Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Emergent Literacy Skills of Migrant Mexican American Preschoolers

Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Emergent Literacy Skills of Migrant Mexican American Preschoolers

Article excerpt

This study describes the emergent literacy skills of 48 4-year-old migrant Mexican American preschoolers and the extent to which the home and Head Start literacy environments affected those skills. Children's emergent literacy skills were assessed individually in their dominant language. Information about the amount of print available in the home and at the Head Start center and the frequency of reading with each child was collected from parents and teachers. Scores on the emergent literacy measures showed mixed performance overall. Results suggested that the home literacy environment had the greatest influence on children's emergent literacy skills.

Hispanics have higher school dropout rates and lower levels of literacy than any other ethnic group in the general population (Martinez, 1987; Ortiz, 1989). Ortiz cited various factors that may contribute to these problems, including socioeconomic status, a poorer quality of education, and being placed in a less rigorous curriculum. Educational problems are even more likely for migrant Mexican American children because of their families' lifestyle, most notably, changing schools frequently due to relocation of their parents' work. Cranston-Gingras and Anderson (1990) reported that due to "economic, social, and educational discrimination" (p. 96), migrant Mexican American children have a very limited status within the educational system. The combination of all these factors may cause an increase in the at-risk status of these children. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce (1995), there are approximately 270,000 Hispanic migrant farm workers in the United States. Given the large number of migrant Mexican American children living in this country, the education of these children is an important issue for educators and related professionals to consider. Among many areas of concern is the language and emergent literacy development of these children.

There are many similarities and a high correlation between language acquisition and the development of literacy (Snow, 1983). Most children develop certain emergent literacy skills such as recognizing the front of a book, understanding directionality of print (Clay, 1989), reading environmental print (Dickinson & Snow, 1987; Kuby, Aldridge, & Snyder, 1994; Neuman & Roskos, 1993), and recognizing alphabet letters (Chall, 1979) before they even begin school. Johnson (1996) also noted that children learn about print concepts well before beginning school. These concepts may be acquired in interactive and social contexts such as story times.

Although research has clearly indicated that Mexican Americans are in general considered to be at risk educationally (Ortiz, 1989), this is especially true of migrant Mexican American children. A study by Hinojosa and Miller (1984) revealed that 76% migrant Mexican American youth eventually drop out of school, and 87% were functioning at least 15 months below grade level. Hinojosa and Miller found that the duration of migration was significantly related to dropping out. Because the migrant lifestyle of these students continually disrupts their educational progress (Cranston-Gingras & Anderson, 1990), and the only constant variable in their lives is the family unit, it is important to determine which activities in the home foster educational and literacy development so that educators can encourage, enhance, and supplement those activities.

Although programs such as Head Start have been developed to compensate for any academic problems that may occur as a result of a migrant lifestyle (R. Guerra, personal communication, March 6, 1997), it is important to determine whether these programs are accomplishing the desired goals for these children. It should also be noted that those children who receive support from the family unit in the form of frequent book reading and exposure to other print material may be able to overcome interruptions in Head Start attendance caused by a migrant lifestyle. …

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