Date of Award

Winter 12-2016

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



Societies engage in cross-generational transfers of information, enabling cultural transmission of skills such as tool use and language (Tomasello, 2001). Reading and spelling are two of the most important cultural tools that are transferred to children in modern societies. This transfer begins with informal experiences in the home and continues with formal teaching at school. One skill that is critical to a child’s success during the first years of reading and spelling instruction is decoding, which is the ability to sound out written words. Decoding ability depends, in part, on a child’s knowledge of letters (Lonigan, Burgess, & Anthony, 2000). Given that learning about letters in the home can lead to improved letter knowledge and decoding ability (Burgess, Hecht, & Lonigan, 2002; Evans, Shaw, & Bell, 2000; Sénéchal & LeFevre, 2002), we would benefit from a better understanding of what parents teach their young children about letters and what children learn from these experiences. Here we examine this letter teaching through observation of parent–child conversations, studying how letters are discussed in the homes of U.S. preschool children and how talk about letters changes over the early years of a child’s life.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Rebecca Treiman

Committee Members

David Balota, Lori Markson


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7C827QG