McDonald’s logo from the late 90’s, Wikipedia
Children are much more observant and cognizant than we perhaps once thought. It is clear, for example, that young children can recognize many popular logos and know which products or services the logos represent. In a seminal study, 3- to 6-year-old children matched logos with pictures of products on a game board. Twenty-two logos were tested, including those of Camel, Marlboro and Disney Channel. The study concluded that “very young children see, understand and remember [logos]”, even those that aren’t specifically marketed to children–the cigarette brands, for instance.
Further research on this concept has focused mainly on health—the research dedicated to link fast food restaurant logo recognition to obesity, for example. This research program was also spotlighted in the 2004 film Super Size Me, in which interviewed children showed a surprising aptitude for recognizing fast food-related cartoon spokespeople.
Before they enter school, children have already encountered a wealth of print language, from fast food logos to clothing labels and from television programs to appliances. A vein of research has suggested that children’s literacy instruction is most successful when it harnesses this previous exposure to print language—young students’ sociocultural knowledge—as an educational tool. In one 2011 study, for example, alphabet knowledge (the ability to name and associate a sound or sounds with each letter) and print concepts were both improved among young children who were instructed using activities relating to pop culture to “capture their attention and motivate their interests.” Perhaps this type of education also happens informally: For example, young children may learn to associate the pronunciation of “McDonald’s” with the logo.
Are children who can recognize logos better than their peers at recognizing printed words? More specifically, are they better at distinguishing strings of characters that form a word from strings of characters that do not form a word? If so, we can say that they are exhibiting advanced signs of emergent literacy. Indicators of emergent literacy include knowledge of print conventions (e.g., left-to-right reading in English, spaces between words and punctuation) and letter knowledge (i.e., the association of letters with sounds). If children can distinguish words from non-words with some success, they must already be beginning to synthesize these skills.
I suspect that children who are more successful at recognizing logos are also better at distinguishing words from non-words.
These results would have an important pedagogical implication. Establishing a link between logo recognition and emergent literacy lends support to pedagogical approaches that use logos and other elements of pop culture as springboards for literacy instruction. The results also suggest an important parenting strategy: Perhaps if, early on, parents make an effort to point out logos and other examples of pop culture print—rather than relying on their children’s own observance—they will exhibit signs of emergent literacy earlier on. And because studies have shown that the onset of emergent literacy skills can be a predictor of reading achievement later in life, it seems that the earlier children attain emergent literacy, the better.
There are many opportunities for the extension of this study. I would like to see studies done that compare SLI children to normally developing populations. Additionally, more detailed aspects of emergent literacy—letter knowledge and print concepts—should be examined for a more nuanced understanding of the literacy acquisition mechanism. Clearly, there is still much to be explored in this area.
This article is a shortened version of a research proposal I wrote for a class on first language acquisition. Want to read the whole proposal? Find it on Academia.edu.