Developing Early Literacy – Parents’ role. 2000 word essay

Developing Early Literacy: Role of Parental Involvement



People all know that languages develop out of the user’s need to express themselves. From this fact, we can therefore say that all languages are equal. This equality means that all languages, regardless of their characteristics and linguistic qualities, all meet the social and psychological needs of the users. (Crystal 2002, p.7)  Indeed much of the learning of a language is rooted in man’s need to interact and communicate with the world around him. (Gass & Selinker 2001, p. 86) It is therefore not surprising that social factors affect how an individual learns a language. This paper seeks to understand how social and cultural conditions surrounding an individual while growing up affect the acquisition and learning of a language. (Collins & Blot 2003, p. 98)

Language and Literacy

There are three main theories of language development; Behaviourism, which believes that language is a learnt behaviour, Innatism, which maintains that language is innate or is an attribute that is already within us and thirdly, Interactionist position or those who regard language as a result of interaction with the environment. The main theorist associated with behaviourism (learning) is B.F. Skinner. Skinner argued that adults shape the speech of children by reinforcing the babbling of infants that sound most like words. (Rathus 2004, p. 328)  The nativist perspective argues that humans are biologically programmed to gain knowledge.  The main theorist associated with this perspective is Noam Chomsky.  Chomsky proposed that all humans have a language acquisition device (LAD). The LAD is a congenital area of the rain that contains knowledge of grammatical rules common to all languages (Rathus 2004, p. 331) and that the child acquires rules of grammar by using the LAD within the context of the surroundings. (Chomsky & Otero 2004, p. 75)  Interactionists argue that language development is both biological and social.  Interactionists also argue that language learning is influenced by the desire of children to communicate with others.  The main theorist associated with interactionist theory is Lev Vygotsky.  Interactionists focus on Vygotsky’s model of collaborative learning. Collaborative learning is the idea that conversations with older people can help children both cognitively and linguistically (Shaffer & Kipp 2006, p. 15).

Native Language acquisition goes through several stages; pre-linguistic stage (up to one year), one-word stage (between 12 – 18 months), two-word stage starts around 18 months and from there until the age of 4-5 years  they go through the process of stage 2 grammar.  After the age of 5 the vocabulary grows rapidly and sentences develop becoming more complex.

Personal, Social and Cultural Factors in Language and Literacy

Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist proposed learning as a function of social needs, an idea that continues to frame most modern researches on learning and behaviour. Vygotsky contends that the child’s physical environment takes a secondary place to the social environment. (Daniels et al 2007, p. 18) Vygotsky (1978) He maintains that through constant engagement with more competent or knowledgeable people in the environment, the child’s own knowledge is enhanced. The distance between what the child can perform independently and what he can do with support or “scaffolding” from the more knowledgeable person is called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). In this zone, learning takes place through social interaction with the more mature people. (Vygotsky 1978) For example, in the acquisition of oral language, children constantly making sense of the inputs that they get from their surroundings in way that is meaningful to them. (Vygotsky 2000, p. 19) From these meanings, children then create their own sense of language rules, constantly refining and redefining these rules through active engagement and communication with the more competent language users in their immediate environment. (Lu 1998, p. 2) Similarly, Bandura’s social learning theory (1977) argues that learning, and by extension, behaviour is driven by the individual’s need to be accepted and acknowledged within his or her immediate social environment and that includes children of very young age. Through the need to socialize and constant practice of skills, patterns are created which in turn give rise to meaning (Wenger 1999, p. 52). This meaning allows lifelong learners to be more conscious of their learning strategies and use them appropriately (Aspin 2001, p. 423) until it becomes automatic.

Vygotsky and Bandura focused on the connections and interactions between people and the context where shared experiences are allowed to take place. Tools, mostly language, are the main venue for this interaction. (Moll 1992, p. 64)  Vygotsky furthers that learning takes because the child’s need to communicate and interact with the people around them.  Similar to Piaget’s ideas, Vygotsky also promotes a learning environment that engages maximum participation from the learners. Both of them believe that learners construct knowledge through intention and action; thus the education process becomes collaborative, where both teachers and students participate in reciprocal learning. (Krashen 1988, p. 165)

The need to communicate and express one’s self will supersede all barriers to learning, and the individual will learn the language because of the instinctive need to survive. Children are especially natural linguists, able to effortlessly discern language rules and allow then to learn as many languages as they are exposed to. (Alyousef 2005, p. 136) However, the older we get, these natural language processes are replaced by conscious awareness of rules, which hinders the learning of a new language. (Mei-Yu 1998, p. 42) For adults, the process of learning through immersion may take longer than for adults, but the process of second language acquisition remains essentially the same, especially if there is total immersion in the target language. (Ellis 1997, p. 11) For individuals moving to a new land permanently, total immersion will not be a problem. The “sink or swim” concept is so very true in the learning of a second language, the language must be learned in order to survive in society, then it most certainly be learned, it will only be a matter of time. In the case of our subject, English holds the promise of survival and a better life, and therefore he is expected to be more motivated than those who only want to learn another language for the prestige that it brings.

Parental Involvement

Researchers have been consistent in showing parents are key elements in the education of the young. Parents are a child’s first teachers, and no other person knows the child intimately as the parent does. As such, their involvement in their child’s learning is a vital aspect of the child’s education. One of the best examples of the importance of parental involvement and parent-teacher partnership can be found in the concept of early intervention among exceptional children. (Powell 1982, p. 136) By keeping the communication lines open, parents/carers and teachers can work together to come up with an appropriate intervention plan in case there is something wrong with the young learner. For children showing signs of developmental delays, such as in language and reading, the earlier the intervention is given, the better the chances the child has for living a normal life. In such cases, information from the parents as well as observations from the teacher can provide diagnosticians with enough information that will serve as the basis for further testing. (Shonkoff & Meisels 2000, p. 52) In such a case, the learning and development of the child is fostered and supported by parents and teachers who are ever vigilant and watchful. (Fraser and Gestwicki 2001, p. 91)

In as far as early childhood education is concerned, partnership between parents and teachers are vital to the child’s learning. (Fisher 1999, p. 218) Teachers can gain insights about the child and be able to create individualised learning goals based on this. On the other hand, parents can support the learning goals of the teacher by providing activities in the house that will both supplement and complement the activities inside the classroom. (Nutbrown 1994, p. 294) Of course, parents must not be overly involved that they end up doing all the work for their children. In such cases, involvement becomes detrimental because children end up depending on their parents for projects and homework, and they end up gaining nothing from such activities. The best that parents can do is assist or guide their children in their school-related tasks. (Fraser and Gestwicki 2001, p. 46) Of course every well-meaning parent wants the best for their children, but they should be careful that their children learn to think and act for themselves. (Edwards, Gandini & Forman 1998, p. 38) Such “tough love” teaches the child to have a sense of ownership for what they accomplish, little as it may be. (Smidt 1998, p. 22)


In so far as effects of the child, the verdict has been long out. Studies have consistently shown that parental involvement has positive effects of the child, effects which go beyond the classroom. (Katz 1984, p. 23) A child who feels cared for and loved by their parents grows up well-rounded. When parents take the time to check on their child’s schooling and are involved in their class activities they are sending the message that no matter how tired or stressed they are, they will always make time for their children. Nothing is as important as making a child know that he or she is important and valued. (Katz 1984, p. 11) In so far as parental involvement is concerned, the one that is most effective is the one where parents are directly interacting with their children. (Keyes 2007, p. 112) In particular, programs that require parents to read with their children as well as projects that require parental input and participation are the most effective and show the most remarkable results as far as student achievement is concerned. (Keyes 2007, p. 115)













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