A study of Family Literacy Practices in Childhood

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Learning is an endless process that continuous on throughout ones life. And learning starts first at an early age where the family is in the heart of this process, because it is the place where the cycle of learning takes place. And the parent's behaviors and the attitudes towards learning become the educational values of their children. Parents also play a major role in setting appropriate literacy environment for their children. Therefore, parents should be aware of their vital role in enhancing children's literacy skills, and accordingly, shaping and developing their literacy skills.

The aim of my investigation

In my ethnographic project I will explain what we mean by literacy, the factors that affect it, how literacy differs according to different communities and cultural context; and how these factors reflect the different literacy practices within the same family. Then I will analyze the literacy in one of my student's family. And a quick description of home and school literacy practices during the children's early years and onwards. Thereof, the investigation aims to observe a family literacy and the way the parents enhance their ability to support their children's early literacy practices and behavior, as well as the way they develop their children's reading and writing ability at an early age. In order to achieve that, I shall begin my research by carrying out an ethnographic small scale-study over one month period, here I have selected a middle-class family that consists of grandparents, the parents and their three children who's ages range from three to 25, who are considered to be very successful in school as a result of attaining high literacy skills.

The aim of my investigation answers these questions:

What is literacy?

Does literacy differ from one community to another?

What factors have effect and impact on literacy?

The members of my student's family

The family background

What is the family's educational background?

What are their interests?

What are the parents' characteristics and types of belief that enhances the development of their children's literacy abilities?

What family literacy practices and daily home activities best to develop children's literacy skills?

The ideas underpinning my study

In my project I used the AOU, E300 course material, and personal experience that have helped support my research. As a result, I was interested in family literacy and how parents have a massive effect on their children's educational experience and parents' attitudes about learning became an educational value of their children. Therefore, It is then possible to understand Denny Taylor's and Shirley Heath's findings -in two different articles- in Language and Literacy in Social Practice of how the literacy practices of parents and communities are passed on to their children. Taylor, on the one hand, illustrates how interactions between parents, between parents and their children, and between the home and the school contribute to the changing of reading and writing practices, by carrying out a detailed ethnographic study. She suggests that school experiences are mediated in particular ways by parents' personal histories and by the experience of older siblings (Maybin, p.p. 50 - 51). According to Taylor, 'the most significant mode of transmitting literacy styles and values occurs indirectly, through the continuously diffuse use of written language in the ongoing life of the family (p.46). She finds that children's exploring and practicing reading and writing occur within the context of play, management of social relations and family setting. and also what is most interesting is Heath's suggestion that children learn through their experience of bedtime stories with their parents is completely important to give the 'what' explanations, reason explanations and affective statements, which are valued in school in relation to texts (Maybin, p.p. 65- 66). While both studies effectively spots light on how the literacy practices of parents and communities are passed on to their children. As a result, I am focusing my attention and interest on investigating the effect and power of family literacy, and how it functions. Therefore, by focusing on Taylor and Heath's studies, these cases will be addressed in my project.

During the research, the course book provided me with many more important points, and I have pointed out some useful ones such as the ideas that provided me with strategies of an ethnographic project. So the ideas I used in my project is the features of ethnographic qualitative research by Martyn Hammersly which paved the way of collecting and analyzing data that comes from the real world contexts, through observation and interviews, studying small group or even individual behaviors, such kind of research depend on advocacy and empowering . The second idea comes from chapter 3 "language as social semiotic" by Halliday , I used the concepts of conversation (interview), and observations which explained some notes or schedule on how to make observations and conversations on my student's family literacies .The third idea comes from the ethnographic study of the Panjabis in southall (Britain) in chapter 7 written by Saxena. It presents a case of study of a Panjabis family. It shows how individual members of this family are exposed to, and make use of, different literacies in southall. This idea helped me to analyze the literacy practices of individual members of my student's family. The fourth idea which discussed the legacies of literacy in chapter 10 written by Graff, it discussed the factors which affect literacy; as well as the cross- cultural idea from chapter 9 written by Street, which supported my project about how literacy differs according to different communities and different ideological literacy practices. Since the research is based on ethnographic method, it is important to take into account Hammersley's article in Researching Language and Literacy in Social Practice. The article presents how ethnographic method is important for those who are researching language within the field of education because of its attention to contextual detail within small naturalistic settings. The researcher lives among people in natural setting, studies and learns their language behavior patterns and observes their lives at first hand, then writes descriptions and explanations of what he has observed. Hammersley outlines the various research strategies which make up ethnographic method as a qualitative one that depends on observing and abandoning statistics and hypothesis (Graddol, p.p. 1- 2). The research will also depend on Deborah Cameron's et al. article in Researching Language and Literacy in Social Context, which concerned with the relationship between researcher and the researched. The authors discuss the consequences of three possible positions which researchers should gather: ethics, advocacy and empowerment. Researcher should take the permission of subjects and bear in mind their own agendas and the practice of providing feedback and sharing knowledge (Graddol, p. p. 15- 20). Finally, by utilizing Joan Swann's article in Researching Language and Literacy in Social Practice, I will be guided through many of the practical stages which face any researcher, such as what to observe, how to resolve ethical issues, what the techniques of systematic observation are. In addition, the article poses Labove's term 'the observer's paradox' in which subjects do not act naturally as a result of being observed (Graddol, p.p. 21- 25, 36- 38).

The methods I used and my reasons for choosing them

The first method used in my project was basically the ethnographic method, which is the observation and study of one of my student's family literacy. The second methods is based on taking the family member's permission before observing them; then take the first step in interviewing them and take my observation notes about their literacy into account.

Discussion and analyzing the data

The references of my project are mainly the E300B course material. Such as researching language and literacy in social context book chapter 1 written by Hamersley, chapter 2 by Frazer, Harvey, and chapter 3 by Swann. In addition, language and literacy in social practice books chapter 7 by Heath, chapter 9 by Street, and chapter 10 by Graff. And since ethnographic research observes contextual detail within small naturalistic settings, the research should take into account the following ethical points.

Taking the parents' permission be observed and inform them of the real purpose of the research

Defending the interests of the subjects when presenting the findings.

Knowing whether the parents would prefer to be named in the written report of the research or to be given alias names.

Reassuring the family for any inconvenience and discomfort that might accrue.

Making sure that the research does not harm or exploit the family.

Acknowledging of the family's cooperation at the end of the project report.

According to the course material, I shall elaborate the aims of my investigation

"Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read and write; It is a concept claimed and defined by a range of different theoretical fields", and according to modern anthropologists' view, literacy is described as being plural and of various types. As a result, different communities have different types of literacy; therefore, literacy has different effects on different communities. According to what's mentioned above, we understand that literacy is varies according to different communities, social and cultural circumstances; for instance, in some communities, children are able to read and write before they even enter school. By contrast, in other community children don't share the equal opportunities other children have, therefor, they aren't able to learn at an early age. Such differences may relate to the following reasons: - The process of economic development had a great effect on literacy, trade and social growth stimulated rising levels of literacy from the twelfths century onwards.  -Economic growth on the other hand, reduced children's opportunities of going to schools or getting a proper home environment as many parents worked in factories". (Language and literacy, pp.125-126).-Social factors such as age, gender and social discrimination, For example, women in the 18th century didn't have chances in literacy practices.- the development of social and economic circumstances .for example, if we look into the days of our parents, we will notice that literacy level wasn't that high, people worked usually more and studied less. But when changes accrued, it led to social and economic development, these changes enhanced the development of literacy; not only in reading and writing, but extended to include other types of literacy like computer science, media literacies and son on. These factors reflect different literacy practices within family environments and communities; as we will see in my observation later on.

Moreover, literacy practice is taught and learned as a part of the wide social practices in which we are a part of, as we become members of our families and communities; especially that learning is becoming more and more a non-stop process through our lives and in any community. Not to mention that the family is the heart in any educational process because that's where the child's early learning takes place long before the child enters school, therefor; literacy development among early learners could be a challenging task. This learning is embedded in daily family routines and social life. However, literacy events and activities vary extensively among families and cultures; thus, children who enter kindergarten achieve that with a broad selection of literacy experiences, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. Theses abilities are acquired, nurtured, and refined through the acts of those who provide appropriate support and instructional contexts and such provision and support does not take place in school, but what actually happens before children first go to school is observed and looked into by the educators and the home environment exposure is what mostly triggers their literacy acquisition, thus, the home literacy they experience will actually effect their literacy education at school. As a result, family literacy needs to be viewed as a part of school curriculum. Early learning centers as Kindergartens are considered to be the center of any activity devoted to engage children in literacy activities, and for some children, family literacy is rather comparable to school literacy; for others, family and school literacies are completely different. As a result, such situation might put some children at a difficult position in classroom, which might lead teachers to underestimate those children's learning abilities and knowledge, or it may cause an awkward situation or tension between home and school. And in order for those schools to link any gaps between home literacy and school literacy they have to develop programs that focus on increasing the level of interaction between parents and their children's education.

Since the research carries out an ethnographic approach, which focuses mainly on the social factors, the investigation will be based on qualitative method which is an observation that focuses on the experience of the family literacy in natural context and a description of what has been observed within the visiting. Research data will be collected through observing and recording the following points:

The way parents interact with their children.

Aspects of parent activities and home routines that expose children to modes of literacy.

Parents efforts in involving children in activities that foster their literacy abilities.

Asking the parents about the type of beliefs that they hold about children's literacy development.

The observation will be based on taking field notes during the informal and formal speech. The notes will be dated to provide contextual information. My involvement will vary between being participant and non-participant observer (on the spot observation), according to the necessity of the situation. The investigation will carry out an ethnographic small scale-study over one- month period of one of my student's family. It is a middle-class family which lives in Saudi Arabia that consists of seven members; the grandparents (retired), the father (doctor), the mother (teacher) and their three children (two girl, one attends university and the youngest attends kindergarten and one (engineer)). Their ages range from 4 to 25, who are judged by their parents as very successful in school. Perhaps it would be helpful here to consider a single family in more detail and explore the Parents' critical role in children's literacy development and learning ability step by step. The research process will be carried out in the family's home, studying their literacy patterns and observing their lives and environment.

The grandfather: Born in and brought up in Saudi Arabia, he didn't have the chance to complete his education for he had only little education, he learnt to read and write at elementary school up to 6th grade. He is interested in reading religious books, reads political and national newspapers and also listens to the radio. The grandmother: born and raised in Saudi Arabia, she is quite educated and managed to work as an elementary school teacher. She likes to read, write children's stories, and also tell stories. The father: Born in Saudi Arabia, he learnt to read and write before attending school, and he speaks four languages; Arabic, his mother tongue, English, German, and French. He completed he education in Austria and became successful doctor, and currently works in his home town as a doctor. He is interested in reading newspapers, medical and economic books. The mother: Born and raised in Turkey, she completed her education in English literature in Istanbul University, and she likes to read about literature, novels, poems especially Shakespearian work; she also likes to teach English and translates books. She's interested in writing poems, and romantic stories. The older brother: Born in Austria, he learnt how to read and write at the age of three years; he completed his education in engineering at the king Fahd University, he's interested in reading in general. The younger sister: Born in Saudi Arabia and she studies IT in Taiba University, and currently doing a graphic design course on line. Like her mother, she likes to read poems and novels. She also likes to write and read anything about technology as well. And finally the baby sister: born in Saudi Arabia, she recently entered kindergarten yet she was able to read and write at an early age because she has highly educated parents.

The following schedule is tentative, based on subject group availability due to personal circumstances, since the study is not scientifically produced.

First week: Visiting the family two hours per day during the time of children's studying time, in order to observe the family literacy practices.

Second week: Visiting the family two hours per day during the time of children's playing or and resting time in order to observe home routines that expose children to modes of literacy. In addition, asking the parents about their personal biographies, and attitude toward literacy.

Third week: analyzing the collected data, writing down the findings and writing down a simple draft of the project.

Fourth week: asking any final and writing the project report.


According to my analysis data and observation, I have realized that some member of her family was born and brought up in a different community, lived in different environments and different cultures. They are also of different ages and genders; they have studied in different political, religious, and culture situations. Thus, they have different attitudes towards different languages, and books which they are interested in.

Now I will divide the family literacy practices into three parts, in order to clarify the differences and the similarities between them.

The first generation, which consists of the grandfather, who lived in bad economic, political, and social circumstances, yet managed to reach 6th grade, he wasn't able to complete his education due to the lack of financial support at that time, and instead he worked to provide a better life for his son. He's interested in reading newspaper, religious books and listens to the radio; and the grandmother who shared some of the harsh circumstances of that time, yet managed to reach a fair level of education. The second generation consists of the father, although he lives in the same country and shares the same culture with his parents; he has a completely different level of education from them. He completed his education and managed to reach his goal. He is interested in reading economic books and newspaper; also the mother who lived in an educated and classy community, where education was taken very seriously. She is a woman exquisite taste in literature and has many interesting hobbies such as, writing poems, and romantic stories. The third and new generation consists of three children: two girls and one boy who all received good education both from home and school. During their childhood, all of different age, their parents provided a good literacy environment and a positive home-school connection for them. The parents' effect on their first born had a great effect on the other children as well. Therefore, the siblings have better literacy opportunities than their grandparents and parents father; they have different types of literacy practices for example, they have computer, media, videos literacy beside reading and writing. They completed their studies in various universities in different fields other than one of the girls. Although the father and older brother were born and educated in the same country, yet they have a differed taste in books and interests.

The summary of the main differences between them is:

1- Their level of education as I have mentioned above.

2- Books which they are interested in reading; some of them is interested in reading religious books and political and national newspaper, and some prefer to read literature books "novels, poems, and some are interested in reading medical books and watch TV programs and so on.

3- The number of languages each member speaks. For instance, one of them speaks three languages Arabic, English, and French. Where eon the other hand, two of the other member speak two languages.

As a result, I realized that the economic and the social developments affect the family's literacy practices.

The similarities between them is that all my family are literate, and almost have the same level of education, each of them wither completed their education in universities or still studying; except the grandfather who studied up 6th grade.


Finally, literacy as I mentioned before is the ability to read and write. It different according to the different in communities, social, economic, and culture. These factors affect on the literacy practice within the same family. Such as the literacy in my family. My family have different literacy practices, although they are literate ,but they are differ in the level of education they have, also the differ in books which they are interested in reading, some of them prefer to read financial and economic books , the other prefer to read literature "poems and novels". And differ in the number of languages they have.