A child's education starts at birth, experts agree, and the most crucial years of learning actually come in the first six years of a child's life. This means it is parents who hold the key to a child's future academic success.

In fact, parent involvement in education is so important, Congress is working on a new bill which aims to support parents in that endeavor. This May, The Family Engagement in Education Act was introduced to the House of Representatives by Todd Platts (R-PA) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY).

The Family Engagement Act has a number of goals:

  • Encourage school districts to partner with nonprofits that provide services for children.
  • Support schools in becoming community hubs for families.
  • Give parents the tools to help their children by restructuring Parental Information Resource Centers (PIRCs) so they provide high quality services and reach more families.
  • Require schools to train teachers and principals in the area of family engagement in education.
  • Support family engagement for neglected and delinquent youth—particularly for the transition of youth from corrective facilities.
  • Establish an office for family engagement within the Department of Education.

All of this goes towards the goal to empower parents to get involved in their children’s education.

“The evidence, in my opinion, is very clear,” explains Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy. “When families are engaged in their children’s education, student achievement increases regardless of parents’ social or economic status. It doesn’t matter their educational background.”

Many kids today are falling behind even before they leave elementary school. The latest Nation’s Report Card states that 83% of children from low-income families do not read proficiently by the end of 4th grade. In fact, there is a 30 million-word gap that exists between high-income children and low-income children by the time they start elementary school.

How can parents ensure their child does not fall between the cracks? Here are four ways you can get involved in your child’s education. 

  1. Read together every day.

Studies show that early literacy tends to foster healthy brain development; the earlier kids learn to read, the better they will do in other subjects. The nationwide non-profit, Raising a Reader, based in San Mateo, California, offers many avenues for parents to get their child excited about reading. They encourage the daily practice of “book cuddling”, a time for sharing a story together.

“It’s all about sharing the books,” explains Gabrielle Miller, Executive Director of Raising a Reader, “We always cycle back to the very rich powerful effect of a parent’s voice, not that others aren’t important, but parents have a particularly powerful voice.”

Miller also encourages those parents who are not strong readers to try sharing a book. You do not need to read the book to share it with your child. Open it up and start telling a story about what you see on the page. Play a game with your child, pretend to tell a story just from the pictures. Even better, let him help you tell the story.

  1. Have vocabulary-rich conversations.

Speaking to your child is just as important for literacy growth as reading to him. Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island Kid’s Count, a campaign to close the gap in reading levels between low-income students and their higher income peers, says literacy-rich interaction between a parent and a child is key. In a small snippet of conversation, hundreds of words and images are exchanged. Those words are important building blocks to a rich vocabulary.

Talk to them about anything and everything—how a thermometer works, what colors things are, the lyrics to songs. It is important to create a literacy-rich home environment at the earliest age possible.

  1. Open up communication between Pre K/K and elementary school teachers.

Experts agree that preschool is a fundamental, yet often overlooked part of schooling. Commonly, the PreK and K-12 systems do not communicate, which leaves room for gaps in learning, and opens the possibility of under-preparing or over-preparing a child for the elementary years.

“You absolutely have to both start earlier and have this integration and connection, every bit of the way, from birth to third grade,” says Bryant. Don’t undervalue the preschool years. Find out what your child is learning, what they will be learning and how you can prepare them every step of the way.

  1. Use your resources.

The first stop in locating resources is your local library. Not only does it provide reading material, it is also a great place to meet other parents. You can also use the library to research additional community hubs in your area, such as the YMCA, local nonprofits or after school programs.

Take for example, the Philadelphia School District’s innovative idea: Parent University. It is the school district’s innovative new series of workshops, created specifically for parents. They offer 52 different classes, including “English as a Second Language”, “Educational Conversations”, and even a class called “How to Make Parent-Teacher Conferences Work for Your Child”. All of these classes are free for parents in the district, and most are aimed at training parents to be more involved in their children’s education.

One of the best things you can do to help your child is to educate yourself. Find out what resources your school provides for parents and get yourself involved.