Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Differential Contributions of Three Parenting Dimensions to Preschool Literacy and Social Skills in a Middle-Income Sample

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Differential Contributions of Three Parenting Dimensions to Preschool Literacy and Social Skills in a Middle-Income Sample

Article excerpt

This study investigated parenting practices among families of preschoolers in a middle-income community, as well as the contributions of these practices to children's literacy and learning-related social skills. A total of 229 families of preschoolers were recruited. Parents completed a survey describing their parenting practices, while children's literacy skills were directly assessed by using standardized measures. Parents also reported on children's social development. Factor analyses supported a three-dimensional structure of parenting including the home learning environment, autonomy support/expectations, and management/discipline. Path models showed that the home learning environment predicted literacy skills; specifically, parents' teaching about letters and sounds was associated with alphabet knowledge, while shared book reading was marginally linked to vocabulary. Management/discipline was uniquely related to self-regulation, while cooperative/compliant skills were associated with the home learning environment, support/expectations, and management/discipline. Findings suggested that parenting could be conceptualized as three relatively independent dimensions, each of which demonstrated domain-specific contributions to early literacy and social skills.

An estimated 25% to 35% of American schoolchildren do not meet the national objective of basic proficiency in reading by fourth grade (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2010). Reading difficulty often can be traced to a lack of preparation as early as preschool (Lee & Burkam, 2002). Indeed, many children enter kindergarten without the knowledge of letters and sounds that support decoding; the vocabulary that facilitates comprehension (Teale & Sulzby, 1986); or the learningrelated social skills, such as self-control and cooperation/compliance, that help them take advantage of literacy instruction (McClelland, Acock, & Morrison, 2006; McClelland & Morrison, 2001; McClelland, Morrison, & Holmes, 2000). Parents are widely recognized as children's first teachers, providing cognitive and affective input that helps children build these literacy-related skills (Barber, Stolz, & Olsen, 2005; Sénéchal & Le Fevre, 2002; Weigel, Martin, & Bennett, 2006). Yet, our understanding of how parents matter in early learning is incomplete; we have yet to examine multiple facets of parents' academic and affective influence in connection with each of these early literacy and social outcomes so as to tease apart precisely which parenting practices contribute to which emergent reading competencies. The present study took this comprehensive but specific approach, mapping out the unique connections among three distinct aspects of parenting and five reading-related child outcomes in the preschool year.

Key Research Findings About Parenting and Early Literacy and Social Skills

Scattered sets of studies have individually identified many ways in which parents' cognitive and affective stimulation contributes to children's success in literacy-related skills, including alphabet and phonological knowledge, word decoding, vocabulary skills, self -regulation, cooperation, and compliance. Research has converged upon three primary dimensions of parenting: academically oriented materials and activities of the home learning environment (HLE); warmth and interest toward children, support for their autonomy, and expectations for appropriate behaviors (WSE); and management and discipline of children's behavior (MD).

Certainly, these three aspects of parenting are intertwined in the daily reality of family life. For example, during the typical bedtime-story reading, parents might talk about the words and ideas or the print of the book (HLE). At the same time, they might demonstrate affection and encourage children to voice their own views (WSE). And, throughout the interaction, parents would likely enforce the appropriate taking of turns in conversation (MD). …

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