Parent involvement in learning, not just fundraising, improves children’s achievements

Jun 3, 2014 by

Leah Young –

When it comes to giving an apple to a teacher there are three ways to go about it.

 

1. The parent can pop it into their child’s lunchbox and hope it isn’t eaten by the child or used to knock a rogue football out of a tree.

 

2. The parent can pop the apple into their own bag, walk with their child to school and pass the apple to the teacher and, while they’re there, discuss the upcoming art show.

 

Lauren Richardson, Zoe Brown, Patrick Manning and deputy principal Carolyn Withers. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

 

3. Before adding the apple to the lunch box, the parent can discuss the apple with their child, including the colour, fraction possibilities, and how this simple fruit led to Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.

 

The first scenario is clearly the easiest and comes from the mindset that children are sent to school to be taught about colour, fractions and mathematical theories. The second relates to parents who like to be involved with their child’s school. This is the enthusiastic bunch who generally joins the school council, cooks the sausages and cheers at the athletic carnivals.

 

The third group, who might never help at a working bee or sell a plant at the school fete, is what parent advocates call engaged parents. And, if the many reports written on this topic are correct, it’s these parents who can make a significant difference to the academic achievement and wellbeing of their child.

 

Caz Bosch, President of the Australian Parents Council in Launceston, says it’s important to understand the difference between parental involvement in schooling and parental engagement in learning. ‘‘Parent involvement typically refers to school-based activities like school committees. It doesn’t capture all the parental attitudes and behaviours that can influence children’s learning in positive and negative ways. Research suggests that parental involvement doesn’t necessarily result in improved academic outcomes.’’

 

Parental engagement, on the other hand, seems to be a more encompassing concept. ‘‘Research suggests that it’s the connection and ongoing parental engagement in a child’s learning that is the crucial area that assists with student achievement,’’ says Ms Charuni Weerasooriya, President of the Association of Parents and Friends of ACT Schools Inc. (APFACTS). ‘‘And this is the area we must start to deepen if we are to enable the aspirations of our young people to be fulfilled through education.’’

 

In his video, Parental and Community Engagement, Professor Charles Desforges, (former deputy vice-chancellor, University of Exeter), states when a child is seven, the effect of parents on their child’s achievement is 0.29 per cent while the school’s effect is 0.05 per cent. He also points out that when it comes to the academic success of their child, it’s ‘‘what a parent does, not who they are’’, that has the most impact.

 

So how do parents become engaged? Is it a matter of simply cutting up the apple and explaining that four quarters equal one whole apple? Apparently, yes.

 

‘‘Some of the really important contributions parents make begin early in a child’s life,’’ says Ian Dalton, executive director of APC. ‘‘Reading to children, counting with children and talking about colours, these things help children to see learning as a natural thing to do and equips them with the foundational attitudes they’ll need to get the best out of their formal learning environments.’’

 

For parents with older children, they can engage with simple conversations or by discussing specific areas of interest more deeply. ‘‘Talking about real world examples of things their children have learnt models interest and the importance of learning,’’ says Ms Weerasooriya.

 

The problem is, while many parents enjoy reading and cooking and even helping with algebra homework, not all parents feel confident enough or best equipped to engage with their child’s learning. ‘‘This is often the case when parents have had limited schooling or unhappy schooling experiences,’’ Mr Dalton says.

 

However, he believes that even in these cases parents can be taught how to become engaged. ‘‘Research shows that if parents who are not engaged with their children’s learning can be helped to understand that they can play a role in supporting their child and are shown some of the things they can do, and that they can make a real difference, they will generally engage willingly and effectively.’’

 

To prove it, the Australian Parents Council has developed two programs to assist parents with parental engagement, The Indigenous Parent Factor (IPF) and Successful Learning – The Parent Factor. These programs are designed to boost confidence among parents and carers so they’re more comfortable with the idea of becoming engaged with their child’s learning.

 

In a letter from Janette Allen, superintendent at the Boronia Pre-release Centre, in Western Australia, she says: ‘‘The IPF workshops with prisoners reach out to some of the most disempowered and disadvantaged indigenous parents in our society, and assist them to gain skills that will positively influence their children’s chances of a successful experience within the school system, even while their parent is still incarcerated.’’

 

Mr Dalton adds: ‘‘Engaged parents mean that children improve their school attendance rates, they stay in the education system longer, they have general improved wellbeing and they are better adjusted socially.’’

 

Of course, educating parents to become engaged is one thing; ensuring that schools embrace the idea is another. ‘‘Schools are busy places and have a range of competing demands,’’ Ms Weerasooriya says.

 

Mr Dalton adds that when some school leaders and teachers hear the term ‘‘parental engagement’’ they have visions of parents interfering in their work or adding to their already busy workload. ‘‘Parental engagement requires commitment from schools to value and engage with parents and recognise that parents are the first and ongoing educators of their children.’’

 

The good news is most schools agree that parental involvement and engagement improve academic achievement. As we stroll through the lush kitchen garden at Kingsville Primary School in Melbourne’s inner west, assistant principal Carolyn Withers explains the garden, which was a paddock of mud when the BER program finished up two years ago, was designed, created and built solely by parent volunteers. The children now maintain it with the assistance of parent volunteers and teachers.

 

‘‘We actively promote and encourage parental engagement and involvement,’’ Ms Withers says. ‘‘And while it’s not possible to definitively make the link between academic performance and parental engagement we can see the impact on student engagement. Simply put, parents taking an interest in their child’s school life, not just academic pursuits, certainly sends a strong message of the value of learning.’’

 

Ms Withers believes most parents at Kingsville Primary School are keen to work in partnership with teachers and students. ‘‘As an IB World school implementing the Primary Years Program, our parents are invaluable as primary resources and are encouraged to share their expertise, interests and stories with students.’’

 

However, Ms Weerasooriya believes the current schooling culture still has the capacity to grow to ensure there are strong partnerships between parents and schools. This, she believes, will ensure more students are successful and the responsibility of learning is shared. ‘‘The in-school factors of pedagogy, curriculum and even motivated and skilled teachers are not enough to build lifelong learning in young people. Developing a culture of systemic practice that values and trusts in the partnership between parents and schools, is an investment not only in our young people but a down payment in building a better connected and supported society.’’

 

Note: Jonathan apples are now on special for $3.99 a kilo. If the recommended retail price is $5 a kilo, how much will you save if you buy two kilos? Go on – engage with your children and work it out together.

 

FURTHER READING:

 

The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review

 

Parental engagement in learning and schooling: Lessons from research.

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via Parent involvement in learning, not just fundraising, improves children’s achievements.

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