How to Involve Parents at Home

By Mercedes Tichenor
Dr. Tichenor is a Professor of Education at Stetson University, where she teaches a course on comparative education. Her research interests include teacher professionalism, schooling around the world, and family/school connections.

Teachers from around the world agree that involved parents benefit students, teachers, and schools. However, would parents around the world agree on the best way to be involved in their children’s education? Amanda Ripley (2014), author of The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, observed that parents in countries with high-achieving students are involved in different ways than parents in the United States. She noticed that U.S. parents are more likely to be involved at the school through volunteering or attending school events, while parents in other countries are more involved in their children’s education at home. Are parents in other countries involved in a better way? Is the way these parents are involved making a bigger difference on students’ academic achievement? In her book, Ripley answers “yes” to these questions.

Parents can be involved in numerous ways in their children’s education; however, the two basic categories of parental involvement are home-based involvement and school-based involvement (People for Education, 2011). Home-based involvement includes activities such as parents talking with children about school, setting high expectations for learning, and reading together. On the other hand, school-based activities involve parents attending school events, volunteering in classrooms, participating at school functions, and meeting with teachers.

What Does the Research Tell Us?
The importance of involving parents in the schooling of their children has been well documented. However, research shows that not all types of involvement affect student achievement the same way. Studies examining various aspects of parental involvement found that home-learning activities are most closely related to student achievement (Dervanics & O’Brien, 2011; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Jeynes, 2005; Robinson & Harris, 2014). Dervanics and O’Brien (2011) conclude, “While all forms of parent involvement play significant roles in the health of the school and the community, home-learning activities are perhaps the wisest investment of school dollars and effort to produce long-lasting academic gains” (para. 32). While traveling to countries with successful educational systems, Amanda Ripley (2014) noticed that parents in these systems dedicated more time and energy to home-based involvement than to participating at school events and functions.

What Can You Do?
As a teacher, you can support home-based learning in various ways.
  • Provide parents with learning activities that support specific units of study and can be easily done at home. Parents do not always know how to help their children at home, so offering suggestions for activities is valuable.
  • Encourage parents to talk with their children about what they are learning in school and to discuss school topics that children find interesting. Urge parents to discuss current events, read the news, and talk about books and movies together. Assign meaningful homework assignments that allow for intentional engagement between parents and children.
  • Share research findings that underscore the importance of home-based learning on educational outcomes. When describing what parents should do for their children, Amanda Ripley (2013) contends, “Parents should make sure to read to their kids, read for themselves, and talk to their children at dinner about the world around them. If and only if they have done all these things and still, miraculously, have energy left over should they wash cars and set up a tent next to the soccer field” (para. 13). In other words, Ripley believes the best benefits of parental involvement come from activities done with children at home. For this to occur, teachers must communicate ways for parents to work with their children at home to support learning at school.

Quick Ways to Get Started!
  1. Include information about the importance of home-based involvement in a classroom newsletter.
  2. Provide parents with questions to ask students about books that are being read at school.
  3. Ask parents to discuss current events from local newspapers with their children (send home questions or discussion starters each week).
  4. Communicate at least one home-based activity for each unit of study (provide specific directions for each activity).
  5. Encourage parents to discuss topics that students have been learning at school (provide parents with specific questions for each topic).

Through well-selected and purposeful home-based learning activities, parents can participate in their children’s education in meaningful ways. Getting parents on board with home-based learning can begin in small ways but can produce big outcomes. It is well worth your effort.
Reference
Dervanics, D., & O’Brien, E. (2011). Back to school: How parent involvement affects student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Center for Public Education.

Henderson, A., & Mapp, K. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Jeynes, W. (2005). Parental involvement and student achievement: A meta-analysis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project.

People for Education. (2011). Doing what matters most. Toronto, ON: Author.

Ripley, A. (2013, September 5). Should parents direct energy to home activities, not school bake sales? The Chicago Tribune, p. 19.

Ripley, A. (2014). The smartest kids in the world and how they got that way. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Robinson, K., & Harris, A. (2014). The broken compass: Parental involvement with children’s education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.