Research Time, Part 3: Effectiveness of Community-Based Early Literacy Efforts

Today I am continuing a tour of research journals looking at various aspects of teaching early literacy behaviors and practices to children and parents. Today I am looking at some research regarding a community-based initiative and exploring its potential effectiveness. What can we glean from research such as this? It can tell us strategies that have already been used, the effectiveness of those strategies, and the means by which researchers gauge program effectiveness.  These are all points of information that can be useful in designing and evaluating our own strategies.



Early literacy fundamentals

These are the fundamentals of the early literacy interventions in this study. These interventions are actions on the part of the library or librarian intended to promote early literacy behaviors with families.

All of the intervention efforts included the following practices:

  • Distribute high quality books for infants through multiple sites and community agencies. Child librarians compiled a list of age appropriate and culturally relevant books
  • Model reading behavior with the parents. This include pointing to pictures and telling a story about the pictures, making up or telling new stories in Spanish or English, and sharing an intimate and a nurturing experience with their children
  • Stress the importance of having a regular reading routine at home
  • Promote the use of public library services and literacy programs
  • Inform the parents about the important role they play in preparing their children for school

These efforts should look pretty familiar to us  at this point – they are classic techniques in early literacy strategies.

Here are some additional strategies from the programs studied.

  • Visits from a health worker, who would bring to each family “a gift bag that included a cardboard book for their infant, an application for a library card, and a voucher for a free baby T-shirt redeemable at the public library” and referrals to ESOL services.
  • Parenting classes in the public library, including reading practices with children
  • Distribution of books in healthcare settings

Literacy promotion metrics

Another aspect of this study which is particularly interesting to me is the set of metrics used to measure early literacy behaviors. These are behaviors parents engage in with their children that in some way promote early literacy.

These behaviors include classic literacy promotion behaviors such as parents looking at books with their children – as well as behaviors you might not see on every list such as parents going to the park with children. Here’s the whole list:

  • Showing books to child
  • Reading books
  • Playing with child
  • Drawing pictures together
  • Hugging and cuddling
  • Going to the park
  • Visiting the library
  • Attending an event at the library
  • Participate in local literacy initiative at the library

The take-away

This article demonstrated that the early literacy efforts made in these programs was correlated in some way to increases in the identified literacy activities. Though the study was limited in some ways and can’t tell us the mechanism by which this is the case, and also cannot establish causation, the good news of this study is that it gives us some insight as to how we could make an impact in our communities, and what daily behaviors of families are important.

We can use these metrics to encourage families to do activities that go beyond reading and writing and are easily incorporated into their social context, and we can use them to explain how everyday activities impact a child’s early literacy learning as well.

It is possible that to some extent, the simple fact of highlighting the importance of early literacy-related behaviors in families and empowering parents to have an impact on their child’s development motivates not only literacy activities such as reading, but related activities such as going to the park, or having their child contribute to the grocery shopping or cooking, or even just spending time together connecting. Seen in this way, literacy development is a big-picture concept and influenced in numerous ways.


Peifer, K., & Perez, L. (2011). Effectiveness of a coordinated community effort to promote early literacy behaviors. Maternal and child health journal, 15(6), 765-771.


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