A Review of Research on Environmental Print

By Kuby, Patricia; Goodstadt-Killoran, Isabel et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 1999 | Go to article overview

A Review of Research on Environmental Print


Kuby, Patricia, Goodstadt-Killoran, Isabel, Aldridge, Jerry, Kirkland, Lynn, Journal of Instructional Psychology


This article summarizes the research on children and environmental print. There are three sections. The first section describes what we know about learning and early literacy. The second part is a literature review. Since the research clearly shows that exposure to environmental print, even before formal education begins, contributes to early literacy, the final section discusses suggestions for appropriate uses of environmental print in the classroom.

The joint literacy statement published by six professional national educational organizations included a list of what young children already know before they come to school (Schickedanz, 1986). These organizations agreed that many children are reading environmental print, such as road signs, grocery labels, and fast food signs, before they come to school.

Children often engage in reading environmental print before reading print in books. Marie Clay found that children explore the details of print in their environment, on signs, cereal packages and television advertisements. They have developed concepts about print in their environment and about books before they start their formal education. Consequently, more advanced concepts emerged out of children's earlier understandings. Exposure to environmental print led them to form primitive hypotheses about letters, words, or messages they saw enabling the development of early literacy.

This article is divided into three sections. The first section describes what we know about learning and early literacy. The second part is a literature review explaining what researchers have discovered about children and environmental print. This includes research on environmental print and children with special needs, environmental print and elementary students, and environmental print and school readiness. Finally, suggestions for appropriate uses of environmental print in the classroom are discussed.

What do we know about learning and early literacy?

Since the use of environmental print is based on the theories of constructivism and developmental contextualism, as well as what we know about early literacy, it is worthwhile examining how these theories and knowledge contribute to ascertaining the value of environmental print.

While there are many "brands" of constructivism, Piaget (1970) is the most recognized for his general scientific theory about how children construct knowledge. Although he did not propose a specific theory about reading and writing, his theory of how children construct knowledge provided a much broader framework, which allows individuals to understand any process of acquiring knowledge. Simply put, children construct knowledge from the inside out through interacting with their environment. This would be true of literacy in general, and more specifically, environmental print. Vygotsky (1978) also recognized the importance of children's construction of knowledge but took a more contextual view. Since literacy is specific to each language and culture, he believed young children need some assistance in making sense of environmental print from a more able peer or teacher.

Bronfenbrenner (1989) believed that the child is influenced by multiple contexts in which there are reciprocal interactions between children and their environments. While children are impacted by face to face interactions, they are also influenced by the guardian's workplace, and the social, historical, political and economic realities of the time. The day to day context of a child is especially important in utilizing environmental print to plan and implement an integrated curriculum to meet the child's needs.

Environmental print is also based on what we have learned about early literacy. Ferreiro and Teberosky (1982) explored the literacy knowledge of first grade children before instruction in reading began and later on at various times during the school year. They found that children's learning processes may take paths unsuspected by the teacher. …

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