ERIC Identifier: ED477606
Publication Date: 2003-11-12
Author: Lu, Mei-Yu
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading
English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Supporting Early Literacy Development in Family Child Care
Settings. ERIC Digest.
The purpose of this Digest is to provide information for family child care
providers regarding children's early literacy development. A definition and the
characteristics of family child care are discussed in the first part of this
Digest, while the second half focuses on research-based strategies and
recommendations that help support early literacy development for children
enrolled in family child care settings.
With growing numbers of mothers entering the work force, the need for
out-of-home child care has increased dramatically in the last two decades
(O'Neill & O'Connell, 2001). A recent survey by Capizzano, Adams, &
Sonenstein (2000) reveals that approximately 3/4 of American children under age
5 with employed mothers are cared for by someone other than their parents during
the day; and among these children, 1/5 were enrolled in family child care.
Although family child care is one of the most commonly used out-of-home child
care arrangements, little research is available regarding children's early
literacy learning and development in such settings (Cress, 2000). As the
acquisition of written language skills is critical to children's later academic
success, it is important to explore how family child care providers can develop
sound literacy programs as well as create literacy-rich environments that
support children's early literacy development.
DEFINITION AND CHARACTERISTICS OF FAMILY CHILD CARE
child care, also called "day care home," is a type of out-of-home child care in
which one or more people care for a group of unrelated children (usually fewer
than 12) on a regular basis at the care provider's own home (Morgan, Azer, & LeMoine, 2001; NCJW Center for the Child, 2003). A day care home shares many
features with a child care center, but also possesses several distinctive
characteristics that make it an appealing alternative to some families. These
Intimacy: In a day care home, there is only a single or fewer caregivers than is
typical of a center-based child care facility. When children stay in a home for
several years, they usually develop close relationships with their caregiver
(Modigliani, 1994). Also, because of the small number (usually fewer than 12) of
children in a family child care setting, these children, their families, and
child care providers tend to know each other personally. These families often
form a relationship similar to that in an extended family (Modigliani, 1994).
Flexibility: Because of the intimate relationship between the family child care
provider and the children and their families, a day care home is also more
likely to cater to the special needs of individual children (Modigliani, 1994;
NCJW Center for the Child, 2003), as well as to offer flexible hours for parents
who do not have fixed working schedules (Eaton, 1997; NCJW Center for the Child,
2003). In addition, family child care providers typically care for children at a
variety of age and developmental levels (Morgan, Azer, & LeMoine, 2001;
Trawick-Smith & Lambert, 1995). It is therefore possible for all siblings
from a single family to be enrolled in the same home (Eaton, 1997; Modigliani,
1994; Morgan, Azer, & LeMoine, 2001; NCJW Center for the Child, 2003).
Familiarity and proximity: Family child care offers children a home-like and
familiar environment, for the children are being cared for in the child care
provider's own home (Modigliani, 1994; NCJW Center for the Child, 2003). In most
cases, the day care home will be close to the parents' home and/or place of work
(NCJW Center for the Child, 2003).
BASIC PRINCIPLES OF EARLY LITERACY LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FAMILY CHILD CARE PROVIDERS
Because of its unique
characteristics, an early literacy program in a day care home may appear
strikingly different than a center-based child care facility. However, the same
fundamental principles should be observed in both settings. The following
recommendations for developing a quality early literacy program are made based
on the principles of social-constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978; Moll, 1990) and
scholarship from the field of early literacy (Clay, 1991; Harste, Woodward, & Burke, 1984; Neuman, Copple, & Bredekamp, 2000; Wells, 1986;
Strickland & Morrow, 1989; Taylor, 1993), with special attention paid to the
distinctive features of the day care home.
Children acquire the forms and function of literacy through interacting with
more capable peers and adults. The multiple age and developmental levels of
children enrolled in a day care home pose a challenge as well as provide an
opportunity for the child care provider to design activities to promote the
literacy learning and development of both younger and older children.
Trawick-Smith and Lambert (1995) suggest that both old and young children
benefit from shared book reading experience. The shared book experience can take
two forms: older children reading aloud to the younger ones, or the child care
providers reading a book to a group of older and younger children. The older
children are able to practice their reading skills and acquire new knowledge,
while the younger children have opportunities to learn from the adults and older
children the conventions of reading, such as book handling and the
directionality of written text. Crawford and Hade (2000) also suggest that
wordless picture books can be valuable reading materials, for younger and older
children are both able to respond as well as interpret such books in their own
Children learn best from meaningful and functional activities. One strength of a
day care home lies in the caregiver's ability to provide activities that
children normally see and/or do around their house, which are less common in a
typical child care center (Trawick-Smith & Lambert, 1995). Simple cooking
activities such as making salad or baking cookies, involve reading, writing,
math, and eye-hand coordination skills, are enjoyed by younger and older
children alike. In addition, field trips such as visiting zoos, parks, and
public libraries also provide children of different ages with opportunities to
be engaged in literacy activities that meet their interests and needs. While
planning for trips, the children and child care provider can read books about
the place they will be visiting (e.g., the zoo). While on the road, the child
care provider and/or volunteering parents can point out interesting signs,
objects, and sights for children to watch and discuss. If the field trip
involves visiting a public services facility, such as a post office, then the
children can write/draw thank-you cards for the person(s) providing assistance.
Through such functional and meaningful activities, children understand that the
purpose of literacy is to communicate with others and achieve various goals in
their life (Strickland & Morrow, 1989).
Children learn to be literate in a literacy-rich environment, where diverse,
real-life materials and activities meet children's different needs and
interests. Children learn to be literate by observing activities in their
environment, interacting with the people around them, and using literacy tools
for functional and meaningful activities (Neuman, Copple, & Bredekamp,
2000). Because of the different ages and developmental levels of the children in
a day care home, the literacy materials should meet diverse needs of children.
Literacy tools, such as writing materials of various kinds (crayons, pencils,
pens, markers, paper of different colors, sizes, and textures) as well as toys,
tapes, CD-ROMs, literacy props (phone books, play money, and restaurant menus)
and books should be carefully selected to reflect individual children's learning
and developmental needs. Even very young children enjoy holding crayons and
making marks on writing surfaces. Materials for toddlers and young preschoolers
(e.g., chubby crayons and paper) should be available to these children and used
with adult supervision. Materials for the older children, such as scissors and
staplers, need to be carefully stored and used in designated area(s).
Providers should use public facilities and collaborate with local higher
Although family child care providers share their home with the children they
care for, they are not limited by the resources of their own household. Public
resources and facilities, such as the public library, also provide opportunities
for children to develop their literacy skills (Bates & Bates, 1999).
Children can attend storytelling sessions, check out books, and attend various
literacy events at the libraries. In addition, child care providers in most
areas can acquire inexpensive literacy materials from such sources as library
book fairs, yard and garage sales, bookstores' discount sections, used or
second-hand bookstores, recycling centers, and charity sales [e.g., Salvation
Army and Goodwill] (Stroup, 2001).
The collaboration between day care homes and local higher education
institutions provide additional opportunities for children to interact with
literate adults and develop reading and writing skills. For example, Lamme and
Russo (2002) described "Project Booktalk", in which college students visit child
care homes weekly over a semester and read books to children enrolled in day
care homes. This project was well received by all parties involved, especially
the children, who benefited from the opportunity to bond with adults of varying
literacy experiences and cultures.
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