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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