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Early Childhood Research Quarterly 42 (2018) 228–238
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Early Childhood Research Quarterly
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ecresq
Research paper
Home literacy practices and preschool children’s emergent writing skills: An
initial investigation
MARK
⁎
Cynthia S. Puranika, , Beth M. Phillipsb, Christopher J. Loniganb, Erin Gibsonc
a
b
c
Georgia State University, United States
Florida State University, United States
Allegheny Intermediate Unit, United States
A R T I C L E I N F O
A B S T R A C T
Keywords:
Home literacy practices
Letter writing
Parent teaching
Preschool
Spelling
Writing development
Home literacy practices are known to facilitate children’s oral language and reading skills. In this study, we
extend previous work by examining the amount and types of writing-related home practices that parents engage
in with their young preschool children. Next, we examined the relation between these home practices and the
development of writing skills in 4- and 5-year old preschool children. Correlations between parental teaching
activities and child independent activities and letter writing, spelling, and spontaneous writing were statistically
significant.
Results from the multi-level modeling indicated that parental teaching predicted a child’s letter writing,
spelling, and spontaneous writing skills whereas child independent practices predicted letter writing and
spontaneous writing but not spelling. Results of the current study clearly indicate that practices in the home
include writing related activities and that these activities have an impact on children’s writing development.
Implications of this research and directions for future research are discussed.
1. Introduction
Collective work by a number of researchers over the past three
decades indicates that children learn to read and write prior to beginning
school
and
receiving
formal
instruction
(e.g.,
Ferreiro & Teberosky, 1982; Sulzby, 1982; Sulzby & Teale, 1991;
Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998, 2001). Some of these emergent reading
skills that preschool children display include knowledge of letter names
and letter sounds, phonological awareness skills, and understanding of
print concepts. Similarly, before entering kindergarten, preschool
children appear capable of writing, including having skills to write their
first names, write alphabet letters, and use invented spelling (e.g.,
Bloodgood, 1999; Fox & Saracho, 1990; Puranik & Lonigan, 2010;
Tolchinsky-Landsmann, 2003). Home literacy practices have been
shown to be important correlates of children’s developing literacy skills
(Frijters, Barron, & Brunello, 2000; Sénéchal & LeFevre, 2002). Much of
the research conducted to date concerning home literacy practices has
focused on shared reading frequency and characteristics (e.g., amount
of interactivity; Mol, Bus, De Jong, & Smeets, 2008) and its association
with children’s oral language or reading skills. The aims of the present
study were to expand on this knowledge by examining home practices
specifically related to writing and to examine if these home practices
⁎
are related to children’s development of letter-writing, spelling, and
spontaneous writing skills.
1.1. Effects of home literacy practices on oral language and reading skills
Work conducted by numerous researchers indicates that the home
plays an important role in facilitating both oral and written language
skills. Initially, these investigations focused on children’s storybook
exposure and children’s early acquisition of language and literacy skills
(e.g., Bus, van IJzendoom, & Pellegrini, 1995; Scarborough & Dobrich,
1994; Sénéchal, LeFevre, Hudson, & Lawson, 1996). Later work expanded the focus on home practices to include parent-child activities
other than book reading, including those related to letters and print
exposure (Burgess, Hecht, & Lonigan, 2002; Frijters et al., 2000;
Leseman & de Jong, 1998; Weigel, Martin, & Bennett, 2006). Cumulatively, research has revealed that distinct kinds of home practices often
appear to have effects on different oral and written language skills
(Hindman & Morrison, 2012; Phillips & Lonigan, 2005).
Sénéchal and LeFevre (2002), Senechal, LeFevre, Thomas, and
Daley (1998) suggested a model for distinguishing home literacy
practices into those that can be categorized as either informal (where
the primary goal is the message contained in the print) or formal
Corresponding author at: Georgia State University, 30 Pryor Street, Ste 850, Atlanta, GA 30303, United States.
E-mail address: cpuranik@gsu.edu (C.S. Puranik).
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2017.10.004
Received 18 May 2016; Received in revised form 29 September 2017; Accepted 5 October 2017
0885-2006/ © 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Early Childhood Research Quarterly 42 (2018) 228–238
C.S. Puranik et al.
is viewed by many children and parents as being engaging. These
findings suggest that parents’ may not view reading and writing as
being interrelated and that writing may not be encouraged.
In the few studies that have included questions about writing in
measures of home practices, most have not directly examined the effect
of these home literacy practices on the development of writing-related
skills. Senechal et al. (1998) examined the differential effect of home
literacy practices on oral and written language. They included four
tasks in their written language factor, including invented spelling, but
their study did not examine whether home literacy practices had any
effect on each of these written language tasks separately. Therefore, it is
not known how or whether home literacy (writing) practices had any
specific effect on each of those written language measures. Although
Haney and Hill (2004) included one writing-related question in their
survey, they did not examine the relation between these practices and
children’s writing skills. Hood et al. (2008) who longitudinally examined the relation between different types of home literacy practices
and written language, included spelling rate as one of their outcome
measures. Given the age of the children in their study (children were
administered this task in first and second grade), however, a timed task
may not have been very appropriate. Notably, the parent survey used
by Levy et al. (2006) had a large number of questions related to writing.
Although they included several questions regarding writing-related
home practices, they did not examine the effect of these home practices
to writing skills, perhaps because examining the relation between home
literacy practices and writing was not the focus of their study. The most
recent relevant studies were those of Gerde, Skibbe, Bowles, and
Marticcio (2012) and Hindman and Morrison (2012), both of which
used parent-report measures with a greater emphasis on code-focused
teaching activities than many prior studies. Hindman and Morrison
asked parents about home teaching behaviors such as learning letters
and writing activities. Whereas this study demonstrated a significant
relation between writing-related home practices and children’s letter
knowledge and decoding, they did not investigate the relations with
child writing outcomes specifically. Gerde et al. (2012) recently investigated a similar question, but they focused exclusively on name
writing. They reported that children’s letter-name knowledge and finemotor skills were the most prominent predictors of name writing,
however, home literacy environment accounted for about 2% unique
variance in name-writing skills.
Whereas past research has not included surveying parents about
their home practices related to writing, it must be noted that links
between emergent writing and parent practices have been examined by
observing parent-child interactions during writing tasks in preschool
and kindergarten children. In these studies, the mother is given a
writing task- spell words, write an invitation or a grocery list and instructed to help their children with the writing tasks. Interactions between the mother and the child are videotaped and coded for the
supportive behaviors that mothers provide- mother holds/guides the
pencil, mother writes the letter for the child to copy, mother dictates
the letter name etc. In several studies across different cultures and
languages, and socio-economic status, maternal mediation has been
shown to be related to name writing (Neumann, Hood, & Ford, 2012 for
Australian preschoolers) and word-writing (Aram, Abiri, & Elad, 2014
and Aram & Levin, 2001 for Israeli preschoolers; Levin, Aram,
Tolchinsky, & McBride, 2013 for Israeli Hebrew-speaking and Spanishspeaking kindergartners; Lin et al., 2012 for Chinese kindergartners).
Whereas observations of these mother-child interactions are important
to our understanding of the role of parent practices, data obtained from
these interactions may be less accurate or different from data obtained
from surveys. During these observations, it is entirely possible that
mother’s might try harder because they are being observed. This may
inadvertently make the mothers provide more socially desirable support thereby providing information on what a mother hopes to report
rather than what actually occurs in the home. Therefore, data from
these observation studies must be supplemented by survey data to
(parent and child focus on the print itself) activities. An example of an
informal interaction may be when the parent is reading to the child and
the parent focuses on the meaning of the story. Parent-child reading
interactions focused on story meaning are consistently associated with
improvements in oral language (Deckner, Adamson, & Bakeman, 2006;
Evans, Shaw, & Bell, 2000; Mol et al., 2008). In contrast to these informal interactions, direct parent teaching or formal interactions have a
greater facilitative effect on children’s code-related emergent literacy
skills (Evans et al., 2000; Senechal et al., 1998). For example, when
reading an alphabet book to the child, the parent might point to specific
letters and provide the child with the name and the sound of the letters.
Likewise, explicit alphabet- and word-focused teaching outside of book
sharing contexts would be considered formal interactions, and there is
evidence that these teaching activities promote development of coderelated emergent literacy and conventional literacy skills
(Hindman & Morrison, 2012; Levy, Gong, Hessels, Evans, & Jared, 2006;
Weigel et al., 2006).
1.2. Home literacy practices and children’s developing writing skills
Whereas prior home literacy investigations have explored shared
book reading, and teaching of letter name and sound recognition, little
is known about home literacy practices specifically related to children’s
writing. That is, the focus of most home literacy surveys has been on
asking parents about the frequency of story book reading, the frequency
of reading requests by the child, number of children’s books in the
house, frequency of library visits, and, in some cases, the frequency
with which parents teach children letter-names and letter-sounds and
engage in phonological awareness activities. Since writing has not been
the focus of previous studies, surveys used by researchers examining
home literacy practices typically have included just one or two questions pertaining to writing. For example, Senechal et al. (1998) surveyed parents extensively about their home literacy practices but their
survey included only one question asking parents whether they help
their children to print words. Haney and Hill (2004) incorporated one
yes/no question asking whether someone in the home directly taught
the child to write words. Similarly, Hood, Conlon, and Andrews (2008)
followed 143 Australian children from preschool to second grade to
examine the effect of home practices on spelling development. Their
survey included one question pertaining to writing where they asked
parents if they taught their children how to write their names. Examining whether parents engage in writing activities with their young
children is important because little is known about the types of writingrelated practices parents engage in with their young children. Therefore, the first objective of the current study was to survey parents more
extensively about their home practices specifically related to writing.
Furthermore, research indicates that parents differ in their beliefs
regarding the kinds of activities that facilitate literacy skills, which in
turn affects their home literacy practices (DeBaryshe, 1995; Fitzgerald,
Spiegel, & Cunningham, 1991; Phillips & Lonigan 2009; Stipek,
Milburn, Clements, & Daniels, 1992). Past research indicates that
whereas all parents agreed that informal activities such as storybook
reading was important, parents varied in their opinion regarding the
importance of more structured activities such as using flash cards or
specifically teaching children to read and write. Thus, it cannot be assumed that because parents engage in reading-related practices, they
also engage in writing-related practices. Fitzgerald et al. (1991) reported that parents “tended to characterize early literacy development
mainly with regard to reading, sometimes to the exclusion of writing”
(p. 208). In a study examining the role of parental mediation on reading
and writing, Aram and Levin (2001) reported that although parents
might engage in joint reading/formal activities with their children, they
might be hesitant to engage in joint writing with their young preschool
children because joint writing is often considered by parents to be a
school-like activity and thus perhaps unsuitable for parent–child interactions. In contrast, parents might engage in joint reading because it
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Early Childhood Research Quarterly 42 (2018) 228–238
C.S. Puranik et al.
direct parental teaching in which the parent and child focus on the print
itself (referred to as formal interactions) that has been shown to have a
greater facilitative effect on children’s code-related emergent literacy
skills. Based on the extant literature on cognitive models of writing
(e.g., Berninger & Swanson, 1994; Berninger et al., 1992;
Puranik & Lonigan 2014), writing in preschool children is significantly
code-focused. Additionally, we chose not to focus on the experiences in
which children observe adults modeling literate behaviors because past
research has found no relation with children’s language skills. Sénéchal,
LeFevre, Hudson, and Lawson (1996) reported that the frequency with
which parents read novels, magazines, or newspapers was not related to
children's vocabulary scores.
The specific research questions included were as follows: (a) What
kinds of writing-related activities do parents engage in with their preschool children? and (b) Do home literacy practices contribute to
children’s early writing skills? Based on the extant reading research and
research on maternal mediation and early writing, we expected that
parental teaching activities would be related to children’s letter-writing
and spelling skills, i.e., parents directly helping their children to write
would be related to writing outcomes. Writing is difficult for both novice and expert writers and beginning and experienced writers. It is safe
to assume that if a preschool child is motivated sufficiently to work
independently on writing at home, that it would be related to the child’s
writing skills.
obtain a clearer picture of home literacy practices and it links to early
writing. Hence, the second objective of this study was to examine the
effect of writing-related home literacy practices on the development of
preschool children’s writing.
1.3. Emergent writing skills in preschool children
Researchers studying the development of writing have examined
writing from two vantage points in an attempt to capture what young
children do as emergent writers. One set of researchers have been
concerned with observing what children do when asked to write with
little concern for what the written product looks like. This research has
been predominantly descriptive in an attempt to capture nonlinguistic
features of writing such as forms, marks, and scribbles that children
produce (e.g., Clay, 1975; Hartse, Woodward, & Burke, 1984; Rowe,
2008; Rowe & Wilson, 2015; Sulzby, 1986). Another group of researchers have been concerned with quantifying linguistic features that
young children produce (e.g., Diamond, Gerde, & Powell, 2008;
Gerde & Bingham, 2013; Levin & Aram, 2004; Puranik & Lonigan, 2011,
2014). In this study, we focused on the later as it is quantifiable (i.e.,
one can obtain a score). We also focused our investigation using
emergent writing outcome measures that were predictive of conventional literacy. According to the comprehensive review by the National
Early Literacy Panel (NELP; Lonigan, Schatschneider, & Westberg,
2008), name writing measured in preschool or kindergarten predicted
decoding (avg. r = 0.49; across 10 studies involving 1650 children) and
reading comprehension (avg. r = 0.33; across 4 studies involving 565
children) whereas spelling showed a strong relationship to decoding
(avg. r =. 60; across seven studies involving 1184 children).
2. Method
2.1. Participants
Preschool children and their parents were recruited from 49 public
and private preschools and day-care centers in north central Florida and
western Pennsylvania. Data for this study came from a larger study of
3–6 year olds on the development of writing for children prior to school
entry (n = 367). Data for the 3-year-old children in the larger study
were excluded because few of them wrote any letters. Of the 65% of 4and 5-year-old children from the larger study, 151 parents returned
surveys and were included as participants for this study.
The number of children recruited from each preschool varied, with
an average of 5 children from each preschool (range: 1–17). No formal
observations of instruction were conducted in any classroom. Informal
observation indicated that procedures and routines at the participating
preschools were comparable and included a variety of activities seen in
typical preschool classrooms. These included painting, drawing, puzzles, toys, dress-up clothes, books, music, and activity centers. All
preschools reported activities involving identifying children’s names
and learning the letters of the alphabet.
The mean age for the participating sample of children was 58.52
months (SD = 5.51) and the gender distribution was fairly equal
(48.3% male). Of the 151 parents that returned surveys, 131 reported
that English was the only language spoken in the home, 19 reported
that English and another language was spoken, one parent did not respond to the question. Consistent with the ethnic composition of the
surrounding communities, the majority of participants were reported to
be white (73.5%) and black/African-American (14.6%). In terms of
ethnic make-up, the sample is representative of the demographics reported in the 2010 United States Census (“2010 Census Data," 2010).
Nearly 61.9% of the parents reported a household income greater
than $50,000 per year, approximately 9.9% reported a household income between $31,000 and $50,000, 20.4% reported a household income of ≤$30,000, and 7.8% did not respond. Thus, the sample is not
representative of the entire population of the U.S. but is limited to
middle- to high-SES. The education level of the parental sample in the
present study was also superior to the national level for the U.S. The
majority of mothers (63.6%) completed either college or graduate degrees. Although not all parents provided data on income and education,
more parents reported on education; therefore, we used education level
1.4. Overview of current study
Among the first things that children learn to write are their first
names and alphabet letters; they then use those letters to spell simple
words and eventually string words together to form sentences. In this
study, we focused on children’s letter-writing, and spelling skills, and
children’s ability to generate text beyond the letter and word level
through spontaneous writing. We did not include name writing because
studies have called into question the importance of name-writing skills
showing that it reflects procedural knowledge and not conceptual
knowledge (Drouin & Harmon, 2009; Puranik & Lonigan, 2012) and
because the relationship between name writing and home literacy environment has been reported by Gerde et al. (2012). Letter writing was
chosen because being able to write alphabet letters is considered an
important process in learning how to spell and write (Berninger et al.,
2006) and because it is an excellent indicator of children’s developing
orthographic knowledge (Puranik & Apel, 2010; Ritchey, 2008). Also,
the ability to write letters fluently and spelling skills appears to predict
writing composition as early as kindergarten (Puranik & Al Otaiba,
2012). We also included children’ writing beyond the word level, because we were interested in examining their abilities to compose to
convey meaning; reflecting how they use print-related knowledge (i.e.,
writing letters and spelling words; Puranik & Lonigan, 2014).
Given limited prior research on writing-related home practices, we
turned to the suggestion made by Teale and Sulzby (1986) regarding
how the home environment can be a source of literacy experiences.
Broadly speaking, the home environment can be a source of three categories of literacy experiences: (a) experiences in which children interact with adults in writing and reading situations, (b) experiences in
which children explore print on their own, and (c) experiences in which
children observe adults modeling literate behaviors (e.g., reading the
newspaper). In this article, we focus on the first two categories of literacy experiences by examining activities in which the parent interacted with the child in writing activities (parental teaching practices)
and experiences in which children independently practiced writing on
their own (child independent activities). As mentioned previously, it is
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Early Childhood Research Quarterly 42 (2018) 228–238
C.S. Puranik et al.
segmentation, presence of simple units, left- to- right orientation, presence of complex characters, use of conventional symbols, phonetic
representation, invented spelling, and conventional spelling). The features identified for this study were based on previous research with
preschool
children
(e.g.,
Ferreiro & Teberosky,
1982;
Puranik & Lonigan, 2011). For each sentence, a score was calculated by
summing up the individual feature score. The total score was the sum of
the scores on the five sentences. Internal consistency reliability for the
picture description task was good (Cronbach’s α = 0.87 to 0.91 across
the five sentences). Examples of the scoring are provided in the
Appendix A.
as an indicator of SES.
2.2. Procedure and materials
Children were tested individually at their preschool centers by
trained research assistants. These assessments were generally conducted in a quiet room and completed in two to three sessions that
lasted approximately 20–40 min each depending on each child’s level of
attention. Children were assessed within a 2–3-week period in the
spring of the school year. Assessments were administered in a predetermined random order.
The research assistants were graduate or undergraduate students
and field staff who were trained in the assessment protocol. The research assistants were provided multiple opportunities for practice.
Each assessor was observed at least once (and more if needed) by a
senior project member to ensure fidelity of test administrations.
2.3.4. Spontaneous writing
To assess children’s ability in more naturalistic settings, they were
administered two spontaneous or naturalistic writing tasks
(Puranik & Lonigan 2014). In the first one, children were asked to write
a letter to mom telling her you love her. In the second one, they were
asked to write a letter to a friend inviting him/her to your birthday
party. Similar writing tasks are commonly used with young children
(e.g., Puranik & Lonigan, 2011, 2014; Rowe & Wilson, 2015; Skibbe,
Bindman, Hindman, Aram, & Morrison, 2013). The scoring for this task
was identical to the picture description task. The total score was the
sum of the scores across the two spontaneous writing tasks.
2.3. Measures
2.3.1. Letter writing
For this task, children were asked to write all 26 uppercase letters of
the alphabet. The examiner presented the letters in a predetermined
random order. Children’s written productions were scored on a scale of
0–2. A score of 0 was given to responses that were unrecognizable or an
incorrect letter. A score of 1 was given to responses that were poorly
formed or written in lowercase.1A score of 2 was given to well-formed
uppercase letters. The maximum score was 52. This task has been used
in previous studies (Puranik, Petscher, & Lonigan, 2013; Puranik,
Petscher, & Lonigan, 2014; Puranik, Schreiber, Estabrook, O’Donnell,
2014) with good concurrent validity (correlations ranging from 0.54 to
0.60 with criterion measure of name-writing; Puranik, Schrieber, Estabrook, & O’Donnell, 2014). Internal consistency reliability for the
letter-writing task was high (Cronbach’s α = 0.98).
2.3.5. Cognitive skills
Two subtests from the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of
Intelligence- Third Edition (Wechsler, 2002) were used to provide an
index of children’s general cognitive abilities. The Block Design subtest
requires children to construct a design based on an examiner model or
picture. Blocks with two colors on each side are introduced as the tasks
increases in difficulty. Testing is complete when the child is unable to
correctly re-create three consecutive designs. The Matrix Reasoning
subtest requires the child to complete a matrix of related pictures from a
field of four or five options. Two sample items are included in order to
ensure the child understands the task. Testing is complete when the
child is unable to correctly complete four consecutive matrices, or if the
child is unable to complete four out of five matrices. According to the
manual, average reliabilities for the subtests fell between 0.81 and 0.94.
Both subtests also show significant correlations with the performance
IQ and the full- scale IQ scores derived from the WPPSI–III. Criterion
validity for the WPPSI–III is supported by high correlations with other
instruments measuring cognitive abilities (e.g., Differential Ability
Scales; r = 0.69).
2.3.2. Spelling
For the spelling task children were asked to spell eight simple
consonant-vowel-consonant words. Responses were scored on a 0–9
scale to account for levels of development from scribbling to phonetic
representations to invented spelling and finally, conventional spelling.
The maximum score possible on this task was 72. Internal consistency
reliability for the spelling task was (Cronbach’s α = 0.98). This task has
been used in previous studies examining writing in preschool children
(Puranik & Lonigan, 2014) with good concurrent validity. Correlations
of 0.63 with letter writing, 0.61 with the alphabet knowledge subtest of
the Test of Early Reading Ability-3rd Edition (TERA-3; Reid,
Hresko, & Hammill, 2001), 0.47 with the phonological awareness
subtest of the Preschool Comprehensive Test of Phonological and Print
Processing (Pre-CTOPPP; Lonigan, Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte,
2002). Examples of the scoring are provided in the Appendix A.
2.3.6. Home literacy questionnaire
Questionnaires were sent to parents of all participating children
through the child’s teacher. One hundred fifty one parents of the 4- and
5-year old children completed and returned the survey documenting
the home literacy experiences of their children. In addition, the questionnaire included items regarding demographic information, family
income, level of education achieved by both parents/caretakers, occupation of parents/caretakers, native language, and child’s personality.
A researcher-generated survey was used to obtain information regarding parental practices specific to writing. We identified questions
related to writing from previous home literacy surveys (e.g., Gerde
et al., 2012; Hood et al., 2008; Levy et al., 2006). Questions were related to capture (a) parental teaching practices- activities in which
parents reported working jointly with their children on writing or
teaching them to write, and (b) child independent practices- activities
the child performed independently. The questions that targeted parental teaching practices included, ‘How often do you help your child
with learning letters of the alphabet?’ “How often do you help your
child with writing letters of the alphabet?” “How often do you help
your child learn to write his or her name?” “How often do you and your
child do writing activities at the same time?” and “How often do you
involve your child in writing notes or birthday cards to members of
2.3.3. Picture description
In the picture description task, children had to use writing to provide a description of an event. This task has been used to examine
writing with preschoolers (e.g., Puranik & Lonigan, 2014). Children
were presented with five pictures (girl reading a book, boy sleeping,
clown eating a banana, children boarding a school bus, girl watching
TV) that they were required to describe. A score of 1 or 0 was awarded
for absence or presence of nine writing features (i.e., linearity,
1
A majority of children wrote upper-case letters. Of the total number of letters written,
6.2% of the letters were scored as 1 because they were written in lower case. Most of the
letters written in lower case were the letters i, m, and t. In case of all three letters, it was
difficult to determine if the child was writing in lower case because often the handwriting
was small such that a meaningful distinction between lower and upper case could not be
made with certainty. In those cases, children were given the benefit of the doubt and
given a score of 2.
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Early Childhood Research Quarterly 42 (2018) 228–238
C.S. Puranik et al.
your family?” Independent child practices were targeted with the following questions, “How often does your child work alone on writing
letters of the alphabet?” and “How often does your child attempt to
write names or words independently?” Parents were instructed to rate
the frequency with which they and/or their children engaged in these
activities on 6-point scale (1 = never, 2 = almost never, 3 = monthly,
4 = twice a month, 5 = weekly, 6 = every other day). Internal consistency reliability for parental teaching practices was excellent
(Cronbach’s α = 0.83).
letters, helping their child to write letters, and helping their children
write their first names at least twice a month or more. For all but two
items, more than half of respondents indicated that these writing activities took place at least once per week. Many parents reported engaging their children in joint writing activities such as doing writing
activities together or involving their children in writing notes or
birthday cards. More than half of the parents reported that their children worked independently on writing, with frequencies ranging from
once a month to every other day.
2.4. Scoring and inter-rater reliability
3.2. Contribution of home literacy practices to children’s emergent writing
skills
Two trained researchers scored all tasks to establish inter-rater reliability and to reduce data entry errors. Writing samples were coded
based on previously established coding guidelines. To calculate interrater reliability, approximately 25% of the written samples were randomly chosen. Inter- rater reliability ranged from 93% to 100% across
the letter writing, spelling, picture description, and spontaneous writing
tasks. Scoring discrepancies were resolved through discussion, and the
final score entered was the one decided by two raters.
Correlations between parent-reported home practices, maternal
education, and children’s scores on the writing and cognitive assessments are shown in Table 3. The parental teaching activities were
moderately correlated with each other (rs 0.27–0.63) and to child independent activities (rs 0.21–0.48). Small but statistically significant
correlations were noted between parental teaching and children’s
letter-writing, spelling, and spontaneous writing skills ((rs 0.14–0.45)
but not the picture description task. Correlations between child independent activities and children’s letter-writing, spelling, and spontaneous writing skills were also statistically significant (rs 0.17–0.31).
Once again, the picture description task was not correlated with child
independent activities. As expected, all writing measures were significantly and positively correlated with each other (rs 0.35–.0.73).
The development of literacy skills is collectively influenced by childbased, home-based, and school-based factors (Snow, Burns, & Griffin,
1998). Therefore, although our focus was home literacy practices, the
influence of the school and the child cannot be ignored. Thus, to address our second question regarding the contribution of home literacy
practices on children’s early writing skills, we used multilevel modeling
to control for differences between preschools in instruction focus and
clustering of similar populations of children in preschools. Because
most of the individual classrooms in the 49 participating preschools
included only one to three children that were a part of the study sample,
we used preschool as the nesting variable instead of classroom, and the
average cluster size was five children. Only models for letter-writing,
spelling, and spontaneous writing were conducted because picture description was not correlated with either of the independent variables.
Intraclass correlations from unconditional models across preschools
were 0.32, 0.34, and 0.31 for the letter-writing, spelling, and spontaneous writing outcomes, respectively, which resulted in design effects
just above the threshold at which clustering can be ignored (i.e., 2.28,
2.36, and 2.24).
Results for the multi-level modeling are presented in Table 4. In all
three models, a composite of WPPSI-III Matrix Reasoning and WPPSI-III
Block Design as well as maternal education were entered as child-level
control variables. As seen in the table, parental teaching was significantly related to letter-writing, spelling, and spontaneous writing
even after accounting for children’s cognitive skills and maternal education. Child independent activities were also significantly related to
letter writing and spontaneous writing but not to spelling. For regression models with a categorical dependent variable, it is not possible to
compute a true R2, therefore, pseudo R2s were obtained using the
method described by Bickel (2007). As shown in Table 4, the models
accounted for statistically significant variance in the outcome measures
(range- 7–24%). For most models, children’s cognitive abilities accounted for the largest component of unique variance, whereas maternal education never accounted for any unique variance, and both
parental teaching and child independent activities accounted for unique
variance in writing outcomes. Parental teaching accounted for an additional 3% unique variance for letter writing, 1% unique variance for
spelling, and 4% unique variance for the spontaneous writing task after
accounting for cognitive abilities and maternal education. Child independent activities account for an additional 6% unique variance for
3. Results
Means and standard deviations on the literacy measures are shown
in Table 1. The means for both subtests of the WPPSI-III indicated that
the cognitive skills of the participants were within the average range.
The distributions of writing scores showed some evidence of non-normality, although they did not meet requirements given for extreme
skewness and kurtosis (Kline, 2005). There was large variability in the
number of letters children could write, and in their spelling and writing
abilities. There were some children who could not write a single letter,
some who were able to spell several single words, and one child who
had a perfect score on the spontaneous writing task.
Prior to conducting statistical analyses, we examined the equivalency on the writing outcome measures of the group of children whose
parents returned the surveys (n = 231) to those whose parents did not
return surveys (n = 136). There were no statistically significant differences between the groups on the outcome measures.
3.1. Writing-related activities that parents engage in with their preschool
children
Parents’ reported frequency of different writing-related activities in
the home are shown in Table 2. Few parents reported not engaging in
writing-related activities with their preschool children, and a large
number of them reported helping their child with learning alphabet
Table 1
Descriptive statistics for home literacy practices, cognitive, and emergent writing measures.
Min
Max
Mean
SD
Skewness
Kurtosis
Home Literacy Practices.
Parental Teaching
Child Independent Activities
4
2
30
12
20.01
8.77
5.30
2.89
−0.37
−0.99
0.14
0.05
Cognitive measures
WPPSI_Block Design
WPPSI_Matrix Reasoning
2
1
18
21
10.27
11.60
3.56
4.15
−0.04
−0.24
−0.36
0.15
Emergent Writing Measures
Letter Writing
Spelling
Picture Description
Spontaneous Writing
0
0
0
0
51
70
44
18
23.25
27.37
13.07
7.48
17.46
21.02
14.83
6.12
0.05
0.46
0.66
0.16
−1.58
−1.19
−1.17
−1.41
Note. Scores for WPPSI are standard scores with a mean of 10 and SD of ± 3. Scores for
emergent writing measures are raw scores. N = 151, except for Maternal Education for
which N = 143.
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C.S. Puranik et al.
Table 2
Frequency of home literacy activities.
Home Literacy Practices: Type and questions
Frequency of activity (%)
No response
Never
Almost never
Monthly
Twice a month
Weekly
Every other day
Parental Teaching
Parent helps child with learning letters
Parent helps child with writing letters
Parent helps child write name
Parent and child do different writing activities together
Parent involves child in writing notes or birthday cards
5.9
2.0
0 0.7
2.0
3.3
2.6
3.3
2.6
9.9
6.6
4.0
4.0
2.0
13.2
32.5
9.9
10.6
8.6
9.9
25.2
17.2
20.5
21.2
27.8
13.2
46.4
47.7
44.4
24.5
11.3
13.9
11.9
20.5
12.6
7.9
Child Independent Activities
Child works alone on writing letters
Child writes names/words independently
0
0
6.6
6.6
9.9
7.3
5.3
8.6
17.2
17.9
42.4
33.8
18.5
25.8
Table 3
Correlation among home literacy practices and control variables, and emergent writing measures.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1
2
3
4
5
Parental teaching activities
Parent helps child with learning letters
Parent helps child with writing letters
Parent helps child write name
Parent and child do different writing activities together
Involve child in writing notes or birthday cards
–
0.63***
0.48***
0.42***
0.27**
–
0.65***
0.48***
0.42***
–
0.58***
0.50***
–
0.58***
–
6
7
Child independent activities
Child works alone on writing letters
Child writes names/words independently
0.24**
0.21**
0.35***
0.31***
0.48***
0.45***
0.46***
0.48***
0.36***
0.39***
–
0.94***
–
8
9
11
Emergent writing measures
Letter Writing
Spelling
Spontaneous Writing
0.00
−0.08
0.03
0.09
0.07
0.13
0.21**
0.14*
0.16*
0.16*
0.17*
0.14*
0.30**
0.25**
0.16*
0.31**
0.20**
0.19*
0.28**
0.17*
0.14*
8
9
10
11
–
0.73***
0.52***
–
0.64***
0.49***
–
Note. N = 151, except for Maternal Education for which N = 143. Except where noted, all correlation coefficients are statistically significant at * p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001
(2- tailed). asubtest of the WPPSI-III.
4. Discussion
letter writing, and 4% unique variance for the spontaneous writing task
after accounting for cognitive abilities and maternal education.
A substantial body of research indicates that a child’s home environment plays a significant role in the development of emergent
Table 4
Multilevel modeling results for letter writing, spelling, and spontaneous writing.
Measures
Outcome
Letter Writing
Spelling
Spontaneous Writing
Coefficient (s.e.)
p
Coefficient (s.e.)
p
Coefficient (s.e.)
p
Fixed effects: Parental Teaching
Intercept
WPPSI Composite
Maternal Education Level
Parental Teaching
−19.32 (6.17)
2.32 (0.28)
0.52 (0.94)
0.54 (0.19)
0.002
< 0.001
0.58
0.004
−13.78 (7.56)
2.50 (0.34)
1.74 (1.16)
0.45 (0.23)
0.07
< 0.001
0.13
0.05
−1.63 (2.36)
.47 (.11)
.12 (.36)
.19 (.07)
0.49
< 0.001
0.74
0.009
Variance components
Classroom
Child
Model Pseudo R2
67.05 (24.17)
163.93 (17.16)
0.24
0.006
< 0.001
97.74 (34.93)
247.74 (25.83)
0.17
0.005
< 0.001
9.64 (3.59)
24.05 (2.53)
0.08
0.007
< 0.001
0.004
< 0.001
0.56
0.003
−9.29 (6.51)
2.38 (0.36)
1.68 (1.16)
0.68 (0.41)
0.16
< 0.001
0.15
0.10
−0.37 (2.02)
0.40 (0.11)
0.11 (0.36)
0.38 (0.13)
0.86
< 0.001
0.76
0.003
0.01
< 0.001
88.52 (33.11)
252.13 (26.26)
0.15
0.008
< 0.001
8.58 (3.25)
24.19 (2.53)
0.07
0.008
< 0.001
Fixed effects: Child Independent Activities
Intercept
−15.37 (5.28)
WPPSI Composite
2.15 (0.29)
Maternal Education Level
0.53 (0.94)
Child Independent Activities
0.99 (0.33)
Variance components
Classroom
Child
Model Pseudo R2
54.06 (21.35)
168.21 (17.58)
0.22
Note. WPPSI = Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-III.
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C.S. Puranik et al.
Vries & Bus, 2008). Alternatively, these results could mean, that parents
who help their children with writing their names also help them with
letters and involving them in other writing activities. Asking parents
more open-ended questions for e.g., ‘what kinds or writing activities do
you work on with your child?’ or ‘describe the writing activities that
you engage in with your child?’ could help clarify the issue.
Results from the correlational analyses were further confirmed by
the MLM analyses indicating that home literacy practices contributed
unique variance to children’s early writing skills. The current study
offers clear support for the idea that parental teaching activities play a
critical role in the development of writing skills. The findings of this
study extend our current knowledge regarding the role of home literacy
practices by demonstrating that home literacy practices have a positive
effect on children’s writing skills. Both parent-directed teaching activities and children’s independent practices contributed significantly to
letter writing and spontaneous writing. However, only parent-directed
teaching activities (and not child independent practices) contributed to
spelling. Intuitively, these results make sense- children who can write,
practice writing letters independently. They may also attempt to produce some text independently where they may be less concerned about
how they spell. They, however, may be more reluctant to spell individual words on their own since they are generally aware that words
are spelled in a certain way. In a study examining parental supports
during writing, Skibbe et al. (2013) noted that parents were unlikely to
point out or correct children’s errors when writing, but were more
likely to either write the letters themselves or dictate the letter when
children were spelling words.
A visual examination of the data indicated that when a child independently practiced writing names and words, he or she also performed higher on the writing tasks. Level of child autonomy in an activity is an important factor in his or her success in reading and writing
(Aram & Levin, 2001). Aram and Levin reported significant positive
correlations between maternal mediation, as measured by the autonomy allowed during the task, and word writing and recognition
measures (r = 0.74; p < 0.001). Type of maternal mediation accounted for 22% of the variance in word writing and recognition scores.
The authors suggested that mediating literacy activities at a higher level
and allowing more autonomy was more successful than lower levels of
mediation in revealing the child’s true skills; higher-level mediation
also could lead to more appropriate activities and mediation level in the
future. It is likely that parents are sensitive to their children’s writing
skills, thus promoting greater independence if their children demonstrate more proficient writing skills; as such, there is a cascade from less
to more autonomous practice. As a matter of fact, data from Skibbe
et al. (2013) suggests that parents are more willing to relinquish control
of the writing task as children show more independence. In turn, it is
also likely that once children feel comfortable forming alphabet letters,
they are more likely to engage in independent writing and seek less help
from their parents. The current study included questions that examined
independent activities, and these results suggest that independence in
the initiation and completion of writing activities is an important factor
in the development of writing skills.
The results of this study where data on home literacy practices were
obtained through a survey corroborate the findings of research examining parent child interactions during writing (Aram et al., 2014;
Aram & Levin, 2001; Levin, Both-de Vries, Aram, & Bus, 2005; Lin et al.,
2012; Neumann et al., 2012). The body of research examining parentchild interactions indicate that the more the mother helped her child
understanding the grapho-phonemic process and demanded precision
from the child while writing the higher the child’s writing score. Clearly
mothers can play an important role in teaching their young children
about literacy but it appears that their mediation must be sufficiently
nuanced. For example, DeBaryshe et al. (1996) observed 20 children
aged 5 and 6 years attempting to write a letter (as opposed to writing
alphabet letters) alone and with maternal assistance. Letters children
produced with maternal mediation were longer, used more
literacy skills (e.g., Bus et al., 1995; Evans et al., 2000; Levy et al., 2006;
Senechal et al., 1998). The majority of this work has focused exclusively
on the reading-related activities that parents engage in with their young
children. In this study, we extend current research by examining the
relation between home literacy practices, both parental teaching
practices, and child independent practices that focused exclusively on
writing and children’s writing skills. This study addressed two questions: (a) What writing related practices do parents of preschoolers
engage in with their preschool children?, and (b) Do home literacy
practices predict children’s writing skills?
In regards to our first question, a sizeable proportion of parents in
this study reported engaging in a variety of writing-related activities
with their preschool children. A large majority of parents reported
engaging in these writing activities with their children fairly frequentlyweekly or every other day. Over half of the parents surveyed for this
study reported teaching their children to write letters of the alphabet
and engaging them in writing notes or birthday cards. Furthermore,
more than half the parents surveyed reported that their children independently wrote their names or wrote words at home. Results from
our parental survey regarding writing activities they engage in with
their preschool children appear to be consistent with data from other
studies with similar SES samples. For example, in the Levy et al. (2006)
study, parents reported helping their children on average, 3–4 times/
week to write their names, 1–2 times/week to trace/copy letters, and
1–3 times/month with writing a note or little story. In this study, almost
65% of parents reported helping children with writing their names and
almost 60% of parents reported helping children with writing letters
weekly or every other day. Additionally, 38% of parents reported that
they engaged their children in writing notes or birthday cards weekly or
every other day. The findings from Levy et al. and the current study are
also consistent with those of Hindman and Morrison (2012) and
Phillips & Lonigan (2009), both more recent studies indicating that
many parents do engage in more formal print-focused activities. The
absence of questions regarding more informal, language-focused
reading activities in the present study leaves open the question of
whether these middle-income parents engaged in a combination of
formal and informal practices or particularly prioritized the formal,
writing related activities.
In regards to our second question, results indicated that home literacy practices were significantly related to writing skills in preschool
children. Parental teaching and child independent activities were significantly correlated with letter writing, spelling, and spontaneous
writing but not the picture description task. Neither of the home literacy practices were correlated with maternal education. The lack of
relations between parent teaching and child independent activities and
picture description (but not spontaneous writing) is a little difficult to
explain. Perhaps children were less interested in describing pictures and
less enthusiastic about this structured task compared to writing a letter
to mom or an invitation to a birthday party. The literature on writing
with older children clearly indicates that writing output varies with the
task and motivation is a big predictor of writing (e.g., Boscolo, Del
Favero, & Borghetto, 2007).
High correlations were noted between parents helping their child
write letters and parents helping their child write their names
(r = 0.63). Correlations between parents and child doing different activities together and parents helping their children with writing letters
and writing their names were in the moderate range (rs 0.48 and 0.58).
These results suggest, that parents similar to their children, favor name
writing and that a big focus of writing in the home is a child’s name.
Similar correlations were noted between parents involving their children in writing notes or birthday cards and write name (r = 0.50),
suggesting that parents might mostly involve their children in writing
cards and notes by getting them to sign their names. These findings
should not come as a surprise given that research has clearly shown that
a child’s name is personally and socially significant to them and that it
is the first word children learn to write (e.g., Bloodgood, 1999; Both-de
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C.S. Puranik et al.
forms of writing that children and their parents might engage in such as
scribbling or drawing. Our questions to parents were also directed toward more conventional writing behaviors. In doing so we may have
missed other writing activities that parents may have engaged in with
their children or may not have identified all the writing events that
parents actually engage in with their children. Capturing these informal
writing-related behaviors would be important in understanding their
role in facilitating the development of writing in young children.
As mentioned previously, the majority of the investigations of home
literacy environments has focused exclusively on the reading-related
activities that parents engage in with their young children. Apart from
the Gerde et al. (2012) study, this is the only study we are aware of that
has attempted to examine writing-related home literacy behaviors and
examine its relationship with emergent writing skills. Hence there are
several avenues to extend this research. For example, research investigating the home literacy environments of children from families
where English is not spoken as a first language or children who come
from bilingual homes have documented differences in home literacy
practices (e.g., Hammer, Miccio, & Wagstaff, 2003; Tabors & Snow,
2001). Thus, the results of this study may also not generalize to bilingual children and their families. Understanding how home literacy
practices of children and families from culturally different backgrounds
effect their emergent writing skills would be a good extension of this
study.
conventional spelling, and included punctuation and salutations compared to letters that children wrote without mediation. Provision of
appropriate scaffolds resulted in more sophisticated written products
and could be a valuable tool to teach children about writing. Thus it
might be beneficial for mothers to go beyond helping the child to write
their names to spelling words and composing texts to further enhance
their writing skills and thereby enhance interest and motivation to
write.
4.1. Limitations and future direction
The findings of the present study must be considered in light of
some limitations. First, results were obtained using descriptive research
methods, which have inherent flaws for determining causation
(Schiavetti & Metz, 2006). Second, information regarding home literacy
practices was gathered through a survey, which relies on participants’
honesty to provide the data. The researchers cannot be sure that what
was reported is what actually occurs in the home on a regular basis. To
our knowledge, there is no standardized home literacy survey with
adequate validity and reliability to examine emergent writing, and
therefore a researcher-generated survey was used in the current study.
Reliability and validity for this researcher-generated survey has not yet
been established; although, as a first step, internal consistency reliability for the parent-teaching practices obtained for this study were
excellent. Demonstrating reliability and validity for a questionnaire
examining home writing practices would be a useful and important
future research endeavor.
Third, examination of the income distribution of families that participated in this study indicated that the majority reported high incomes
and relatively high levels of education. Practices of these families may
be different from families reporting lower incomes and more average
education; thus results may not be representative of the population as
whole due to this uneven income distribution. Family income is an
important factor in the literacy environment and subsequent development of language and literacy skills (Aram & Levin, 2001; Payne,
Whitehurst, & Angell, 1994; Phillips & Lonigan, 2009). The results of
this study may not generalize to families and children from low-income
families. Children from low SES families may not have a similar home
literacy environment. In fact studies of home literacy mother-child interactions involving children from low SES backgrounds (e.g.,
Fitzgerald et al., 1991) indicate that this is the case. This coupled with
findings from studies reporting differences in emergent literacy skills as
a function of SES (e.g., Justice & Ezell, 2001) suggests that the home
environment can be a potential source for improving the emergent
literacy skills of children. Using parents to facilitate writing may be a
good way to promote emergent writing skills in preschoolers prior to
school entry.
Fourth, both the role of preschool instruction and home literacy
experiences are an essential component of understanding how writing
develops in young children. Unfortunately, we did not gather information on specific preschool instruction. Inclusion of these data have
the potential of increasing our knowledge of writing development.
Finally, in this study we focused on emergent writing skills that
were quantifiable and that previous research has documented as being
predictive of conventional literacy skills. We did not consider other
4.2. Conclusions
Results from the current study suggest that parental support can aid
in the development of writing skills and that writing activities in the
home- whether parent-led or child-led represent a valuable opportunity
to facilitate emergent writing skills. Together with findings from previous studies examining the relation between home literacy practices
and children’s oral language and reading skills, the findings of this
study add to the growing body of knowledge that home literacy practices during the preschool years have an important and multifaceted
influence on the development of oral and written language skills- vocabulary, emergent reading, and emergent writing. Our results have
implications for the conceptualization of home literacy practices.
Studies examining the home environment have focused primarily on
reading-related behaviors and the relation between home literacy
practices and reading. However, our results clearly indicate that practices in the home include writing related activities and that these activities have an impact on children’s writing development. Educators
and practitioners who design home literacy programs may want to
consider including writing going forward, making best use of a child’s
home environment to facilitate both oral and written language skills.
Acknowledgments
Support for carrying out this research was provided in part by grant
R305A090622 from the Institute of Education Sciences. Some of this
research were conducted as part of the last authors master’s thesis. The
opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views
of the funding agencies. We are very grateful to the teachers, students
and their parents for participating in this research project.
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C.S. Puranik et al.
Appendix A
Sample scoring for the Spelling Task
Sample scoring for the Picture Description Task
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