Top 13 Reasons Why Parent Engagement Is Important in Education
At first glance, statistics on parent engagement in schools look promising. In a 2007 survey tracking parental involvement, 89 percent of respondents indicated that they had attended a PTO or other school meeting in the past year. Similarly, 78 percent attended a parent-teacher conference, 65 percent did fundraising for their kids’ school and 46 percent volunteered on a committee at the school.
While these numbers make it clear that the majority of parents are engaged, they also demonstrate that the benefits of parental involvement in early childhood education have not yet compelled 100 percent of parents to become involved. Furthermore, while the survey cited above reflected positive changes and growth in parental involvement, numbers declined between 2007 and 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
In other words, while many parents understand the importance of parent involvement in early childhood, there is still a significant number that struggles to engage, regardless of their desire to do so.
As an institution committed to early childhood education, we are equally committed to promoting how parents can help their children learn. We understand that providing for a family economically can often conflict with attending parent-teacher conferences or PTO meetings. For households with either a single parent or two working parents, sometimes families must make tough choices about how they allot their time.
With that in mind, this guide is designed to explain how parents can be involved in a child’s learning, regardless of their work schedule. If you are eager to support your young learner, but you worry you can’t because of your work commitments, this guide will give you the tools to do both without becoming overstressed.
Why Is Parent Engagement in Education Important?
According to repeated studies, parent engagement correlates with improved student performance both academically and socially. Furthermore, these studies demonstrate different racial or socio-economic backgrounds are not as influential as the level of parental engagement.
First and foremost, students with engaged parents do better on tests, receive consistently better grades and are more likely to enroll in more challenging programs. Not only do they do well in school, but they are also proactive about challenging themselves.
Studies have also demonstrated school success is contingent on attendance, and students with engaged parents miss less school.
However, beyond academic performance, the children of parents who are involved also display better social skills, are more adaptive to new situations and have fewer behavior issues.
If there are issues with behavior or academic performance, involved parents are also quicker to address the problem. Present parents can intervene sooner, and they become aware of any issues more immediately. Plus, more active collaboration between teachers, administrators and parents will allow all involved to address small issues that might go unnoticed on their own, but over time, could become more serious.
Additionally, when compared to other initiatives designed to increase student performance or improve student health, parent engagement efforts are more effective. For example, when it comes to youth health initiatives, such as anti-tobacco education, such efforts did not improve youth health to levels equal to that of parental engagement. While school programs should continue educating children about the dangers of tobacco use or the harm caused by bullying, effective parent engagement initiatives make the goals of other programs more achievable.
Further, parent engagement initiatives are easier to aim at a wide range of age groups, meaning these initiatives can function as interventions for younger kids for whom other student health initiatives would be inappropriate.
What Exactly Is Parent Engagement in Education?
It’s easy to define parent engagement. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Parent engagement in schools is defined as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning, development and health of children and adolescents.”
But what does this collaboration look like?
Perhaps it would be best to start with what parent engagement is not. We’ve recently seen the rise of the term “helicopter parent” — someone who intervenes so quickly and so often their child never has a chance to learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately, children who grow up with helicopter parents lack the space to grow, and often become resentful of their parents.
It is important to remember a child is their own person. They need to have the space to explore their personality and uncover their desires and dreams. But they are not adults, so they still need a safety net. There will always be times a child will need to feel a parent’s support, as that support will give them the confidence to take risks and try out new ideas.
In other words, a helicopter parent doesn’t give a child the opportunity to come up with solutions on their own, while an unengaged parent can leave a child feeling unsafe in the same situations. Any program of parent engagement must reflect the balance between being overprotective and being overly detached.
Parental engagement also isn’t a single event, but instead a pattern of support that extends across the entirety of a child’s educational experience. Ideally, parental engagement should begin as soon as a child’s formal educational experience starts. By the time a student enters preschool, a parent should begin exploring strategies of how to be effectively involved.
Top 13 Strategies for Improving Parental Involvement
With that in mind, let’s explore some effective strategies for encouraging parental involvement. These strategies reflect a wide variety of time commitments, meaning both parents with flexible availability and those with a demanding work schedule can find a strategy that works best for them:
Become a Class Parent
Admittedly, becoming a class parent is a time commitment. Once you volunteer for such a position, the school will grow to depend on you. If you have spare time, that partnership can be extremely valuable for the school, your child and you. However, if you can’t commit to being there regularly, volunteering as a class parent can be more of a headache than a help to the school.
Class parenting does not require you to work in your child’s class specifically. In fact, if you are concerned about being overprotective, volunteering elsewhere in the school is an excellent way to get involved, while also giving your child space. Your presence in the school will be reassuring, but they also won’t feel the constant need to act differently because their mom or dad is in the room. Even volunteering in the front office can have a profound impact.
Not only will class parenting support your child, but it will also give you a better sense of what your child does throughout the day. It will help you make more home/school connections, finding ways to bring the curriculum into your home so your child’s educational experience doesn’t end when they leave school.
Assist With Extracurricular Activities
If you can’t commit to regularly volunteering at the school, but you have occasional availability, consider volunteering to facilitate an extracurricular activity. Maybe students are planning to take a field trip and they need chaperones, or maybe the school has a holiday event that requires extra logistical support. By pitching in and helping, you will demonstrate you are there for your child, while also giving you an opportunity to have face time with teachers and students. Since these events don’t happen regularly, you won’t have to make time in your weekly schedule.
At FishCreek Kids Academy, some events you might find enjoyable to help with include: Muffins with Mom, Donuts with Dad, Breakfast with Santa and the Summer Celebration in June.
Serve as a Reading Partner
Studies show young minds succeed when they are constantly engaged in literacy-building activities. Reading aloud with children greatly expands their vocabularies, aids them in understanding grammar and mastery of words. It can also help children become better listeners.
Unfortunately, even in classrooms with low teacher-student ratios, it can sometimes be hard to give students the one-on-one time for literacy development that will help them thrive.
To expand reading opportunities — whether by partnering with students as they read or by reading to children one-on-one — schools often seek out reading partners. Volunteering for such a position does not require an advanced degree in early childhood development — just an adult willing to sit with a student and either read to them or assist them as they read.
Reading partners can also serve as valuable mentors. For those who might be behind in literacy, reading aloud or attempting to read can be frustrating and embarrassing. By partnering with an adult, students can feel safer as they struggle, which is crucial, because student reading will not improve without sustained practice.
Like a classroom parent position, it is best to serve as a reading partner with a student who is not your child. That way, you’ll be able to interact with some of your child’s peers and remain visible without being overbearing. This is a position best suited for someone who can make consistent time in their weekly schedule, as children will often come to depend on their reading partner, and sporadic engagement can be hard on the student.
Donate Gently Used or New Toys to Your Child’s Classroom or School
Especially in preschool and elementary school, play is an important way for children to learn and develop necessary life skills. Unstructured playtime encourages children to learn and enhance their creativity, emotional recognition and cognitive skills. When they engage with other kids, play also aids in social skill development such as negotiation, sharing and more.
Tactile materials are often helpful in fostering an environment that inspires playing, which is crucial in early childhood classrooms. If drawers and closets in your home are bursting with toys your child no longer plays with, you might consider donating them to the school.
Gently used or new items that can be extremely useful in the classroom include:
- Craft supplies
- Wooden blocks
- Costume items that can be used for dress up
- Puzzles and board games
- Activities that develop fine motor skills such as lacing cards
- Markers, crayons and other drawing supplies
Even if these toys don’t go to your child’s classroom, they can have an impact on other classrooms in the school — which is beneficial for everyone. Check with your child’s teacher or the school to see if there are specific items they need.
Volunteer for a Special Project
Is your child’s class doing a special activity or covering a topic that’s important to you and that you have experience with? Ask your child’s teacher if you can help with it.
This can be ideal for parents with a busy schedule. You may not have time to be in class once a week or even every couple of weeks. But if you can spare a few hours, you can make a project even more special for your child when you’re there to help. You’ll build a bond with your child as well as the other children in class, create memories and perhaps even provide a spark of inspiration to get a child excited about something they otherwise wouldn’t be.
Spread the Word About Your Child’s School With an Online Review
You can find just about everything online, including information about your child’s school. Help spread the word about how great the school is with an online review. When more parents know about the quality of education their children will receive, it means more attendance. In turn, this leads to expanding programs, more resources and more activities — a win, win for everyone!
Not sure about what to include in your school review? Try to include information you’d want to know if you were a parent trying to find a school for your child. Maybe the extracurricular activities are top-notch, or the regular hands-on activities really help to foster a love of learning. Perhaps the staff’s enthusiasm and passion for teaching creates the ideal atmosphere to learn. Add whatever qualities you feel will spark positive interest. Just try to avoid overly personal information as this could make it harder for people to relate.
Make Playdough or Other Homemade Items for the Class
Sometimes, the toys that are the most fun are the ones handcrafted at home. Playdough is a tried-and-true classic toy that is easy to make at home with your child. Craft it together, and then have your child take it to class for everyone to play with.
Homemade playdough recipes like this one use just a few ingredients you probably already have at home:
- 2 Tbs coconut or vegetable oil
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 2 cups flour
- ¾ cup salt
- 4 tsp cream of tartar
Mix the flour, salt and cream of tartar together in a large cooking pot. Add in the water and the oil. Stir constantly over medium heat until the dough thickens and starts forming a ball. Remove the pot from the heat and put your dough onto a piece of wax paper to let it cool just a little bit. Then, knead the dough until it feels smooth.
To make the dough different colors, separate the dough out into equal parts in as many colors as you’d like. Put the dough into separate quart-sized zip-top bags. Add a few drops of the food coloring to each bag — add more drops to make the dough brighter — and knead the dough to mix in the coloring. Once it’s the color you want it, it’s ready.
You might also try making salt-dough to share with the class for holiday ornaments or other special crafts.
Drop in and Read Your Child’s Favorite Book to the Class
Check with your child’s teacher first, but if it’s alright with them, try surprising your child with a visit to their class.
Sometimes, especially if you have more than one child, a job and other responsibilities, it can be tough to plan a set time to volunteer in the classroom. There’s nothing wrong with a little spontaneity though. If you have a day off or end up with a spare couple of hours in your day, drop in to your child’s classroom with their favorite book.
Reading out loud, of course, has many benefits. Also, students always enjoy having guests visit, and your child will feel special to have that guest be their parent with their favorite book.
Attend Open Houses
Open houses, often called back-to-school nights, are the go-to event for getting even the busiest parents connected with teachers. As much as possible, parents should do what they can to at least attend a child’s open house night at the beginning of the year.
If your school isn’t scheduling an open house in a way that makes sense for you, there’s a good chance it doesn’t make sense for some other parents, as well. If so, consider suggesting an alternative. While schools do have their own scheduling logistics to consider, they will also likely be responsive to ideas if they know it will increase parental participation. If you are unable to attend open house at the scheduled time, you can request a conference to get to know the teacher and see what you missed. This not only informs the teacher that you want to be involved, but it also will start you off on a path to open communication and a good relationship with your child’s teacher.
Volunteer Your Expertise
Parents work in a wide variety of fields. You never know when your expertise may be valuable or supportive of a specific educational goal in your child’s class. By volunteering your expertise at the beginning of the year, you will give your child’s teacher a potential resource further down the line.
Your expertise may not ever become relevant, but at least you will ensure an opportunity doesn’t pass you by just because the teacher never knew what you did for a living. Furthermore, if you volunteer your expertise at the start of the year, the teacher will be able to give you significant lead time to make it work with your schedule.
In a perfect world, schools would never have to raise funds. However, we all know educational strategies are always running into fund shortages.
By fundraising, you will be working to give your child more educational opportunities. But they are also bonding experiences. If you fundraise with your child, you will be outwardly demonstrating your very real investment in their education. And if you fundraise with other parents, you will be building solidarity with your peers.
Fundraising usually only comes around once or twice a year, so it’s also an easy way to participate if you are a working parent with limited availability.
Lend Other Talents
There are other ways you can leverage your unique talents in support of your student. Do you have sewing talents? You can volunteer to make costumes for a special event. Can you paint? You can create signs or special classroom displays.
If you think your skill set can benefit your child’s class, don’t keep it to yourself. Make sure the teacher knows what you can do and that you are willing to do it. The teacher might not need your support right away, but if they know you have a particularly useful skill, they may keep you in mind to assist with their special projects.
Do you think you can help in a way that’s not on this list? Don’t be shy about speaking up! Like the children in a classroom, parents are unique — thus, there are no one-size-fits-all volunteer solutions.
Furthermore, if you do find a creative way to volunteer, make sure to share it with others. Your volunteering innovation may become the next big way parents connect with their children’s classrooms.
Working Parent Involvement in Education
Working parents with packed schedules are often stressed by the thought of choosing between providing economically or being supportive of their child’s education. Hopefully, even the busiest parent can find a way to implement one or two of the above strategies.
But it’s important to emphasize even occasional participation can have a profound impact. The parent who is in a child’s school every week is not automatically a better parent than someone who can only participate once or twice a year.
The key is to make those engagement opportunities count. If you can only do one or two things a year, make sure your kid is engaged in those moments, as well. If your kid comes home upset because one of their classmates has a parent there every week, find ways to connect in the time that you do have. Spend time at home supporting your child’s classroom endeavors so when they’re at school, they don’t see their peer’s parent as more involved — just differently involved.
But most importantly, don’t feel guilty. Volunteering beyond what is reasonable or feeling shame while doing so makes that engagement less effective. It’s far better to do a few things over the course of the year enthusiastically than to overwhelm yourself by committing to do more than you can handle. Your child may end up interpreting that stress as a resentment.
Partner With a School That Understands You
The best way to balance a busy schedule with volunteering opportunities is to partner with a school that understands what you’re going through. Here at FishCreek Kids Academy, we pride ourselves in our small classroom size as well as our flexible parental engagement.
Serving Magnolia, Texas, as well as Woodforest, the Woodlands, Conroe and Montgomery, we take early childhood learning seriously. While some childcare facilities are happy with simply keeping kids busy, we know this is an opportunity to give young children a leg up academically, emotionally and socially.
We work with children as young as six weeks and as old as 12 years. We promote healthy minds and healthy bodies, and we tailor our instruction to a wide variety of skill levels. Our level of personal attention pairs perfectly with parental engagement.
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