Year: 1992

Author: Cairney, Trevor H., Munsie, Lynne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Teachers, educators and researchers have long pointed to the almost miraculous way in which children master the complexities of spoken language before the age of five years. Parents play a dominant role in this development, intuitively prompting and prodding their children towards meaning making. From birth parents treat their babies as communicators, and respond to them in the light of this desire to make meaning (Wells, 1986). The child focuses on meaning and the care giver responds to the meanings he or she makes. In the context of this purposeful exchange, meanings develop. In this way, language develops as the child actively participates in communicative acts, and engages in a constructive process of meaning making (Lindfors, 1985). The parent's role in this is as a listener, prompter, information giver, asker of questions, and fellow meaning maker interested in the communication process (Cairney, 1989; 1990a; 1990b). It seems that the keys to early language development are the volume of opportunities to make meaning (Wells, 1983), the degree of one-to-one interaction with adults with a focus on matters that are of interest and concern to the child (Wells, 1986), and finally, the type and nature of adult interaction with children (Snow, 1983). But ironically, our interest in the role parents play in literacy development, has been stimulated by the observation of a surprising anomaly. The same parents who fulfil the above rich and complex role with spoken language development, can fulfil more limited roles with literacy learning once school age is reached. The same parents who responded to their preschool children as meaning makers, can suddenly begin to focus on spelling, punctuation, decoding and syllabification.