Children’s knowledge about the function of writing in storybooks

Children’s knowledge about the function of writing in storybooks

First Author: Molly Farry-Thorn -- University of Wisconsin–Madison
Additional authors/chairs: 
Rebecca Treiman
Abstract / Summary: 

PURPOSE
Although several studies have investigated children’s knowledge about differences in the visual characteristics of writing and drawings, relatively few have examined their knowledge about the differences in how they function. Young children must learn that written words symbolize meaning differently than pictures do and that within a storybook, the two have different functions.
METHOD
We created storybooks with printed text on one page and a printed illustration on the other. While showing a two-page spread, with text and a picture on separate pages, we asked the child to identify which page an adult can read. This was repeated for eight two-page spreads. The 50 children (mean age 4 years) we tested were unable to read any words on a 26-word reading task. In a separate condition, 29 of these children were shown another storybook, with similar two-page spreads, and asked to identify the page that had letters on it.
RESULTS
In the reading condition, only 22% of children correctly pointed to the page with text on every trial. In the letters condition, 83% of children correctly pointed to the page with text on every trial.
CONCLUSIONS
Children who cannot read may not yet fully understand the differences in the function of writing and pictures in storybooks. Previous research suggests that in their own productions, young children do distinguish between writing and drawing. However, the current results suggest that although pre-readers can frequently identify letters in a book, they may not to associate those letters with the act of reading.