TAU Study Finds Early Writing Support Is Key to Literacy

"Parents in the U.S. are obsessed with teaching their kids the ABCs."

children writing

A new Tel Aviv University study says that preschoolers should be encouraged to write at a young age — even before they make their first step into a classroom.

Published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly the study explains why early writing, preceding any formal education, plays an instrumental role in improving a child’s literacy level, vocabulary, and fine motor skills.

The research was conducted by Prof. Dorit Aram of TAU’s Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education in collaboration with Prof. Samantha W. Bindman of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and other colleagues in the US. It assessed the merits of early parental mediation of children’s literacy and language in English, and recommended useful techniques to that end.

“Parents in the U.S. are obsessed with teaching their kids the ABCs, ” said Prof. Aram. “Probably because English is an ‘opaque’ language. Words do not sound the way they are spelled, unlike ‘transparent’ Spanish or Italian. Parents are using letters as their main resource of teaching early literacy, but what they should be doing is ‘scaffolding’ their children’s writing, helping their children relate sounds to letters on the page even though the letters are not transparent.”

Prof. Aram has spent the last 15 years studying adult support of young children’s writing. A major component of this support is what she calls “grapho-phonemic mediation.” Through this method, a caregiver is actively involved in helping a child break down a word into segments to connect sounds to corresponding letters. For example, parents using a high level of grapho-phonemic mediation will assist their children by asking them to “sound out” a word as they put it to paper. This contradicts the traditional model of telling children precisely which letters to print on a page, spelling it out for them as they go.

In the study, 135 preschool children (72 girls and 63 boys) and their parents (primarily mothers) in an ethnically-diverse, middle-income US community were observed writing a semi-structured invitation for a birthday party. The researchers analyzed the degree of parental support and assessed the children’s phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, word decoding, vocabulary, and fine motor skills. Overall grapho-phonemic support was most positively linked to children’s decoding and fine motor skills.

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