Engaging Parents in Children’s Learning: Tough, Perhaps. But Key at Any Age

By the time they are three years old, children from low-income families have heard 30 million fewer words than children of wealthier professionals, according to groundbreaking research conducted by early childhood scholars Betty Hart and Todd Risley in the 1990s. Learning specialist Susan Landry attributes this in part to a statement she often hears from young moms: “I didn’t know I was supposed to talk to my baby until they could say words and talk to me.”

Across the country, new initiatives are under way to address such misconceptions and teach parents how important they are in developing their child’s vocabulary, the New York Times reported in an article on Tuesday. One such initiative, “Too Small to Fail”—supported by the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies—hopes to reach Latino parents through advertisements on the Spanish-language TV network Univision. But many of these initiatives, like Providence Talks, in Rhode Island, diverge from traditional public service-like campaigns and bring their message directly into the homes of low-income parents through home visits and wearable recording devices called “Lenas,” which track the words spoken around a child.

Attention to the role of parents in early childhood development raises an important point for education and expanded learning in general: home environment and parental involvement are crucial to a child’s learning at any age. In the expanded learning and after-school field, programs that do not involve families in their children’s learning are missing out on an important opportunity. An evidence review from ExpandED Schools by TASC highlights three key variables that affect parents’ involvement in their children’s school and learning: parental self-efficacy (knowledge base and self-confidence); aspirations and expectations; and perception of school receptivity. Read the review for ideas on how best to engage parents in bringing learning home.

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Outgrow the Stereotype: Helping Girls Become Lifelong STEM Lovers

Marie Curie, Sally Ride, Jane Goodall. They pushed past gender barriers and broke new ground in STEM fields. Yet even as we celebrate them during Women’s History Month, we note that science and technology jobs continue to be dominated by men. Despite growing efforts to engage girls in science, women still hold only a quarter of all STEM jobs, the same percentage they held in 2000.

Girls in STEMInformal science programs have great potential to attract young girls to STEM fields. A broad study of out-of-school time (OST) science programs found that, across all polled programs, girls accounted for 56 percent of program populations, on average—and much more for certain organization types. But simply attracting girls to OST science programs isn’t enough. Programs need to implement strong, girl-specific curricula and instructional practices that equip girls to deal with negative social pressures and prepare them to be competitive in STEM fields.

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Read All About It: Tools for Advancing Informal STEM Education

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We’re excited to share with you the second edition of our FUSE Resource Guide, hot off the presses. The guide features lessons and advice from promising initiatives around the country, as well as tools and resources to help you improve informal STEM in your community—not to mention a snazzy new design.

If you aren’t already familiar, Frontiers in Urban Science Exploration (FUSE) is an initiative led by Every Hour Counts to institutionalize engaging, inquiry-based, informal STEM education nationally. It was developed in response to the observed lack of opportunities to spark enthusiasm for and sustained interest in STEM fields among students of all ages, especially in under-served communities. With limited pathways for young people today—especially girls and low-income and minority youth—to enter the STEM fields, expanded learning programs offer an ideal setting to engage students in STEM learning.

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Research Round-Up: Exciting Outcomes

The latest research from Deborah Lowe Vandell and her colleagues at UC Irvine suggests that consistent participation in high-quality after-school programming by elementary school students (K-5) vastly narrows the achievement gap between students from low-income and high-income families by the fifth grade (see infographic). Vandell’s study did not describe the content of the afterschool programs in her study, but several other recent studies have shown that similar outcomes may result from a variety of program models:

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  • A YMCA study published earlier this year found that students who participated actively in their High School Youth Initiative program—a summer and after-school program focused on technology skills, leadership, and homework help—had higher grades and test scores in math and language arts, as well as improved overall GPAs and higher attendance as they progressed in school. Participating youth came from low-income families and diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • A study of youth development in minority boys who participated in the Sport Hartford Boys (SHB) program indicated that involvement in the program positively influenced the participants emotionally and socially, as gauged by their development in the “6 C’s”— competence, character, caring, confidence, connection, and contribution. The “6 C’s” are a set of characteristics identified by developmental scientists as indicators of positive youth development and future success.
  • A case-study series of four California schools found that implementing “student-centered” practices, such as connecting learning to real-world experiences and assigning student-directed research projects, dramatically improved the college readiness of low-income and minority students as compared to their peers in traditional schools in the same districts and across the state.

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