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What is Parental Involvement?
Parental involvement is currently a buzzword in education but what exactly does it entail? Are parents not sufficiently involved in their students’ education if they’ve enrolled them in school, bought school supplies, ensure they attend regularly, and check homework?
Educators and administrators love parents who are actively involved in their child’s school affairs and play key roles in school initiatives such as PTA. They also adore parents who check homework frequently, ensure it is completed and returned, sign student agenda books, ensure students maintain good attendance, encourage students to exemplify model behavior and so on, but is this where parental involvement ends?
Unfortunately, as simplistic as the above definitions of parental involvement may appear, some families have real issues such as language and or cultural barriers, poverty and sometimes ill health that alienate them from the school community, or inhibit their ability to be as involved as they would ideally want to.
Take the single minimally educated mother who must work longer hours to make ends meet for example. For her, ensuring her children make it to school regularly is important so she can go to work (free childcare). Teachers love her because attendance is not a problem for her kids but until she can meet the basic necessities of her family’s life, perhaps her best parental support will be limited to ensuring regular school attendance (Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).
What about the immigrant parents who may not be fluent in English but are highly educated in their first language? These individuals will face limitations in their interactions with educators, the school, and perhaps the amount of support they can give to their children when completing homework. By the same token, in a low income single or two parent family where work schedules result in latch-key kids (kids who let themselves into the house after school) who are responsible for themselves till their parents get home, unless a true sense of the importance of school and responsibility has been instilled in them, school work may not be the first thing on their minds upon their return from school because there’s no adult on hand to direct them. Sadly, there are too many distractions such as television and video games in most North American homes, and these tend to be more fun as opposed to books which do not deliver the instant gratification we’ve all come to rely on, thanks to technology. Furthermore, it’s human nature to want to play when the figurative cat is away. On the far end of the spectrum are families where husband or wife makes enough money to provide for the family so one partner stays at home and tends to the kids, or better still, the individual or couples may run a home-based business thus their schedule can be easily adapted to meet their student(s)’ academic needs.
While the above scenarios create varying degrees of opportunities for active parental involvement which can in the long term either negatively or positively impact student achievement, Wahlberg (1988) tells us that parental support and encouragement of student learning has twice as much impact on students’ academic performance than family socio-economic status.
In his proposition, Wahlberg states that parents can play the biggest fundamental role that will set their children up for academic and life success by instilling behaviors such as daily conversations about everyday things, joint analysis of situations, encouraging leisure reading, showing affection and interest in the child’s personal and academic growth, showing positive interest in the child’s learning and providing necessary materials to support that learning, practicing behaviors within the family that promote positive self-image, motivation, and teaching kids to develop an appreciation of intrinsic gratification; Wahlberg terms these values the ‘Curriculum of the Home’(http://www.adi.org/journal/ss92/ReddingSpring1992.pdf)
We can therefore conclude that effective parental involvement so to speak, starts from the cradle and may already be too late if left till the start of a child’s official academic journey. Wahlberg’s Curriculum of the Home transcends culture, language and socio-economic barriers, thus all parents and guardians are adequately equipped to play a key role in preparing children for success in school years prior to kindergarten registration.