Date of Award

December 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Learning

Committee Member

Celeste C. Bates

Committee Member

Susan K. Fullerton

Committee Member

Meihua Qian

Committee Member

Lisa Aker


For decades, educational researchers have reported joint book reading with caregivers promotes children’s emergent literacy development (Bus et al., 1995; Demir-Lira et al., 2019; NELP, 2008; Pelligrini et al., 1990). However, the bulk of this research has been conducted with mothers (Bingham, 2007; Bojczyk, 2016; Roberts et al., 2005). Mothers have been the focus of such research because, historically, the primary responsibility for caring for young children was placed on them (Fagot et al., 2012). Recent societal changes have resulted in fathers taking on more childcare roles (Banchefsky & Park, 2016). Yet, their contributions are rarely noted in literacy research. The few studies that have been conducted on fathers’ contributions to the home literacy environment (HLE) in recent years indicate they make distinct and important contributions to their children’s emergent literacy behaviors (Fagan et al., 2015; Pillinger & Wood, 2013; Salo et al., 2016). Furthermore, the studies conducted in two-parent homes show fathers’ contributions complement those of mothers (Duursma, 2014; Reynolds, 2019). Due to the limited number of studies and their contradictory findings, it is still unclear which emergent literacy behaviors fathers have the most impact on and how their influence compares to mothers’ (Baker & Vernon-Feagans, 2015; Sims & Coley, 2016). To address this gap in the research, this study examined how fathers’ participation in joint book reading with their young children influenced emergent literacy development. Using a quantitative research design, the study compared the effects of fathers, mothers, or both parents reading with their young children. Families with preschool and kindergarten children were recruited from three rural school districts in the Southeastern United States. The participants were assigned to one of three treatment groups where children read with (a) fathers only, (b) mothers only, or (c) both parents equally for 8 weeks. Children were pre- and post-tested on measures of receptive vocabulary, phonological and alphabet knowledge, and concepts of print. Findings showed fathers had the most impact on vocabulary and phonological and alphabet knowledge, while mothers had the most influence on children’s understanding of concepts of print. Contrary to prior research findings (Baker, 2013; Foster et al., 2016), reading with both parents had only a small effect on vocabulary and a negative effect on concepts of print. Qualitative data obtained through questionnaires and weekly reading logs indicate differences between the groups in parental education, household income, access to literacy materials, and frequency of engagement in literacy activities could explain the findings. However, post-testing of all child participants was not completed due to school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, findings must be interpreted with caution. Regardless of the limitations of the findings, parents reported many benefits to the HLE from participating in this study, including increased engagement in literacy activities and fathers taking a more active role in their children’s literacy development.



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