We have stressed in this text that children are motivated to work on activities and learn new information and skills when their environments are rich in interesting activities that arouse their curiosity and offer moderate challenges. The same can be said about the home environment. Unfortunately, there is much variability in motivational influences in homes. Some homes have many activities that stimulate children’s thinking, as well as computers, books, puzzles, and the like. Parents may be heavily invested in their children’s cognitive development, and spend time with them on learning. Other homes do not have these resources and adults in the environment may pay little attention to children’s education (Eccles et al., 1998).

Much of the variability in the relation between family income and children’s intellectual development comes not from SES but rather from the family’s provision of a stimulating home environment (Young, Linver, & Brooks-Gunn, 2002). As Meece (2002) noted:

Few child development researchers today question the influence of the environment on children’s intellectual development...Children’s intellectual development is most strongly influenced by the home environment during infancy and early childhood when they are under the direct influence of parents. As children mature, schools and peers also begin to play a role in their intellectual socialization. (p. 208)

There is much evidence supporting the hypothesis that the quality of a child’s early learning in the home environment relates positively to the development of intelligence and reading skills (Meece, 2002; Sénéchal & Lefevre, 2002), and parental involvement in schooling also predicts achievement (Englund, Luckner, Whaley, & Egeland, 2004). Various home factors have been shown to be important: mother’s responsiveness, discipline style, and involvement with the child; organization of the environment; availability of appropriate learning materials; opportunities for daily stimulation. Parents who provide a warm, responsive, and supportive home environment; encourage exploration; stimulate curiosity; and provide play and learning materials accelerate their children’s intellectual development (Meece, 2002).

Gottfried, Fleming, and Gottfried (1998) conducted longitudinal research examining the role of cognitive stimulation in the home on children’s academic intrinsic motivation. Home environment variables measured included family discussions; attendance at cultural events; library visits; trips taken; importance of reading; provision of private lessons; access to play equipment; and family interest in music, art, and literature. The authors assessed home environment when children were age 8 and academic motivation at ages 9, 10, and 13.

The results showed that children whose homes had greater cognitive stimulation displayed higher academic motivation from ages 9 through 13. The effect of SES was indirect: Families of higher SES were more likely to provide cognitively stimulating home environments, which in turn directly increased academic motivation. The fact that home environment effects were both short- and long-term suggests that home environment continues to play a role in early adolescence when peer influence becomes more powerful. These results highlight the need for parent awareness programs that teach them how to provide rich learning experiences for their children.

Within the home environment, we must examine both the roles of mothers and fathers, because differential parent behavior has often been implicated as a variable affecting children’s development (Eccles et al., 1998; Volling & Elins, 1998). Eccles et al. (1998) listed six potential parental beliefs that can influence children’s motivational beliefs:

  1. attributions for the child’s school performance,
  2. perceptions of the task difficulty of schoolwork,
  3. expectations and confidence in children’s abilities,
  4. values for schoolwork,
  5. actual achievement standards, and
  6. beliefs about barriers to success and strategies for overcoming these barriers.