Family participation in children’s literacy learning: conversations with Northern Chilean families

Year: 2013

Author: Newman, Linda, Woodrow, Christine, Arthur, Leonie, Staples, Kerry

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper reports on an investigation of family perspectives on their role in their children’s literacy learning. Data were generated within the Futuro Infantil Hoy early childhood pedagogical change project in low socio-economic communities in Chile. Families living in poverty are often perceived as disinterested in their children’s learning and not having anything to offer (Delpit, 1995). They are judged as not providing adequate language and literacy experiences at home and their children are considered to be at risk of literacy failure (see for example Beals & Tabors, 1995; Bowman, Donovan, & Burns, 2001; Hart & Risley, 1995, 1999).

The project draws on sociocultural theory to challenge these deficit assumptions. It values the contributions that families make to children’s learning and recognises that all children develop understandings of literacy as they participate in family and community activities (Gee, 2011). We are interested in how families support children’s literacy learning at home and how early childhood educators build on children’s family literacies in early childhood settings.

The research utilised mixed methods including survey, focus group, video-recording of a small group discussion between educators and families (literacy café) and artefact collection (e.g. family journals, photographs and books depicting family literacy experiences at home). We asked families what they perceived as their contribution to literacy learning in the home learning environment and what has been the impact of setting based pedagogical documentation on their children’s literacy learning at both the setting and at home. The research also focused on how families see their children’s early childhood education experiences contributing to achieving their aspirations for their children.

In contrast to the dominant discourse which makes deficit assumptions about families in low socio-economic communities, we report on family views and experiences that indicate they have high aspirations for their children’s futures, understand the importance of learning in the early years and provide a range of experiences that support children’s literacy learning.