Growth in Children's Literacy Skills in Head Start and Early Elementary School: Implications for Preschool Curricula

Published: April 15, 2001
Head Start
Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES), 1997-2018 | Learn more about this project
Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2001

This report addresses the following research questions about the growth of young children's literacy skills: How does growth in cognitive development and emergent literacy that children show in preschool compare with the growth they exhibit once they reach elementary school? What is the relationship between the level of skill attained in preschool programs and the amount of growth children display in elementary school? How do growth patterns vary across different skill areas?

The research was meant to test at least partially three underlying hypotheses. The first was that children who leave preschool with more developed language and decoding skills will do better in elementary school and be further along the path to reading by the end of kindergarten. The second was that the amount of benefit children derive from a preschool program is directly proportional to the quantity and quality of language-related activities in the program. The third hypothesis concerned the compensatory qualities of preschool. This proposition was that children who have received less language stimulation at home stand to gain more from literacy-related activities in preschool.

Note that proponents of the whole language approach to reading, and more extreme proponents of Piagetian and discovery-learning approaches to the preschool curriculum would take exception to the first two hypotheses. These theorists see little importance in children acquiring specific literacy skills at early ages. They hold that children will rapidly acquire these skills and catch up once they are ready to learn them, which does not have to happen until elementary school. They emphasize the socialization functions of preschool and the value of activities that increase children's motivation to read, as opposed to the teaching of specific skills like letter recognition and phonics.