Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Literacy Instruction in Canadian Child Care Centers

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Literacy Instruction in Canadian Child Care Centers

Article excerpt

Abstract. The purpose of this study was to describe literacy instruction in child care centers, examine aspects of child care center quality that may predict such instruction, and provide a limited analysis of whether literacy instruction impacts children's concurrent pre-aeademic functioning. Staff and children in 103 classrooms serving preschool-age children from 64 child care centers in a major Canadian city participated in the study. Literacy instruction was captured using a series of 20-second, time-sampled observations over the course of one morning. The following types of literacy instruction were examined and are reported as a percentage of the snapshots in which they were observed: Reading Aloud, 2.8%; Word Instruction, 1.2%; Letter Identification, 1.2%; Printing/Writing, 0.7%; Symbol Recognition, 0.5%; Letter-Word Sounds, 0.2%; and Word Segmentation, 0%. Hierarchical linear models revealed that literacy instruction is a staff, rather than classroom or center, characteristic. Overall, literacy instruction occurred infrequently in child care classrooms. Indicators of quality were not found to drive literacy instruction, and literacy instruction did not predict greater verbal intelligence scores among children. Implications for research and practice are discussed.


The preschool period is critical in determining children's developmental trajectories (National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, 2000; NICHD, 2005). With the significant rise in maternal employment rates over the past few decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of preschool-age children enrolled in child care centers (Lamb, 1998; Scarr, 1998). As children spend more time in center-based child care, caregivers need to provide not only custodial care but also early educational instruction in order to support the acquisition of the social and early academic skills that children will need upon formal school entry.

There is growing consensus among educators and parents that children need enriching educational experiences that support their development of literacy abilities from an early age (Bowman, Donovan, & Burns, 2001). The long-term links between children's literacy skills at formal school entry and positive academic outcomes in subsequent years of schooling have been well documented (Barnett, Lamy, & Jung, 2005; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997). Children who begin school with poor literacy skills typically remain poor readers (Adams, 1990; Dickinson, McCabe, & Essex, 2006). In addition, the number of children in public schools who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities has steadily increased over the past several years, with the vast majority of these diagnoses stemming from difficulties in learning how to read (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). As a result of these findings, the importance of high-quality early literacy instruction prior to kindergarten has become a major focus of concern for researchers, educators, and policymakers (Rueda & Yaden, 2006; Saracho & Spodek, 2003). Yet, surprisingly, we know very little about the types of literacy instruction that take place in child care centers, what drives such instruction, and what such instruction predicts. This study will begin to fill some of the gaps in our knowledge.

Emergent Literacy Skills

The acquisition of literacy related skills is a dynamic, ongoing process that begins very early in a child's life (Teale & Sulzby, 1986) and includes skills related to phonological and print awareness (Hill & Nichols, 2006). The term "emergent literacy" encompasses skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are developmental precursors to conventional forms of reading and writing. The skills subsumed under emergent literacy are the basic building blocks of more advanced forms of literacy (Connor, Morrison, & Slominski, 2006) and can be thought of as occurring on a developmental continuum of literacy that begins prior to formal school entry. …

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