Parenting Beliefs & Behaviors: What Matters Most
Educators know well what research continues to show: school success is significantly improved when parents are full partners in children's learning. How can schools help families support learning? Educators need to recognize the many ways families contribute to children's learning, and offer a range of supports. No single parent or family factor has been found to predict school readiness and achievement. Rather, a pattern of parent beliefs and behaviors shapes family learning environments.Three dimensions are particularly important to early school success.
Family verbal environment: Children's everyday experience with language is a powerful predictor of academic success. It is especially valuable for children to have conversations at home that:
- involve increasingly diverse words and sentence structures;
- support the child's expression of ideas and enable the child to help guide the interaction;
- provide the child with choices.
Family mealtimes and shared book reading are great opportunities for meaningful conversation. Studies show it is helpful for children to retell activities, and to extend discussion of a book to their lives and interests. Adults can help by asking open questions. Children learn more by answering a question with many possible responses ("What happened at school today?") rather than a "yes/no" question ("Did you have a good day at school?").
Routines and materials: Supports for learning are deeply embedded in family routines. Parents can foster routines that actively bolster education, such as keeping well-established times and places for homework; reading books, and talking about past and future activities and interests; making age-appropriate reading and writing materials available. Parents own reading habits and use of literacy to get information, are models for children. Children of parents who view reading as a source of information and pleasure generally have a more positive view of reading.
Expectations of learning and development: What parents think about how children develop, and how they as parents contribute, are important influences on school outcomes. School success is associated with parents who:
- See the child as an active contributor, rather than a passive recipient of learning;
- Have high expectations for school achievement;
- Believe they can and should exert a positive influence on their child's education.
Connecting With Parents also requires a broad view of how families contribute to children's learning. A single method is unlikely to be widely successful.
Foster relationships: Supportive connections require on-going relationships, rather than one-shot events. To be supportive, schools must learn how parents view their roles, and understand their goals for their children, then tailor information to their interests. Educators must approach parents as individuals rather than as a group, and find ways to connect with parents who cannot come to the school.
Provide different learning opportunities: Some parents respond best to a parenting workshop or group discussion. Others learn most effectively through one-on-one exchanges with their child's teacher, and still others prefer written resources. One size does not fit all!
Incorporate families into the classroom: Our cultural diversity requires schools to embrace the range of family traditions and interests represented in its classrooms. Literacy activities like family-made books provide simple yet affirming ways to acknowledge the enriching value of family life to learning.
Dr. Douglas Powell, Professor of Developmental Studies; Head, Department of Child Development and Family Studies, Purdue University, Indiana
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