Partnering with your child’s teachers: Part 3
Parents supporting school learning activities at home enriches meaning for children and provides a basis for school success.
Parent involvement in schools, whether it is a child’s preschool program or K-12 schools, is expressed in many different forms. A widely accepted blueprint for parent involvement in schools, Dr. Joyce Epstein’s model, includes the following six types of involvement: parenting, communicating, volunteering, supporting learning at home, decision-making, and collaborating with the community. In this article, we will address the process and benefits for children when parents support school learning activities.
The form of parent involvement that we are all most familiar with is, of course, homework. Generations of parents have sat with – and sometimes suffered with - their children as they have struggled with memorizing multiplication tables and finishing book reports on Tom Sawyer. Janet distinctly recalls riding in the car with her dad while he repeated loudly, “W-H-A-T, what!” many times. There were two outcomes of this effort: everyone knew her spelling words by the end of the trip and she went on to become a champion speller.
Many of us have had similar experiences and we feel a debt of gratitude for the hours our parents spent helping us through school projects and discussing educational topics with us. Our families have a unique capacity to put the things we are learning about in school in context for us. As parents, we know what our children are interested in and we can help our children to grasp new concepts and practice thinking skills with topics that have already captured their imaginations. Ask any youthful fan of football what a quarterback’s average percentage of completions per game is, and he will demonstrate his understanding of statistics. Not only that, we can often instinctively tell how our children learn best. Many parents have taken curriculum-related activities and turned them into learning games that help our children practice skills related to what they are studying.
In addition to help with homework, parents help prepare children for school success by setting the stage with language, literacy and other cognitive skills in early childhood. Research in the last ten years has pointed to clear connections between a child’s success in school and activities in the home environment. Hart and Risley conducted a study which revealed a child’s early vocabulary is directly influenced by how much language the child hears at home. Their study also indicated these early skills helped to support child’s learning through elementary school. Another more recent study of early language found that having a TV turned on and audible actually reduces the amount of speech there is in the home from children and adults alike. Millions of parents casually and unconsciously set their children up for high achievement at school by counting steps on the stairs, reading daily and singing rhyming songs every day. These early efforts at practicing cognitive skills and solving problems give children the foundation for all K-12 curriculum, from reading and writing to physics.
Finally, as parents, we endow our children with a powerful motivational tool that can improve their lives at every level. At the very foundation of our children’s success at formal education is their attitude toward school, and this attitude is most often formed by observing and adopting their families’ attitude toward education. This is a gift that lasts a lifetime and does not cost a dime.