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Volume 13, Number 4
July/August 1997

Language-Rich Home and School Environments Are Key to Reading Success

Children learn some of their most important reading lessons at the dinner table, according to a groundbreaking study


Mealtime is often a young child's best opportunity to engage in "interesting conversations with adults," says Catherine Snow, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and a principal investigator with the Home-School Study of Language and Literacy. Those conversations, Snow says, give children the chance to develop and practice oral-language skills such as describing events beyond the here and now, and learning new vocabulary activities that the Home-School Study shows are strongly related to children's reading success in elementary school.

Snow and David Dickinson, a senior research scientist with the Education Development Center in Newton, MA, and the study's other principal investigator, believe the Home-School Study can provide meaningful guidance to teachers in preschools and elementary schools as they shape their classroom practices and consider how best to interact with children's families. Researchers have long known that early reading success is a strong predictor of academic success in later grades, because after grade 3, demands on the student change from "learning to read" to "reading to learn," as reading becomes a fundamental means for acquiring new knowledge about all subjects.

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For Further Information

For Further Information

D.E. Beals and P.O. Tabors. Sources of Support for Learning Words in Conversation: Evidence from Mealtimes. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, April 1996.

D.K. Dickinson. "Features of Early Childhood Classroom Environments That Support Development of Language and Literacy." In J. Duchan, L. Hewitt, and R. Sonnmeier, Pragmatics: From Theory to Practice. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994.

D.K. Dickinson and M.W. Smith. "Long-Term Effects of Preschool Teachers: Book Readings on Low-Income Children's Vocabulary and Story Comprehension." Reading Research Quarterly, 29, no. 2 (April/ May/June 1994): 105-122.

C.E. Snow. "The Theoretical Basis for Relationships between Language and Literacy in Development." Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 6, no. 1 (1991): 5-10.

C.E. Snow and P.O. Tabors. "Language Skills That Relate to Literacy Development." In B. Spodek and O.N. Saracho, eds., Language and Literacy in Early Childhood Education (Yearbook in Early Childhood Education, vol. 4). New York: Teachers, College Press, 1993.

C.E. Snow, P.O. Tabors, P.A. Nicholson, and B.F. Kurland. "SHELL: Oral Language and Early Literacy Skills in Kindergarten and First-Grade Children." Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 10, no. 1 (1995): 37-48.