Enhancing preschoolers’ vocabulary through family literacy programs

Research output: Doctoral thesisResearch external, graduation external

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Early childhood is a critical period for language learning. A vocabulary spurt is particularly evident in the preschool years. Vocabulary is essential for children to understand the world around them, communicate with others, and to learn to read and write later on. At two to four years of age already large differences exist in the size and developmental rate of children’s vocabularies (Fenson, Dale, Reznick, Bates, Thal, & Pethick, 1994; Hoff, 2006). Vocabulary sizes may vary from hundreds to thousands of words (Dungen, 2008; Kuiken, Vermeer, Appel, Kurvers, Litjes, Mooren, & Verhallen, 2005). It has been widely acknowledged that the family context and the verbal interactions children are involved in largely contribute to these differences (Hart & Risley, 1995; Hoff, 2006; Rowe, 2012). Less clear is which role characteristics of the child, such as their executive and social functioning, play in explaining vocabulary variation, even though these abilities seem essential to focus on linguistic input and to uphold social interaction. Children with smaller vocabularies are at risk for falling behind and starting formal schooling with delays. Family literacy programs aim to support children’s vocabulary by training parents’ interaction behavior and providing language stimulating activities to be conducted at home (Sénéchal & Young, 2008). Although these programs generally have positive effects, vocabulary gains are relatively small because programs seem to insufficiently change parents’ interaction behavior at home (Van Steensel, McElvany, Kurvers, & Herppich, 2011). The aim of the present dissertation was to further explain variation in preschool children’s vocabulary, and to investigate whether alternative approaches to deliver a family literacy program have the potential to foster children’s vocabulary development.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Radboud Universiteit, Behavioral Science Institute
  • Verhoeven, Ludo, Supervisor, External person
  • Oostdam, Ron, Supervisor
  • Molenaar, Inge, Co-supervisor, External person
Award date8 Jun 2018
Print ISBNs9789492801258
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


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