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Reading Difficulties and the Home Literacy Environment

By: Catherine Snow, Susan Burns, Peg Griffin
Families differ enormously in the level to which they provide a supportive environment for a child's literacy development.

Measures of the home literacy environment itself, therefore, may provide an indication of an individual child's degree of risk for reading difficulties. Hess and Holloway (1984) identified five broad areas of family functioning that may influence reading development.

The first four are:

  1. Value placed on literacy: by reading themselves and encouraging children to read, parents can demonstrate that they value reading.
  2. Press for achievement: by expressing their expectations for achievement by their children, providing reading instruction, and responding to the children's reading initiations and interest, parents can create a press for achievement.
  3. Availability and instrumental use of reading materials: literacy experiences are more likely to occur in homes that contain children's books and other reading and writing materials.
  4. Reading with children: parents can read to preschoolers at bedtime or other times and can listen to schoolchildren's oral reading, providing assistance as needed.

The fifth area, opportunities for verbal interaction, is presented in the next section. Although conceptually distinct and perhaps analytically useful to consider separately, in practice these areas may be highly interrelated. In addition, home characteristics and social class covary to a degree.

We review results of longitudinal prediction studies that have examined aspects of the home environment during children's early years (birth to about age 5) in relation to the development of literacy knowledge and skills during the preschool years and especially to the children's subsequent academic achievement during the primary school grades. Few studies have derived overall measures of the quality of the preschool home environment.

Most longitudinal studies have looked at the home environment of children at different ages and have identified contributors to literacy development. Unless otherwise indicated, measures of home variables were derived from parental interviews or questionnaires administered at or shortly before the children entered kindergarten, and reading achievement was measured by standardized tests in the first and/or second grade (e.g., DeBaryshe, 1993; DeBaryshe et al., 1991; Mason, 1980; Mason and Dunning, 1986; Scarborough et al., 1991; Share et al., 1984; Thomas, 1984; Wells, 1985).

In summary, although there is considerable evidence that differences in the home literacy environments of preschoolers are related to subsequent achievement differences, the strength of these correlations has tended to be modest, particularly when measured in large population-representative samples (Bus et al., 1995; Scarborough and Dobrich, 1994).

Thus, a preschooler whose home provides fewer opportunities for acquiring knowledge and skills pertaining to books and reading is at somewhat higher risk for reading difficulties than a child whose home affords a richer literacy environment.

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Excerpted from: Snow, C. E., Burns, S. M., & Griffin, P. Editors. (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, Chapter 4: Predictors of Success and Failure in Reading.. National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. Courtesy of National Academy Press. Reprinted with permission.

Endnotes

Endnotes

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Excerpted from: Snow, C. E., Burns, S. M., & Griffin, P. Editors. (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, Chapter 4: Predictors of Success and Failure in Reading.. National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. Courtesy of National Academy Press. Reprinted with permission.

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