Schools around the world continue to struggle with difficult decisions about whether to hold in-person classes, provide online instruction, or adopt a hybrid approach. Even children whose schools are holding in-person classes are likely to have a fluid year in and out of online instruction as students and teachers test positive for COVID-19 and proceed through the cycle of quarantining before returning to the classroom. How can parents support their children’s education in the face of these challenges?
Parents who are more involved in their children’s education have children who do better in school, even in regular times. For example, children whose parents are more involved in their education have better grades, higher standardized test scores, and are less likely to get in trouble for their behavior at school. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents’ involvement is even more important, yet it is also more challenging as parents are more directly responsible for aspects of their children’s online education that were formerly handled at school.
Researchers who study parents’ involvement in education define involvement in a variety of ways, ranging from conveying to children the importance of education (such as by talking with them about what they’re learning in school) to helping with homework to communicating with teachers to volunteering in the classroom.
The types of parent involvement that are most beneficial to children depend on the age of the child and any special needs the child may have. For example, children with learning disabilities may benefit more from parents’ help with homework than children without disabilities, for whom parents’ help with homework may be intrusive and interfere with tasks the child is able to accomplish alone. Parents should be carefully attuned to scaffolding the child’s learning in a way that provides support when needed but gives children as much autonomy as possible so they will gain confidence in their own abilities.
What are some concrete ways for parents to support academic achievement and education at home?
Read to and with children. One of the best predictors of children’s reading and verbal language abilities is how often and how much their parents read to them. Reading to children offers benefits above and beyond regular conversations (which, of course, parents should also have with their children). The vocabulary and sentence structure in books is more varied and complex than in ordinary spoken language. The topics in books often go beyond children’s everyday experiences, providing a starting point for conversations to delve deeper into a range of issues.
Have children read to pets and younger siblings. For children just learning to read, reading aloud is important to develop fluency. Pets and younger siblings are nonjudgmental when listening to the starts and stops of an early reader. Listening to their older siblings read also benefits younger siblings.
Math instruction. Parents often worry about their lack of ability to help students with math, especially as concepts become more difficult in middle and high school. If this is the case, an important message parents can convey is that with effort and practice, children will be able to master math concepts (as opposed to saying, “I’ve never been good in math,” which teaches children that math ability is something they either have or not, rather than something they can grow with effort).
Science experiments. Basic kitchen and household supplies can be transformed into science experiments that appeal to a variety of different age groups. Especially for children learning online rather than in the classroom, doing hands-on experiments can be a welcome change from sitting in front of a screen.
Set a good example. Parents can let children see them reading and learning to model behaviors that will help children academically.
Emphasize the importance of education. It is easy to be negative and discouraged by all of the difficulties set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the frustrations, try to speak positively with children about their school experience, whether online or in person. Children often adopt the attitudes of their parents, so if parents complain and denigrate their children’s school experience, children are more likely to take on those negative views.
As children navigate a school year that will remain unpredictable, let children know that principals, teachers, and others are doing their best to keep children safe and learning in a complicated situation. Helping children remain flexible in adjusting to different modes of learning this school year will be an important part of parents’ involvement.