Recent Literacy Research Confirms that
Literacy Starts at Home

Jan 25, 2011: Two recent literacy research studies have re-emphasised how a child's home environment in the first few years of his life is crucial in determining his future reading success.

The average child in a welfare home hears about 600 words an hour, while a child in a professional home hears nearly four times as many, according to a study published 15 years ago. By the age of 4, children of professional parents have heard on average 48 million words addressed to them, while children in poor families have heard only 13 million. It is little wonder, therefore, that underprivileged children often lag behind their peers when they start school.

Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, set out to develop a program to teach low-income parents how to talk to their babies. He has just published a study showing that his program has been successful. Mothers are given coaching sessions with specialists every time they go to their paediatrician in which they are taught how to use different situations as opportunities to talk to their baby. Here are some other ideas on how to help your own child to develop their preschool literacy skills.

The presence of books in the home is the best predictor of a child's academic success, surpassing other factors such as parents' income, nationality or level of education. This was the finding of a recently published 20 year international literacy research study, led by Dr. Mariah Evans, an associate professor of sociology and resource economics at the University of Nevada, Reno, USA. Having as few as 20 books in the home has a significant impact on the level of education attained by the child, and the more books in the house the greater the benefit. Possible explanations, which are to be tested in future research projects, are that in homes with books:

  • Parents are more likely to read to very small children.
  • Children learn to use books to resolve questions of fact rather than debating them as matters of opinion.
  • Parents read more so are better role-models for their children.
  • Children gain skills and content from the books in the home.
  • Children value school and teachers more.

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