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Amber Finan

June 6, 2005

REED 526



The Importance of Parental Involvement in Children’s Literacy Development


It is clear that many of today’s children are struggling with reading.  According to Moats (1999), about 20 percent of elementary students nation-wide have significant problems learning to read.  Even worse, over 40 percent of fourth grade students performed below basic levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 1994 and in 1998 ( Pennsylvania Literacy Framework, 2000).  What is the cause of this?  Are teachers not doing their job or are they not adequately prepared to teach our children?  Or are parents falling short of exposing their children to a learning rich environment?  According to Kuo, Franke, Regalado, & Halfon (2004), “The process of book sharing between a parent and a child not only promotes language and literacy development but also strengthens a child’s emotional attachment to the parent.”  (p. 1948)

Kuo, Franke, Regalado, & Halfon (2004) found that daily readings are important for a child’s early literacy development.    Their study indicates that not enough parents are reading to their children daily.  Of the children that participated in the study, only 52 percent are read to every day.  Parents reported that the average number of children’s books in the home is 30.  The report also concluded that parents who do not read to their children daily believe that it would have been helpful if their child’s pediatrician would have advised them to do so.  Of the parents that discussed reading to their children with their pediatrician only 55 percent actually did follow the pediatrician’s advice to read to their children on a daily basis. 

Haney and Hill (2004) investigated how parent-led direct teaching activities impact emergent literacy in children ages three to five.  The emergent literacy skills that were assessed in their study were vocabulary, concepts of print, and beginning reading knowledge.  The children that participated in the study were 98 percent Caucasian, speakers of English as their first language, and of primarily middle to upper socioeconomic status.  Results indicated that the majority of parents (86%) reported directly teaching their children literacy skills.  More specifically, Haney and Hill (2004) found that there is a significant relationship between the children’s vocabulary subtest scores and parents who teach alphabet sounds to their children at home.  The children who were not exposed to alphabet sounds did not do as well on the vocabulary subtest.  In addition, the results indicate that Children who were taught by their parents how to write words tended to score higher on the Alphabet subtest than the children who were not taught by their parents how to write words. 

Senechal and LeFevre ( 2002) found that children’s exposure to books was related to the development of vocabulary and listening comprehension skills.  The results of their study also indicate that parent involvement in teaching children about reading and writing words was related to the development of early literacy skills.  These findings are consistent with the view that continued exposure to print is an important component of the development of skilled reading (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998 cited in Senechal and LeFevre, 2002).  However, it may not be enough to just expose children to books.  Reese & Cox (1999) cited in Senechal and LeFevre (2002) found that it is the quality of parent-child interaction during book reading that influences the acquisition of literacy skills.  “Parent involvement in these early literacy skills, therefore, provides some of the basic ground work for children’s acquisition of the mechanics of reading.” (p. 457)

According to Lawhon and Cobb (2002) parents need to foster an environment that enhances literacy development.  “Looking at pictures, hearing stories, and being read to encourage the desire to read.” (p. 116)  Lawhon and Cobb (2002) cited the following early literacy routine for influencing a child’s emergent literacy:

Read to children.  Learning to read easily is positively correlated with being read to frequently (Gottschall, 1995).  Read to infants and toddlers in one-one pairing or in very small groups.  This helps development eye focus and listening skills, and it stimulates imagination, language skills, and sensory awareness (Kupetz & Gree, 1997).  Promote reading techniques that encourage physical closeness, positive involvement, and enjoyable times together (Huebner, 2000), and provide appropriate books for children. (p. 115)    

Children need early literacy experiences that build on what they already know.  According to Lawhon and Cobb (2002), even young children have information about many areas, items, subjects, and objects that they have become familiar and significant in their lives.

            Parents play a crucial role in the development of their children’s literacy skills.  An overwhelming amount of research exits that point to parents reading to their children as way to promote literacy development.  Parents also need to engage in parent led teaching activities (Haney & Hill, 2004).  However, many parents are not aware of the importance of their influence on their child’s achievement ( McClain and Stahl, 1995).  Many children lack the adequate exposure to environments that promote emergent literacy (Lawhon and Cobb, 2002).  Children need to be exposed to early learning environments that support their literacy development at home, therefore giving them a fighting chance to progress through their reading curriculum at school. 






Haney, M. & Hill, J. (2004).  Relationships between parent-teaching activities and emergent

literacy in preschool children.  Early Child Development and Care, 174(3), 215-228.


Kuo, A., Franke, T., Regalado, M., & Halfon, N. (2004). Parent report of reading to young

children.  Pediatrics, 113(6), 1944-1951.


Lawhon, T. & Cobb, J. (2002).  Routines that build emergent literacy skills in infants, toddlers,

and preschoolers. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30(2), 113-118.


McClain, V., & Stahl, S. (1995). Standing in the gap:  Parents reading with children.  Paper

presented at annual meeting of the National Reading Conference, New Orleans.  (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 407 663). 


Moats, L. (1999). Teaching is rocket science: What expert teachers of reading should know and

be able to do.  Washington, DC: American Federations of Teachers


Pennsylvania Literacy Framework (2000).  Harrisburg, Pa:  Pennsylvania Department of



Senechal, M. & LeFevre. ( 2002).  Parental involvement in the development of children’s

reading skills: A five-year longitudinal study.  Child Development, 73(2), 445-460.