Pivotal Parents: Emergent Themes and Implications on Father Involvement in Children's Early Literacy Experiences

By Ortiz, Robert W. | Reading Improvement, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Pivotal Parents: Emergent Themes and Implications on Father Involvement in Children's Early Literacy Experiences


Ortiz, Robert W., Reading Improvement


Parent involvement is reported to be an important prerequisite to children's early reading and writing development. Research on parent involvement tends to focus on mother-child interaction. This study looks at a sample of fathers' early literacy experiences with their K, 1st, and 2nd grade children. Factors that are explored in this study include the subject area of the literacy activity, the amount of time allocated to literacy practices, and the preferred literacy activity engaged in; reading or writing. The findings suggest that fathers participate in their children's literacy activities. Three themes emerge for father involvement; children's curiosity of print, parental values and beliefs, and marital role functions. The report concludes with implications from academic and familial perspectives.

The level of father involvement in his children's development has changed during the last decade. The reasons for this perceived shift range from a larger number of women in the workplace (Bailey, 1997), to a growing desire among men for a level of intimacy with their children that their own fathers never achieved (Goldsmith, 2000), to a growing number of single fathers (Berger, 1995). Although the current trend suggests a more active role in children's lives, paternal involvement in their education has experienced mild growth. Data collected in a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics (U.S. Department of Education, 1997), suggest that "children do better in school when their fathers are involved in their schools, regardless of whether their fathers live with them (p. 77)." The report quickly adds, though, "fathers in two-parent families have relatively low levels of involvement in their children's schools (p. 78)."

There is a continual emphasis from state and federal levels for father/male involvement in early intervention for children (Ortiz, Stile, & Brown, 1999). In particular, there is an increase in attention of early childhood leaders and teachers toward emerging literacy paired with matching adult facilitating behaviors (Brueggeman, 1998). The emerging literacy perspective suggests that parents may contribute to their children's development because they provide environmental correlates of literacy, such as availability of printed materials, writing utensils, adult-child interactions with literacy materials, guided television watching, interactive book reading, pretend play opportunities, and parental aspirations toward education (Frost, Wortham, & Reifel, 2001; Marvin & Mirenda, 1993).

The importance of parent involvement in their children's educational achievement is well documented in the literature (Auerbach, 1997; McLane & McNamee, 1990; Epstein, 1987; Epstein & Dauber, 1991; Taylor, 1997; Wilson, 1991). Parent involvement has had important short- and long-term effects in the area of literacy development (Cairney & Munsie, 1995; Cooper, 1993; Delgado-Gaitan, 1990, 1991; Mason, 1992; Morrow, 1997). Research on familial literacy practices, though, have tended to focus on the contributions mothers have made to their children's reading and writing skill development (National Academy of Sciences, 1982; Dickinson, De Temple, & Smith, 1992; Ninio, 1980, 1983; Pellegrini, Perlmutter, Galda, & Brody, 1990; Williams, 1991). Data suggest that mothers reading to and with their young children at early ages is reported to prepare them for the benefits of formal literacy instruction (Chomsky, 1970; Clark; 1975; Goldfield & Snow, 1984; Stewart, 1986; Wells, 1985 a & b). In addition, home-based practices found to benefit children's literacy development include; acquiring children's books; parents modeling literacy activities; and children having the opportunity to see that literacy can be functional (Mason, 1977, 1992; Teale, 1981, 1986; Teale & Sulzby, 1986). While early childhood leaders have long encouraged participation of mothers, they have only recently begun to recognize the need to involve fathers (Fagan, 1996; McBride & Rane, 1997; Turnbull & Turnbull, 1990). …

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