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An Orderly Home Affects Early Literacy Skills, Study Says

Beyond reading to young children, there are other things parents and caregivers can do to help early literacy skills. “Order in the House!” examines the relationship between household chaos, the home literacy environment, maternal reading ability, and children’s early reading—and it concludes that there’s a link between the reading abilities of five- and six-year-olds and the orderliness of their homes.

Household order—characterized by regular bedtime routines, mealtimes, and chores, as well as cleanliness and being able to stay on top of things—has a positive effect on a range of early reading abilities, the report says.

“Don't feel guilty if you want to spend some time organizing your household,” says Anne Martin of Columbia University, one of the study’s authors. “Routines and order are good for kids in general—and our research suggests that they might also benefit early reading in particular.”

In a sample of 455 kindergarten and first-grade twins, researchers say their findings held true for mothers whose own reading abilities were above the national average. And when the sample was split by a mother’s reading level, household order explained reading growth among children of mothers with above-average reading skills, while the child’s interest in and enjoyment of reading explained reading growth among children of mothers with average reading ability.

Martin notes that perhaps the same mothers who are above-average readers are also those who are more likely to keep a tidy home and to implement daily household routines.

Why do the researchers think household order affects early reading development? “It’s possible that order reflects a more fundamental characteristic of parents, such as conscientiousness, that also affects reading,” Martin says.

Although there have been previous studies evaluating the effects of household chaos and the home literacy environment on child and family wellbeing, this study is the first to test the association between household chaos and early reading development in young school-aged children. (Household noise is defined as using phrases such as, “You can't hear yourself think in our home" and "It's a real zoo in our home." Household chaos is defined as a combination of noise and order.)

The study is also the first to examine whether mothers with high reading ability can moderate the effects of household chaos or early reading.

Past research shows that mothers with better reading skills and higher levels of education have children with better early reading skills. “However, in our sample, we find that mothers' reading ability but not education is associated with children's better reading,” Martin says.

In order to definitively prove that kids from more orderly homes end up with better early literacy skills, the researchers say they need to examine more diverse samples; for example, with kids from less advantaged backgrounds and possibly excluding twins.

Socioeconomic background was also a factor in this study, since the report stressed the importance of whether a child owned more than 30 books, how often the child amused himself with books, and the number of books the child brought home.

The bottom line: Martin advises those trying to advance early reading skills to make books, word or spelling toys, and reading materials available to their children. “Cultivate an interest in reading through role modeling, visits to the library, and finding new and attractive books that are age-appropriate,” she says. “And minimize distractions while you're reading together, and let the child spend time alone with books if he wants to even before he can read.”

The article "An Orderly Home Affects Early Literacy Skills, Study Says" was published on February 2nd, 2009 in the "School Library Journal" http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/index.asp?layout=talkbackCommentsFull&talk_back_header_id=6586583&articleid=CA6638990

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