Parent involvement is an essential element in a contemporary, up-to-date school today. In all kinds of schools, from public to private and in between, principals, teachers and administrators devote much time and energy to involving parents in their children’s schools. Parents are recruited to help in classrooms, to lend a hand in the front office, to organize fundraisers, and to chaperone field trips and prom dances. Some parents serve on school committees and on the PTA.
These parents are clearly involved. The problem is that they are involved in helping the school but not their own children. A recent book by journalist Amanda Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, looks at the implications of this kind of parent involvement. She spent a year studying schooling in several countries and found that the results of a 2009 study in 13 countries were true: the children of parents who volunteered in their school performed worse in reading than children whose parents did not.
The explanation is fairly simple: most parents today have limited free time. The hours parents devote to helping the school operate could be better spent helping their children at home.
Dr. Herbert J. Walberg has calculated that from birth to age 19, the average child spends 8 percent of his or her time in school and 92 percent at home. Whether we choose to or not, our children will learn from us. This learning begins at birth and continues right up to kindergarten. During these years children acquire an amazing amount of knowledge. They learn to walk, run, and play games and sports. They acquire a language (sometimes two), they learn to read, and they develop social skills. They explore their world, starting with what they see in their cribs and continuing through their home and neighborhood.
This is quite a curriculum. It can be very challenging for many parents. Unfortunately, most schools don’t become involved with these children until they are officially enrolled in school. So parents need to seek help in being the first teachers from social agencies, formal and informal groups of parents, family members and whatever help books and videos they can find.
Once the child enters school, the parent is largely relieved of the responsibility for formal education; the professional teachers take over. The parent’s role shifts to two major responsibilities: supporting the child in learning what is taught at school and advocating for the child with the school.
Supporting learning at home involves such activities as:
Insuring good health, seeing that the child eats properly and sleeps enough, making sure the backpack has the required books, pencils, assignments due, etc.
An Environment for Learning
This environment can be a room or a desk in a corner or the kitchen table. It must be free from TV, music, phones, and other distractions. Multitasking rarely works for studying.
Parents should guide and supervise a child’s homework but not do it. Know the assignment and the due date and check to see what grade the teacher gives.
Speak with the teacher on a regular basis, not just when there’s a problem. Advocating for one’s child may require intervening when grades are suffering or if a behavior problem has occurred. This doesn’t mean a confrontation with the teacher or the principal. Most issues can be resolved if the parent and the teacher or principal work together.
Parental involvement shouldn’t be about parents helping the school. Rather, the parents should be helping their children succeed in school as involved partners.