Parent involvement and significance in the child’s learning journey is growing and changing. Parents are the critical stakeholders in the education system, and parent involvement deserves as much attention in the public as teachers, students, and the education content.
Learning happens through interactions with parents, teachers and peers. Education serves it purpose best when its evolution is one step ahead of the general evolution of society. Historically, teachers were the ones with a better access to knowledge and, consequently, were at a superior capacity to give learners knowledge of the world. And education served its purpose.
It is quite a different picture today. There are a growing number of parents with an exceeding breadth and depth of knowledge of the world and technologies. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened a rare window for parents to truly see how their child is learning. The view has not been always pleasing.
Let’s discuss why and how involving parents in education can help bridge the gap between the past and future education.
What parent are you?
If we talk to parents about the depth of their engagement in their child’s learning, the answers will be quite different. Every family (and often, every member of the family) has a unique set of life values which greatly impacts their approach to raising children.
Some favor less parental involvement, more child independence, more risk and failures. Others enjoy being with their child in every new milestone and prefer being well-informed about their child’s development. There are “helicopter” parents who try their very best to protect their children from challenges that may occur in their lives, and “gardener” parents who support their children by all means, but, at the same time, encourage their children to be independent. “Virtual” parents think it is the school’s responsibility to take care of their children’s wellbeing. And there are so many more parent and parenting types – bulldozer parents, tiger moms, permissive parents, authoritarian parents, authoritative parents, conscious parents, attachment parenting, free-range parenting, holistic parenting…
When it comes to child’s learning, all types of parents share the same wish for their children to do well.
How can parents improve their child’s chance to do well educationally?
There is a misconception that we need to ‘teach’ children, especially the need to develop their literacy and numeracy skills. We worry they are going to fall behind and, of course, we all want the best for our children. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that young children learn and develop best through play. We don’t need to ‘teach’ our children. Through play children can develop their confidence, self-esteem, communication and core attitudes.
When we‘re all at home, particularly during lockdown, the habbits, daily routines, and learning skills of your children become clearly visible (sometimes, painfully!). This is where we can get involved meaningfully in our child’s learning journey. We need to focus on building the long-standing foundations of learning – attitudes and behaviours such as persistence, resilience, collaboration, risk-taking.
For example, developing a habbit to exercise is more important than the improved body image. Building a growth mindset is more important than a folding a perfect paperplane or getting a high grade.
If it sounds to you like a lot of hard work, you may be right. Raising a child has never been easy.
Be there for your child
However, there are simple yet powerful things we can do everyday with our children. Helen Pearson, science journalist, editor, and author, describes, ‘Quite small things that parents do are associated with a child doing better in life. Things like talking and listening to a child, responding to them warmly, teaching them their letters and numbers, taking them on trips and visits. Reading to them every day seems really important too.’
The pandemic took away one of the most crucial part of going to school, i.e., socialisation and belonging to their own „tribe”. As parents we cannot replace the tribe, but we can make our child feel that we are always ready to openly talk about anything and even play their games. Since the beginning of my son‘s school closure, I‘ve tried many games and downloaded apps which do not interest me at all. It is a simple small act that supports my child‘s emotional wellbeing, and I can see how important that is to him.
“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see”. John F. Kenedy
What parent involvement works to disadvantage?
OECD collected statistics which says that 47% of schools involve parents. The question is the depth and intention of such involvement. Let’s take a frequent case when teachers assign homework and tasks which require parents’ help. Is that a needed parent involvement? Another typical case – giving parents feedback only when their children perform and/or behave poorly.
Neither of those examples presents a good case for parent involvement. Doing homework assignments with children may have a good benefit of bringing parents and children closer, but let’s leave this goal for the family. Children learn taking full responsibility for their work and develop self-confidence when they perform on their own. It is more important than the actual result of the completed assignment. Surely, children should learn how and when it is time to ask for their help, and parents can always help when asked. But parents had already completed their school assigments long time ago, and I would not bother them anymore for this particular purpose.
Receiving negative news from their child’s school doesn’t help to build bridges. None of us like to receive negative feedback, so if the only time you contact a parent is when their child is in trouble – the outcome is going to be a negative relationship between the family and the school. This usually means the child and their education will suffer as a result.
How can school meaningfully involve parents in education?
Learning happens through interactions with teachers, parents, and peers. Parents want to know what is happening at school. This wish to know should not be taken as a wish to control. Knowing what their child is learning inspires family conversations about the experiences of parents around the topic. Shared experiences and informal conversations help children understand the topic better and, more importantly, answer the question “why do I have to learn this?”.
Parents often sincerely want to share their knowledge with their child’s school. It is a FREE untapped learning source for schools. Make a visit to one of the class parents workplace once per month or biweekly, and afterwards adjust learning curriculum for children to reflect on their impressions. Ask families which travel to interesting places share their travelling stories with the class, and later dive into the specific culture or geography topics deeper.
Effective parent involvement will not only help building a strong school community of teachers, learners AND parents. It will help developing positive relationships among the education stakeholders and bring the most current knowledge of the world which cannot be found in textbooks. Parent involvement is an undervalued opportunity for building a bridge to the future of education.
Let’s get down to the shortlists of efforts that can help schools meaninfully involve parents in education:
- Open a window into their child’s education – share information with the parents on the current projects.
- Share the positives their child is achieving.
- Encourage parents to read for or with their child.
- Help parents understand where their child needs help. Focus your feedback on learning skills, core attitudes, and growth mindset.
- Avoid giving homework for parents. It is the child who is on the educational journey.
- Encourage and invite parents to share their unique knowledge with the class.
- Build strong and inspiring community. It takes a village to raise a child.
If you are a parent, get involved in your child‘s learning journey wisely:
- Be there for your child.
- Focus on developing the right attitudes, skills, and habbits for life.
- Bring your unique knowledge and experience to your child’s school.
- Consult with the teachers what tools and toys you can use at home to align learning and play experiences.
- Play your child’s favorite games.
- Find a playful way to share your unique knowledge with the child.
- Suggest your child that learning happens both inside and outside school, both from teachers and from other people, even their peers.
“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see”. John F. Kenedy