Other Forms of Parent Involvement (page 3)
Parents As Teachers
Typically developing children learn many skills that children with disabilities do not learn without systematic instruction. For children with disabilities, the casual routines of everyday life at home and in the community may not provide enough practice and feedback to teach them important skills. Many parents of exceptional children have responded to this challenge by systematically teaching their children self-help and daily living skills or by providing home-based academic tutoring to supplement classroom instruction.
Parents can serve as effective teachers for their children, a conclusion supported by numerous research studies and parent involvement projects in which parents have successfully taught their children at home (e.g., Barbetta & Heron, 1991; Leach & Siddall, 1992; Thurston & Dasta, 1990). Research shows that parents can enhance the development of children with disabilities by teaching them at home (e.g., Baker, 1989; Delaney & Kaiser, 2001; Snell & Beckman-Brindley, 1984; Wedel & Fowler, 1984). And the majority of parents who participate in systematic home tutoring programs organized by their child’s school describe it as a positive experience for them and their children. A mother and father wrote: “We really enjoyed teaching M. to tell time, and he enjoyed working with us. He learned so quickly and we were so happy and proud to see the progress he was making. We have two other children. Doing this program allowed us to spend time alone with M.” (Donley & Williams, 1997, p. 50).
Usually, if parents wish to tutor their children at home, they can and should be helped to do so. Properly conducted, home-based parent tutoring strengthens a child’s educational program and gives enjoyment to both child and parent. Guidelines for home-based parent tutoring include the following (Bowen, Olympia, & Jensen, 1996; Hudson & Miller, 1993):
- Keep sessions short. Aim for 15- to 20-minute sessions 3 or 4 days per week.
- Make the experience positive. Parents should praise the child’s attempts.
- Keep responses to the child consistent. By praising the child’s successful responses (materials and activities at the child’s appropriate instructional level are a must) and providing a consistent, unemotional response to errors (e.g., “Let’s read that word again, together”), parents can avoid the frustration and negative results that can occur when home tutoring is mishandled.
- Use tutoring to practice and extend skills already learned in school. For example, use spelling or vocabulary words from school as the questions or items for an adapted board game (Wesson, Wilson, & Higbee Mandelbaum, 1988).
- Keep a record. Parents, like classroom teachers, can never know the exact effects of their teaching unless they keep records. A daily record enables both parents and child to see gradual progress that might be missed if subjective opinion is the only basis for evaluation. Most children do make progress under guided instruction, and a record documents that progress, perhaps providing the parent with an opportunity to see the child in a new and positive light.
It is important for professionals to consider carefully to what extent parent tutoring is appropriate. Not all parents want to teach their children at home or have the time to learn and use the necessary teaching skills—and professionals must not interpret that situation as an indication that parents do not care enough about their children. Teachers must not assume that parents who choose not to participate in home teaching programs are uninterested in their children. Some parents may choose not to do home tutoring because they feel it may compete with other activities in the home and negatively affect their family’s overall quality of life (Parette & Petch-Hogan, 2000).
For specific programs and techniques teachers can use to help parents who do wish to tutor their children at home, see Bowen et al. (1996) and Miller, Barbetta, and Heron (1994). For suggestions for supporting parents who want to help their children with homework and study skills, see Patton, Jayanthi, and Polloway (2001); Jensen, Sheridan, Olympia, and Andrews (1994); and Luckner (1994).
Parent Education and Support Groups
Education for parenting is not new; programs date back to the early 1800s. But as a result of greater parent involvement in the education of children with disabilities, many more programs are offered for and by parents. Parent groups can serve a variety of purposes: from one-time-only dissemination of information on a new school policy, to make-it-and-take-it workshops in which parents make instructional materials to use at home (e.g., a math facts practice game), to multiple-session programs on IEP/IFSP planning or behavior support strategies.
There is consistent agreement in the parent education literature on the importance of involving parents in planning and, whenever possible, actually conducting parent groups (Kroth & Edge, 1997; Turnbull & Turnbull, 2006). To determine what parents want from a parent program, educators should use both open and closed needs-assessment procedures. An open needs assessment consists of questions like these:
The best family time for my child is when we ___________.
I will never forget the time that my child and I ___________.
When I take my child to the store, I am concerned that she will ___________.
The hardest thing about having a special child is ___________.
I wish I knew more about ___________.
A closed needs assessment asks parents to choose, from a list of possibilities, topics they would like to learn more about. For example, educators can give parents a list of topics (e.g., bedtime behavior, interactions with siblings, homework, making friends, planning for the future) and ask them to check any item that is something of a problem and circle any topics that are of major concern or interest.
Bailey and Simeonsson (1988) have developed a family-needs survey consisting of 35 items organized into six categories (e.g., information, support, finances, family functioning). Because they have obtained different profiles of responses for mothers and fathers, they recommend that both mothers and fathers complete the survey. They also recommend combining open-ended questions with an overall assessment of family needs. They simply ask parents to list on a piece of paper their five greatest needs as a family. By examining the results of needs-assessment questionnaires, parents and professionals together can plan parent education groups that respond to families’ real needs.
Parent to Parent Groups
Parent to Parent programs help parents of children with special needs become reliable allies for one another (Santelli, Poyadue, & Young, 2001). The programs give parents of children with disabilities the opportunity to receive support from a veteran parent who has experienced or still is experiencing similar circumstances and challenges. It carefully matches trained and experienced parents in a one-to-one relationship with parents who have been newly referred to the program. “Because the two parents share so many common disability and family experiences, an immediacy of understanding is typically present in the match. This makes the informational and emotional support from the veteran parents all the more meaningful” (Santelli et al., 1997, p. 74). The first Parent to Parent program, called Pilot Parents, was formed in 1971 by the parent of a young child with Down syndrome in Omaha, Nebraska. Today, there are more than 550 active local Parent to Parent groups and 29 statewide programs.
Parents As Research Partners
Researchers in special education are concerned about the social validity of their studies (Schwartz & Baer, 1991). Are they investigating socially significant variables? Are the methods used to change student performance acceptable? Did the changes observed make any real difference in the child’s life? Who better than parents can identify meaningful outcomes, observe and measure performance in the home and community, and let researchers know if their ideas and findings have any real validity?
A model research-partnership program conducted at the Fred S. Keller School in New York embraces parents as full partners in conducting action research with their children. “The parents are the scientists, and they conduct empirical studies under the supervision of the schools’ parent educators” (Donley & Williams, 1997, p. 46). Parents are assisted in the development of their research projects by their child’s teachers, other parents, and a paid parent educator. The experience culminates with a poster session presentation at the end of the school year during which the parent-scientists display the academic, social, and affective gains achieved by their children. Donley and Williams recognize that some school programs do not have the resources to hire a parent educator. They provide several suggestions for schools with more limited resources to approximate their model.
Kay and Fitzgerald (1997) believe that collaborative action research projects foster closer bonds between teachers and parents and provide parents with the satisfaction of knowing what works with their child and why. They recommend that parents participate in action research by helping brainstorm research questions, collect performance data on their children, and share the outcomes with other parents and teachers. Kay and Fitzgerald recognize that involving parents in home-based research experiences can, at times, be overwhelming; but they view the benefits as far outweighing the disadvantages. Whether the parents participate as paid or volunteer members of a research team, they are involved in collecting performance data on their children, talking about these data on a regular basis with other parents, and displaying them in an informal and supportive environment at the end of the year (Donley & Williams, 1997).
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