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Erin Rucker, Afra Hersi, Ph.D.

Literacy Beliefs and Practices of Stay-at-home Mothers with Preschool-aged Children:  A Collective Case Study Report

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Given the important role that mothers play in the literacy development of their children, attention to the home literacy practices they engage in is warranted.  This qualitative case study (Stake, 1994) investigated the literacy practices of stay-at-home mothers with preschool-aged children.  Additionally, the attitudes and beliefs held by mothers regarding how their children learn to read and write was explored.  The participants were college-educated, stay-at-home mothers in their early 30’s who lived in middle class neighborhoods in suburban Maryland.  Data was collected through interviews, a questionnaire, writing samples from the children, and field notes.  Data was analyzed by highlighting significant statements, grouping them into themes, and crosschecking themes again all the data.

The data suggests that mothers in this research varied in how they believed literacy skills are developed. Their beliefs ranged from a traditional skills-based approach that emphasized decoding and the alphabetic principle, to a more emergent literacy perspective that valued activities that foster oral language development and allow children to build background knowledge about the world.  The women in this study engaged in a many practices that research has suggested support the literacy development of preschool-aged children, including reading aloud, providing instruction in reading and writing letters and words, engaging children in conversation, and instituting regular routines.  They engaged their children in literacy related activities on a regular basis, which allowed them to carefully observe their children’s reading and writing development and provide scaffolding in a variety of ways.  Additionally, they demonstrated skill in obtaining resources and materials needed to support the literacy development of their children.  The data also suggests that experienced mothers (with older children) were more confident in their ability to teach and their children’s ability to learn.  Even though the women in this study were highly educated and already engaging their children in literacy best practices, they still had questions and expressed a desire to better understand the literacy development of preschool-aged children.

This research suggested a few ways that stay-at-home mothers may benefit from support, and also revealed several areas where more research is needed.  Although mothers in this study are peers who well acquainted, they did not appear to discuss their experiences with teaching their children with one another and may benefit from community structures that encourage such dialogue.  Given the emphasis they placed on letter formation and spelling during writing instruction, mothers in this study may benefit from training in strategies that can provide scaffolding needed for emergent writers to compose text that communicates a message.   Further study including observations of mothers working with their children during writing will better inform parent education materials or interventions aimed at providing support in this area.  Additional research could also investigate how beliefs and practices may or may not differ in mothers of different socioeconomic status, educational attainment, or cultural groups.

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