Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Language Competence, Narrative Ability, and School Readiness in Low-Income Preschool Children

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Language Competence, Narrative Ability, and School Readiness in Low-Income Preschool Children

Article excerpt


Language competence, narrative ability, and school readiness were examined in 25 low-income preschool children attending day care. Participants were assessed for language competence (PPVT-R), school readiness (Early Development Instrument), and completed stories based on everyday household events (MacArthur Story Stem Battery). Each story was coded for the level of chronology, organization, and number of information units. Children who had higher levels of language competence and school readiness generated narratives that were chronologically ordered and well organized. Story-telling may be an important means to understanding children's overall competence and coping ability, as well as a critical skill in the day care and future school environment.


Les habiletés linguistiques, la capacité narrative et la maturité scolaire ont été examinées chez 25 enfants d'âge préscolaire, provenant de familles à faible revenu et fréquentant des services de garde. Les habiletés linguistiques (PPVT-R) et la maturité scolaire des participants ont été évaluées (Early Development Instrument); ces derniers devaient également raconter des histoires inspirées d'événements de tous les jours ayant pour cadre leur foyer (MacArthur Story Stem Battery). Chaque histoire était codée selon le niveau de chronologie, d'organisation et le nombre d'unités d'information. Les enfants qui ont obtenu les niveaux les plus élevés d'habiletés linguistiques et de maturité scolaire ont raconté des histoires qui étaient bien ordonnées du point de vue chronologique et bien organisées. La narration de récits s'avère sans doute un moyen efficace de comprendre les habiletés globales des enfants et leur capacité à s'adapter; elle peut également devenir une habileté essentielle à développer dans les services de garde et, par la suite, dans le milieu scolaire.

Children living in poverty are often exposed to multiple risks that may affect their overall competence and, in particular, may manifest themselves in terms of poor school readiness, which is related to later academic success (McLoyd, 1998; Shonkoff & Marshall, 1990). Researchers have investigated factors associated with increases or decreases in low-income children's overall competence; for example, household density, caregiver characteristics, and day care quality (Osborn, 1990; Serbin & Stack, 1998; Williams, 1998). A more recent approach to examining associations between development and school readiness is through the narratives children generate (Goldberg & Phillips, 1992; Oppenheim, Nir, Emde, & Warren, 1997; Snow, 1991). Children's narrative production is viewed as reflecting an understanding of their life situation (Wells, 1986) and as illuminating their language and cognitive competence (Goldberg & Phillips; Williams et al., 2002). For example, low-income children living in disorganized households generated narratives that (a) lacked new information, (b) had a poorer sense of chronology, and (c) were disorganised (Peterson, 1994). Difficulty with story telling may also manifest itself in the classroom environment in terms of poorer language and cognitive skills, as well as poorer social interactions (Goldberg & Phillips; Masten, 1986; Tabors, Roach, & Snow, 2001). However, little research has examined associations between preschoolers' school readiness and narrative ability, which forms the central focus of the present study. Specifically, associations between low-income children's narrative ability and (a) language competence and (b) school readiness were investigated.


Poverty is prevalent amongst today's youth; currently, 19.8% of Canadian children and 18.2% of American children live in impoverished environments (Statistics Canada, 1997; US Census Bureau, 2001). Poverty can be a multirisk environment where children may be at risk for health problems (e.g., low birth weight, chronic illness), social problems (e. …

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