Vonda L. Dahl

Date of Award

January 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Cheryl Hunter


It is well-documented that children who experience housing insecurities, transience and homelessness, whether short or long term, may suffer from anxiety and/or chronic stress (Perry, 1997, 2004; Jensen, 2009). What is less known, or researched, are ways to address that anxiety through the efforts of volunteers and other non-custodial persons and the simple act of reading a book together. This study is social science in nature with a focus on phenomenological research with children that explores the affective value that a literacy event may have on a child’s perceptions of their own level of stress. Participants were recruited from a domestic violence shelter and its sister transitional center. In alignment with the Mosaic approach (Clark & Moss, 2011), child centric methods of research were used that included interview questions embedded in a colorful game board, self-reporting of participant stress level as indicated on a 3-point Facial Modification Affective Scale, the use of drawings to express feelings (symbolic representation) and accompanying narratives. The central focus of this study was a literacy event (Heath, 1982) between the researcher and the participant whereby the reader and the listener engaged in meaningful dialogic interactions using an age-appropriate book chosen by the participant. Taking a philosophical stance that children are capable self-reporters and “experts in their own lives” (Clark & Moss, 2005), participants were asked to indicate their current perceptions about their own stress levels using the Facial Modification Affective Scale (Quiles et al., 2013), both before and after the literacy event. Additionally, they were asked to represent their current inner feelings by drawing a picture and describing it to the researcher, empowering the child to represent themself in their own voice. Conversations were audio-recorded, transcribed at a later time, and analyzed for emergent themes. The presence of internal stress was indicated before the literacy event through triangulated methods of mother interviews, child verbalizations through interview questions embedded in a colorful board game, and symbols in participant artwork that was analyzed for fear and anxiety (Wimmer, 2014). Following the literacy event, axial codes revealed indications of stress alleviation in the emergent themes of Rich Narratives and Memory Activation as produced through a second round of symbolic representation participant artwork and accompanying narratives.