling stories, visiting the library, and teaching about alphabet letters. Question 2 was also part of the active home literacy environment measure. The item asked about how often the parent read to their child and used a 5-point scale, from 'never' to 'seven or more times'. Question 3 asked about how many children's books were at home and was also part of the active home literacy environment measure. The item used a 5-point scale from '0-10' books to 'more than 100'.
The child-led home literacy environment section had three items (see Table 1, question 4). An example of an item was whether their child engaged in playing educational games on a tablet or smartphone. For each item, there was a 5-point Likert scale from 'never' to 'very often'.
The passive home literacy environment section had three items (see Table 1, question 5): An example items was how often the parent read articles online. These items also used a Likert 5-point scale.
The final question in the home literacy environment questionnaire asked about the parent's highest level of education. There were five options from 'no formal qualification' to 'postgraduate qualification'.
Reliabilities, using Cronbach's alpha, for the home literacy environment questionnaire were as follows, active home literacy environment .76; child led home literacy environment .60; passive home literacy environment .62. In total, there were 15 home literacy environment items in the questionnaire. The questionnaire assessed only some aspects of home literacy environment and did not mention print knowledge, drawing, or writing. The items used were from questionnaires used by researchers such as Grieshaber, Shield, Luke, and Macdonald (2011), Hood, Conlon and Andrews (2008), Niklas and Schneider (2013), and Senechal et al. (1998).
A group of 63 parents were invited to participate, with 35 parents returning their consent form and questionnaire. This is a response rate of 55.6%. Data collection took place after informed consent was gained from the school principal, the child's teacher, and child's parents. Testing sessions were approximately 15- to 20-minutes and took place at a quiet area at the school in a location decided by the school principal.
Approximately three testing sessions were needed with each child. Children were asked for their assent to participate in the research. The first author conducted the assessment according to the instructions laid out in the examiner's manual of each assessment. In total, data collection took approximately 10 weeks.
Descriptive statistics summarise the assessment measures and the questionnaire data. Correlational analysis and regression analysis explored links between home literacy environment and pre-literacy measures. Missing data were excluded from the data analyses, therefore not all statistical analyses have N = 35.
Table 2 contains descriptive information on the children's performance on the pre-literacy measures used. All results are in standard scores. The pattern of results shows that children scored in the average range, from 90-110. Figure 1 shows bar graphs with the percent responses for active home literacy environment items in the parent home literacy environment questionnaire. For example, as is seen in Figure 1, all parents indicated that they read to their child at least once a week, with nearly half indicating that they read to their child seven or more times a week. Additionally, all parents reported that they had more than 10 children's books in their family home and nearly a third had 100 or more books.
Table 3 contains information on parent education level. These data showed that 15 out of 35 (42.8%) parents held a Bachelor's degree or higher. This statistic is higher than the national average because only 29.8% of the adult population held a Bachelor's degree or higher in 2015 (Statistics New Zealand, 2016). A correlational analysis of parent education with phonological awareness, letter sound knowledge, early word reading, and receptive vocabulary showed that correlations were nearly all zero and not statistically significant: BPVS receptive vocabulary (r = .024, N = 34, p = .89), CTOPP composite (r = .140, N = 34, p = .43), YARC letter sound knowledge (r = .043, N = 35, p = .81), YARC early words, r = .051, N = 35, p = .77).
Correlational analyses were also computed to assess whether there was a relationship between parent education level and the quality of the active, passive, and child-led home literacy environment. No significant correlations were found between parent education level and home literacy environment, active (r = .071, N = 32, p = .70), passive (r = .051, N = 35, p = .77), and child-led home literacy environment (r = -.007, N = 35, p = .97).
A correlational analysis of five of the active home literacy environment items (see Table 4) with the three measures of emergent literacy and BPVS vocabulary revealed that shared book reading frequency and the number of children's books in the family home were not significantly correlated with any measure of emergent literacy or the BPVS. Word games, alphabet teaching, and talking about what parents read all correlated with vocabulary and phonological awareness. Only parents talking about what they read correlated with letter sound knowledge. None of the items correlated with early word reading.
Correlational analyses were also run with the three parent home literacy environment questionnaire items related to the passive home literacy environment. Again, the items were correlated with the three measures of emergent literacy and the BPVS vocabulary. Here, the only statistically significant correlation was between parent's own reading of fiction and non-fiction books in the home and the CTOPP-2 phonological awareness composite (r = .51, N = 34, p > .01). It also is of note that no aspects of child-led home literacy environment (e.g., watching educational television, playing computer games, or playing games on a smart phone or tablet) were significantly correlated with the measures of children's emergent literacy and vocabulary.
Next, the statistical analyses used to investigate the relationship between the three components of home literacy environment (active, passive, and child-led) and children's emergent literacy are reported on. Active home literacy environment consisted of all eight items from Question 1, as well as the Question 2 item and the Question 4 item in the parent questionnaire (Table 1). Child-led home literacy environment consisted of the three items about the child watching educational TV, or playing games on the computer, or with a tablet/smart phone. Passive home literacy environment consisted of the three items asking if the parent read books, magazines or online articles at home.
To explore the relationship between home literacy environment and children's emergent literacy, regression analyses (Table 5) modelled what contributions the three areas of home literacy environment made to the prediction of the three emergent literacy measures over and above the child's vocabulary knowledge. Vocabulary knowledge controlled for the child's verbal ability. Chronological age (in months) was entered in Step 1, then gender in Step 2, then vocabulary in Step 3, then active home literacy environment in Step 4, child-led home literacy environment in Step 5, and passive home literacy environment in Step 6. The first of these regression analyses looked at predicting CTOPP phonological processing composite score based on active home literacy environment, passive home literacy environment, and child-led home literacy environment. This showed that BPVS vocabulary and passive home literacy environment made statistically significant contributions to predicting phonological progressing, accounting for 28% and 13% of the variance respectively.
The second regression looked at predicting YARC letter-sound knowledge based on active, child-led, and passive home literacy environment. This showed that only BPVS vocabulary made a significant contribution to the outcome measure, accounting for 19% of the variance.
The third analysis looked at predicting YARC early word reading knowledge and this showed that only the BPVS vocabulary measure made a significant contribution, accounting for 20 percent of the variance.
Given that the strongest predictor of emergent literacy knowledge was vocabulary, we asked whether home literacy environment contributed to the child's receptive vocabulary. A regression analysis was performed to find out what contribution the three areas of home literacy environment made to the prediction of children's receptive vocabulary, as measured by the BPVS (see Table 5). For this regression, chronological age (in months) was entered in Step 1, then gender in Step 2, then active home literacy environment in Step 3, child-led home literacy environment in Step 4, and passive home literacy environment in Step 5. On each step the percent of the literacy measure variance accounted for by the added predictor variable was determined and tested for statistical significance. This regression showed that only the active home literacy environment measure made a significant contribution to children's receptive vocabulary.
The present results support the general literature that home literacy environment is an important contributor to the development of children's early literacy skills (Bracken & Fischel, 2008; Burgess et al., 2002; Niklas & Schneider, 2013; van Steensel, 2006). While this study focused on only the specific early literacy skills of receptive vocabulary, phonemic awareness and early word reading, the results indicate that the relationship between home literacy environment and children's early literacy skills is not necessarily a simple one and that certain aspects of home literacy environment appear to be more important than others. When home literacy environment was divided into three main types (active, passive, and child-led home literacy environment) it was found that active home literacy environment contributed to children's receptive vocabulary but not to the other measures of emergent literacy. The opposite was true for passive home literacy environment, which did not predict children's receptive vocabulary but did contribute to children's phonological awareness. Child-led home literacy environment did not predict children's receptive vocabulary or their emergent literacy. In addition, receptive vocabulary contributed to the other three emergent literacy measures over and above all home literacy environment measures.
These results were somewhat surprising, particularly around the lack of association between active home literacy environment and the measures of children's emergent literacy. This is because previous research has consistently linked active home literacy environment with children's emergent literacy (Bracken & Fischel, 2008; Burgess et al., 2002; Bus et al., 1995; Mol et al., 2008; Senechal, et al., 2008; Sonnenchein & Munsterman, 2002).
The results support much of the research that indicates that children's vocabulary is reciprocally associated with the active home literacy environment (Deckner, Adamson, & Bakeman, 2006; Hood et al., 2008; Senechal, LeFevre, Hudson, & Lawson, 1996) and children's emergent literacy and later reading success (Dickinson & Tabors, 2001; Hart & Risley, 1995; Senechal & LeFevre, 2002). The child's vocabulary is not just an outcome of home literacy environment activities. It also represents the child's endowed ability to learn, for example, to follow teacher directions and the ability to profit from experience and instruction. Home literacy environment may contribute to a child's oral language development but the child's ability to use language will drive literacy development. The present results give support to the theory that engaging with literacy-based activities in the family home (such as shared book reading or playing word games) positively enhances the development of children's vocabulary. A rich home literacy environment, therefore, has an indirect effect on literacy learning through improving the child's oral language, which is part of their general cognitive skills. Thus children who have a greater access to 'school-type' literacy-related opportunities in the home are more likely to arrive at school with greater literate cultural capital, and therefore are more likely to be prepared for formal literacy instruction.
This rationale has also been proposed by Senechal and LeFevre (2002), who considered two aspects of home literacy environment in their study; shared parent-child book reading and direct teaching practices (e.g., alphabet teaching). They proposed that there was a direct pathway from the frequency of shared story book reading to the development of children's receptive vocabulary and listening comprehension in Grade 1 (age six/seven), which then later predicted children's reading ability in Grade 3 (age eight/nine). In contrast, they suggested that there was a direct pathway between the frequency of parent teaching to the development of children's emergent literacy skills in Grade 1, which then later predicted children's reading at the end of Grade 1 and in Grade 3. Additionally, similar to our results for active home literacy environment, Senechal and LeFevre (2002) found no direct relationship between either shared story book reading or direct parent teaching to the development of children's phonological awareness at the start of Grade 1. Therefore the lack of association found between active home literacy environment and children's phonological awareness (as captured by the CTOPP-2 composite score) aligns with this theoretical model proposed by Senechal and LeFevre (2002).
In sum, the message portrayed by both our study and others (Burgess et al., 2002; Senechal & LeFevre, 2002), is that the relationship between home literacy environment and children's early literacy skills is not necessarily a simple one, and that there is more to the equation than shared story book reading. For example, when shared story book reading frequency was correlated with children's phonemic awareness and vocabulary there was no relationship at all. This sits in contrast to research that found that regular reading of books to children is a robust predictor of emergent literacy (Bracken & Fischel, 2008; Bus et al., 1995; Hindman, Connor, Jewkes, & Morrison, 2008; Saracho & Spodek, 2010; Senechal et al., 1998; Senechal et al., 2008). Instead, the results showed that active home literacy environment activities of playing word games and explicit alphabet teaching were most consistently associated with the measures of children's emergent literacy skills. These findings concur with those of Senechal and LeFevre (2002). Additionally, it was found that parents' talking about what they had read was positively correlated with children's receptive vocabulary, which aligns with research by both Huttenlocher et al. (2010) and Hoff (2003) who found that maternal speech was associated with language development.
Furthermore, the present findings suggested that there is a need to consider how passive home literacy environment may contribute to the development of children's emergent literacy. Passive home literacy environment made statistically significant contributions to predicting phonological progressing. This finding was novel given that previous research has not generally found support for this particular association (Bracken & Fischel, 2008; Burgess et al., 2002). Although future research is needed to further test this association, the results advocate for the need to consider all three of these aspects of home literacy environment. This is particularly because some studies have used shared story book reading as the main or only proxy of home literacy environment (Deckner et al., 2006; Foy & Mann, 2003; Hood et al., 2008), which then creates the risk that the relationship between home literacy environment and children's early literacy skills is not accurately captured. Additionally, as suggested by Whitehurst and Lonigan (1998), researcher's reliance on a single measure of home literacy environment (such as shared book reading) may be one reason why previous reviews (e.g., Scarborough & Dobrich, 1994) have only found weak empirical evidence to support the association between home literacy environment and children's early literacy development.
Finally, no empirical support was found for the relationship between children's own engagement in literacy-based activities using technology, child-led home literacy environment, and the measures of their emergent literacy skills at school entry. Some research has found support for the positive impact of engaging with such technologies (Foy & Mann, 2003; Hutchison et al., 2012; Linebarger & Piotrowski, 2009; Mares & Pan, 2013). However, our results are similar to those of many other studies which found negligible effects for engaging in technology-based activities when children are under the age of five (Linebarger & Walker, 2005; Robb, Richert, & Wartella, 2009; Zimmermann, Christakis, & Meltzoff, 2007).
There has to date only been a small amount of literature investigating the effects of engaging with these technologies on children's literacy development (Burnett, 2009). This is concerning considering that a high percentage of parents report (including in the present study) that their children play such games (Ahearne et al., 2016; Kabali et al., 2015). Parents may be under the impression that playing such games is beneficial for their children's learning and development when, in reality, there is currently little or no evidence to support this (Reid Chassiakos et al., 2016). The fact that we found no positive correlation of child-led home literacy environment with language and literacy development does not mean there is none. The possibility that child-led home literacy environment influences literacy learning is still an open one. As such, it is recommended that future research focus on experimentally testing whether playing these games impact children's language or literacy development in any way.
Lastly, no relationship was found between parent education level and either children's' early literacy skills or their home literacy environment. This was unexpected given that other research has found an association between parent education level and children's early language development (Bracken & Fischel, 2008; Dollaghan et al., 1999), and the quality of the home literacy environment provided to the child (Bracken & Fischel, 2008; Rodriguez et al., 2009). A possible explanation is that because the parents were volunteers and not randomly selected, home literacy environments were already very rich in support of literacy. Inspection of the items measuring active home literacy environment showed that this group of parents generally provided high levels of home literacy environment activities.
To summarise, when the various components of home literacy environment were separated, it became clear that active home literacy environment only made a statistically significant contribution to predicting children's receptive vocabulary. This finding was unexpected, but it was reasoned that this could be explained by considering the role of receptive vocabulary. This is because children's receptive vocabulary made statistically significant contributions to all three measures of children's emergent literacy. Therefore, present results suggest a sequential model where home literacy environment predicts vocabulary but does not contribute to letter sound knowledge and early word reading. In a sequential model, it may be that home literacy environment influences vocabulary learning, which in turn influences phonological awareness, which then influences letter sound and word reading. A future study may be able to verify this theory.
No relationship was found between the literacy measures and the number of times the parent reads a book to their child each week. This was unexpected in some ways given that a lot of previous research has used shared book reading as a proxy for home literacy environment. A possible explanation is that learning phonemic awareness, letter-sound knowledge, and early word reading are unnatural concepts and not obvious to the preschool child when their parents read them a book. Many of the children in the study were still at the very early stages of literacy development, so they may not have been in a position to learn for themselves how to read simply by sharing books with their parent. An example of children's lack of such early knowledge in literacy is that in the 'early word reading' subtest of the YARC, 15 of the 35 children (43%) scored '0' correct answers. The present findings suggest that the question of whether reading books to your child (without any instruction in literacy skills) can predict early literacy progress needs more research.
Limitations of the present study
There was a greater proportion of parents with tertiary level education than would be expected. It is acknowledged that literacy acquisition is multi-faceted and that this study measured only a subsection of emergent literacy. Therefore, a limitation of the present study is that the home literacy environment questionnaire given to parents to complete did not include items on drawing and writing. Additionally, open-ended questions may have given more insights, e.g., what do your children like to read?
To conclude, the findings support current thinking about the importance of home literacy environment in children's early development of pre-literacy abilities and clarify our understanding of how and why home literacy environment is important. It is known that there are significant disparities in the emergent literacy skills that children bring to school. It is argued that home literacy environment, particularly 'school-type' home literacies, impact a child's literate cultural capital which can then help to explain these disparities. The practical value of the results is the support for active and passive home literacy environment activities. They go beyond storybook reading and the number of books in the home to support a model of home literacy environment in which active and passive home literacy environment activities are key drivers of children's emergent literacy development through their effect on vocabulary, enabling children to start school much better prepared to succeed in learning literacy.
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<ADD> Brittney Van Tonder Massey University, New Zealand Alison Arrow University of Canterbury Tom Nicholson Formerly Massey University, New Zealand </ADD>
Brittney Van Tonder has a Masters in Educational Psychology from Massey University. Brittney's research interests include equity in educational achievement, child development, and the professional practice of educational psychology. She is currently employed by the Ministry of Education in Auckland.
Alison Arrow is currently an Associate Professor in literacy at the School of Teacher Education, University of Canterbury. Alison has recently completed a longitudinal intervention project examining the effectiveness of providing teachers with more targeted literacy teaching strategies for improving child literacy outcomes.
Tom Nicholson taught at Massey University in Auckland until April 2018, teaching courses in language and literacy, literacy difficulties, writing in the classroom, and research methods. Co-authored books include Teaching Reading Comprehension, Teaching Reading Vocabulary, Dyslexia Handbook, Writing for Impact (all published by NZCER Press), Decoding Dyslexia (Dunmore Press), and Literacy in Early Childhood and Primary Education (Cambridge University Press).
Caption: Figure 1. Bar graphs indication frequency information from active home literacy environment questions
Table 1. Parent home literacy environment questionnaire 1. Before your child started For each activity indicate from school how often did you, or 'never' to 'very often' on a someone else, do the following five point Likert scale activities with your child? Tell stories Visit the library Talk about things you had done Talk about things you had read Play word games Read aloud signs and labels Write letters or words (i.e. their name) Teach them about alphabet letters 2. In a typical week how often do Choose from 'never', 'once', you, or other members of your 'twice ', '3-4 times', '5-6 family/household, read to your times', or '7 or more times' child? 3. How many children's books do Choose from '0-10', '11-25', '26- you think you have at home? 50', '51-100', or 'More than 100' 4. Before your child started For each activity indicate from school, how often did they do the 'never' to 'very often' on a following activities? five point likert scale Watch educational TV shows (i.e. Sesame Street) Play educational games on the computer Play educational games on a tablet or smartphone 5. In a typical week how often For each activity indicate from would you or someone else in the 'never' to 'very often' on a household do the following five point likert scale activities? Read fiction or nonfiction books or e-books Read magazines or newspapers Read articles online (i.e. on the computer, smart phone, tablet) 6. What is the highest level of Choose from 'no formal education of either parent/ qualification', 'high school or caregiver? secondary school qualification', 'tertiary diploma/certificate including vocational qualifications)', 'bachelor's degree', or 'postgraduate qualification' Table 2. Descriptive information including number of children, means, standard deviations, minima and maxima of pre-literacy measures Variables N M SD Min Max Emergent literacy assessments BPVS-3 34 102.26 9.56 76.00 120.00 standard score Phonological 34 96.26 11.93 77.00 122.00 awareness (P.A.) composite score (CTOPP-2) Letter sound 35 102.34 19.27 70.00 130.00 knowledge subtest standard score (YARC) Early word 35 101.86 12.78 87.00 130.00 reading subtest standard score (YARC) Table 3. Frequency data regarding parent education level Variable Frequency Per cent Parent Education Level No formal qualification 3 8.6 High school diploma 5 14.3 Tertiary diploma/certificate 12 34.3 Bachelor's degree 6 17.1 Postgraduate qualification 9 25.7 Total 35 100.0 Table 4. Correlational analyses between active home literacy environment parent questionnaire items and measures of children's emergent literacy and vocabulary using Pearson's (r) correlation Variable 1 2 3 4 BPVS-3 Vocabulary 1.00 .53 ** .40 * .42 * CTOPP-2 (Phonological awareness 1.00 .70 ** .76 ** YARC Letter sound knowledge 1.00 .74 ** YARC Early word recognition 1.00 Shared story book reading Number of books in the home Word games Alphabet teaching Talking about what you had read Variable 5 6 7 8 BPVS-3 Vocabulary .31 .30 .37 * .36 * CTOPP-2 (Phonological awareness .08 .10 .47 ** .36 * YARC Letter sound knowledge .10 .10 .31 .13 YARC Early word recognition .12 -.01 .34 * .31 Shared story book reading 1.00 .46 ** .44 * .22 Number of books in the home 1.00 .51 ** .09 Word games 1.00 .43 * Alphabet teaching 1.00 Talking about what you had read Variable 9 BPVS-3 Vocabulary .35 * CTOPP-2 (Phonological awareness .26 YARC Letter sound knowledge .35 * YARC Early word recognition .19 Shared story book reading .41 * Number of books in the home .25 Word games .55 ** Alphabet teaching .06 Talking about what you had read 1.00 * p < .05 (2-tailed) ** p < .01 (2-tailed) Table 5. Regression analyses for CTOPP-2 composite of phonological awareness, YARC letter-sound knowledge, and YARC early word reading entering chronological age (in months), gender, BPVS, active, child- led, and passive home literacy environment as predictors. Outcome measure Step Variables entered R CTOPP-composite 1 Age .005 2 Gender .063 3 BPVS vocabulary .528 4 Active HLE .531 5 Child-led HLE .532 6 Passive HLE .665 YARC--letter sounds 1 Age .151 2 Gender .175 3 BPVS vocabulary .470 4 Active HLE .484 5 Child-led HLE .495 6 Passive HLE .507 YARC--early words 1 Age .011 2 Gender .041 3 BPVS vocabulary .443 4 Active HLE .457 5 Child-led HLE .460 6 Passive HLE .498 Outcome measure Step [DELTA][R.sup.2] [DELTA]F [DELTA]p CTOPP-composite 1 .000 .00 .980 2 .004 .11 .741 3 .275 10.30 .003 ** 4 .003 .11 .748 5 .001 .04 .848 6 .160 6.88 .015 * YARC--letter sounds 1 .023 .68 .416 2 .008 .23 .639 3 .190 6.59 .016 * 4 .013 .45 .510 5 .011 .38 .543 6 .012 .38 .543 YARC--early words 1 .000 .00 .952 2 .002 .04 .837 3 .195 6.54 .016 * 4 .012 .41 .527 5 .003 .08 .776 6 .036 1.16 .292 * p < .05 ** p < . 01 Note: HLE = Home literacy environment Table 6. Regression analyses for BPVS receptive vocabulary entering chronological age (in months), gender, active, child-led, and passive home literacy environment as predictors. Outcome measure Step Variables [DELTA]R [DELTA][R.sup.2] entered BPVS receptive 1 Age .124 .015 vocabulary 2 Gender .173 .014 4 Active HLE .522 .243 5 Child-led HLE .550 .030 6 Passive HLE .554 .004 Outcome measure Step [DELTA]F [DELTA]p BPVS receptive 1 .46 .505 vocabulary 2 .41 .526 4 9.00 .006 ** 5 1.13 .297 6 .13 .719 ** p < .01 Note: HLE = Home literacy environment
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|Author:||Van Tonder, Brittney; Arrow, Alison; Nicholson, Tom|
|Publication:||Australian Journal of Language and Literacy|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2019|
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