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Bringing Literacy Home: Strengthening the Home-School Connection With Literacy

By HighScope | October 28, 2019

An excerpt from HighScope’s Journal for Early Educators: The Active Learner

It goes without saying that children’s learning is optimized when teachers and families can rely on trusted, two-way communication between home and school. We asked two family engagement experts — Iheoma Iruka and Spring Dawson-McClure — to talk to us about the most recent research supporting a strong home-school connection as the means to reduce the opportunity gap for young readers and writers.

Can you talk about the practices that you recommend to support language and literacy at home ?

Iheoma Iruka: Extensive evidence indicates that some of the most effective strategies parents can use to support children’s language and literacy at home are dialogic reading, shared book reading, and practicing emergent literacy skills, as well as just having a language-rich home environment. Dialogic reading activities include parents talking with the child about something related to the book and responding and expanding on the child’s response and repeating this sequence. Shared reading is the act of reading a book to a child with limited interaction. We all love to see children enjoy reading all kinds of books, which is best supported when those they love share that activity with them.

Parental engagement in emergent literacy skills includes practicing code-related skills — like letter identification, print concept, alphabet knowledge, and spelling — and comprehension-related skills — like vocabulary and storytelling. It is found that children’s exposure to books and engaging in reading and talking at home are positively related to their vocabulary and listening comprehension skills in the early years, which then transfers to literacy and reading ability in the third grade and beyond.

In addition, parents who intentionally engaged in teaching specific early literacy skills like letter identification and alphabet knowledge were likely to have children who had higher rates of reading early and stronger reading ability by third grade.

What does the research say about the importance of the home -school connection , especially as it relates to language and literacy?

Spring Dawson-McClure: Research on the home-school connection has focused primarily on parents’ involvement in children’s learning at home and at school, as well as teachers’ efforts to engage parents by building authentic relationships, cultivating two-way communication, and partnering with parents to support children’s well-being.

The evidence is compelling, especially in the early childhood period — strategic investments and commitments to the provision of systematic culturally relevant and racially conscious parent engagement practices have the potential to reduce the opportunity gap for children of color and children from low-income families so that all children can thrive.

Iruka: Family engagement has indeed been shown to improve children’s literacy skills, but focusing on language and literacy alone misses the larger purpose of family engagement, which is to focus on building relationships with families that support their well-being and ongoing learning, development, and stability, while also ensuring strong relationships between parents and their children. This expanded view of family engagement considers parents’ needs as a means to enhance children’s language and literacy development, especially during the early years.

The HighScope Perry Preschool Project’s family engagement program focused on creating a climate conducive to language and literacy development, and that focus included modeling language and incorporating families’ culture, traditions, and daily lives into reading activities. But program teachers and staff also helped families get access to resources for employment, housing, health services and other supports for themselves and their children. So, yes, language and literacy development has been a focus, but I want to stress also the critical importance of laying a foundation upon which to build kindergarten readiness and academic success.

A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences , Engineering, and Mathematics (NASEM) focuses on improving parental knowledge, attitudes , and practice. Can you tell me more about that ?

Dawson-McClure: Essentially, the report focuses on what parents know and believe about parenting and child development as well as the many different things that parents do to raise happy, healthy, successful children. The report concludes that there is clear evidence that specific parenting practices — such as warmth and sensitivity, contingent responsiveness (or serve-and-return), shared book reading, and routines — are associated with positive child outcomes across domains (or whole child development), and that when parents know about certain evidence-based practices, they’re more likely to do them.

However, the report also underscores the important role of parents’ attitudes and beliefs in shaping whether, when, and how parents put knowledge into practice, and urges the field to consider parents’ beliefs in order to improve intervention impact and reach. As an example, in developing ParentCorps as a parent-centered, school-based program, my colleagues and I were committed to both ensuring that all parents have access to the latest evidence on parenting and placing culture at the center by honoring every family’s culture as important and adaptive; incorporating into sessions the values and beliefs that each parent holds based on their identity; providing space for parents to reflect and share their values, beliefs, and goals; and scaffolding parents in assessing the fit and relevance of each evidence-based parenting practice for their family.

Iruka: The NASEM report emphasizes that one element of effective parenting programs is creating culturally relevant programs. In order to do this, programs and schools need to learn about families’ culture, traditions, and norms. For example:

These are some questions that can help programs and schools conduct an asset map and identify how best to engage with families in their literacy practices.

Read more in The Active Learner.

Iheoma U. Iruka, PhD, is the chief research innovation officer and director of the Center for Early Education Research and Evaluation at HighScope. Dr. Iruka is engaged in projects and initiatives focused on how evidence-informed policies, systems, and practices in early education can support the optimal development and experiences of low-income, ethnic minority, and immigrant children, such as through family engagement and support programs.

Spring Dawson-McClure, PhD, is a psychologist and prevention scientist in the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development, Department of Population Health, New York University School of Medicine. Her research focuses on family-centered, school-based strategies to reduce racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in children’s learning, behavior, and health.

Originally published by: Robson, Adam.  “Bringing Literacy Home: Strengthening the Home-School Connection with Literacy” The Active Learner. 3.1 (2019): 8-11.

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HighScope Educational Research Foundation is an independent, nonprofit, research, development, training, and public outreach organization with headquarters in Ypsilanti, Michigan. HighScope’s mission is to lift lives through education. We are a diverse team of researchers, educators, and passionate professionals who have one thing in common — we share the conviction that all children deserve the highest quality education. We envision a world in which all educational settings use active, participatory learning so everyone has a chance to succeed in life and contribute to society. Visit our website at for more information.