The Influence Of Household Chaos And The Home Language Environment On Preschool-Age Children’s School Readiness

Laura Mary Northerner, Wayne State University


School readiness, including both cognitive and social-emotional development, is an important indicator of a child’s preparedness for school entry, and a meaningful predictor of future academic success (Duncan et al., 2007). The home environment plays a critical role in the development of children’s school readiness, especially for children facing social inequalities. Within the home environment, household chaos and home language have been found to impact school readiness. The current study expanded on previous research on household chaos by collecting multiple measures of household chaos, including a naturalistic observation across several days. The current study also naturalistically investigated the home language environment to explore how these constructs impact numerous aspects of school readiness. A sample of 55 African-American mother-child dyads, primarily identifying as low-income, participated when children were between 3 ½ and 4 ½ years old. Mothers completed self-report measures of household chaos, children’s social-emotional protective factors, and family rituals. Children completed measures of the following: pre-academic knowledge, receptive vocabulary, executive functioning, and emotion knowledge. Children also wore an iPod with the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR; Mehl, Pennebaker, Crow, Dabbs, & Price, 2001) “app” installed, which collected random naturalistic audio observations of the home environment. These audio files were coded for household chaos by trained research assistants, and were transcribed to analyze language (talkativeness and emotion words) with the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC; Pennebaker, Francis, & Booth, 2001) system. Household chaos was also measured with research assistants’ observations at the home visit and with an objective measure of household overcrowding. The current study demonstrated the feasiblity of measuring household chaos with the EAR “app” and explored the relationship of this measure to other measures of household chaos; overall, there was limited support for significant associations among these measures. Contrary to expectations, the current study did not find much support for the relatedness of household chaos with indicators of school readiness, although there were a few significant associations that held while accounting for covariates. House chaos measured via the EAR was negatively associated with children’s receptive vocabulary. Household overcrowding was negatively associated with pre-academic skills. Contrary to the hypothesis, research assistants’ report of neighborhood noise was positively associated with children’s executive functioning. There were also very few associations between characteristics of the home language environment and indicators of school readiness that held while accounting for covariates. Caregivers’ use of negative emotion words was negatively associated with children’s receptive vocabulary. Caregivers’ use of total emotion words and positive emotion words were positively associated with executive functioning. This study included an extensive examination of household chaos and the home language environment, and investigated their association with a broad range of school readiness measures. These findings provide some support for the importance of assessing household chaos, particularly household overcrowding, when addressing education disparities before school entry for families facing social inequities.