Date of Award

Spring 1992

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Jane Hansen


The mother or primary caretaker of an infant establishes a communicative bond which has long-term implications for the child as a symbolizer and learner. John Bowlby's theory of attachment claims the mother is the secure base from which an infant, and later the child, can explore and master her environment, develop a sense of autonomy, and relate to peers. Attachment theory sheds light on the process and products of inner-city, first-grade children's written symbolization, yielding many patterns cogent to the study of emergent literacy.

Fifty-nine first graders participated in a study involving projective measures of attachment and language ability and the collection of their earliest first-grade writing samples and transcripts. Their drawings and early writings showed the influence of secure attachment on literate risk-taking. Gender and language ability showed significant effects on choice of symbols and symbolic configurations.

As the first-grade child begins to acculturate to school literacy she must create increasingly less personal, and more abstract symbols of the culture. This move towards universality of symbolization varies by gender and attachment status. Each child struggles with the conflict of relinquishing personal symbols and appropriating collective symbols. Some children leap too quickly into transcription of environmental print in an effort to form an attachment with their teacher. Meanwhile others explore the self-expression of drawing, conceptual configurations and invented spelling moving gradually toward more interpersonal symbolization.