Note: this entry is part of a series called "The Making of College Bound". Click here to read the series-to-date.
November 19, 2009, is National Parent Involvement Day, so what better time to talk about what it means to be an involved parent. Everyone agrees that parents influence children’s learning, but what is it, exactly, that they do that matters so much for their children’s education? Back in September I wrote about the four key roles of parents:
- Cultivate character traits that underlie success,
- Support learning at home and at school,
- Set high expectations, and
- Guide children in planning for college.
Why did we choose these four roles? We chose them because — along with common sense — a wealth of research points to them as mattering most.
Many parents would agree that developing character is crucial to helping children grow into kind and productive adults. Research shows, however, that character is also at the heart of supporting academic success. In fact, character traits such as willpower, self-discipline, and the ability to delay gratification have all been shown to be more closely related to academic achievement and other measures of success than IQ. (Nisbett, 2009) One of the most important things parents can do is cultivate a belief in the importance of hard work. It turns out that emphasizing native talent actually de-motivates kids. When children are praised for effort, they’re more likely to try harder when faced with challenges, choose more difficult work and stay focused longer than children praised for intelligence (Muller & Dweck, 1998).
Other parental roles are more obviously linked to academics. Early exposure to literacy, both through complex language in conversation and reading together, can produce dramatically different IQ scores in children as young as three years old (Hart and Risley, 1995). Once a child is school-age, they’re more likely to complete homework and have a positive attitude toward its value when parents provide a structured routine and a quiet and organized workspace (Cooper et. al, 2001). Parents are the key to promoting learning either afterschool or over that long stretch of summer vacation which some studies have shown is largely responsible for the achievement gap (Alexander, 2001; Burkham, et. al., 2004).
At school, student achievement goes up when parents signal that school matters by getting involved, attending teacher conferences and school programs (Steinberg, 1996). Parents who communicate with teachers and get informed about school resources are also more likely to get necessary support for their children (Lareau, 2000 & 2003).
Some research has shown that parents’ expectations matter more than anything else. High expectations — and students’ perceptions of these expectations — substantially influence students’ academic decisions such as their choice of courses, as well as overall student performance (Steinberg, 1996).
Last — but not least — when parents discuss and encourage attending college starting from an early, pre-high school age and help investigate and apply for postsecondary options, their children are much more likely to attain a college degree (McCarron & Inkelas 2006; Catsambis, 1998).
It's the practical application of this research that is at the heart of College Bound — our new program for involved parents. Stay tuned for our next installment, when we delve into the practice of cultivating character traits in children.