Parent involvement, engagement, and participation in children’s education (hereafter parent involvement) takes many forms, including volunteering in schools and classrooms, communicating with teachers and other school staff, and attending parent teacher conferences, among other activities. Parent involvement has been a key component in several early intervention programs, including Head Start, Early Head Start, and Early Reading First, to name a few. Parent involvement is so important that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 includes specific provisions for parent involvement in an effort to foster collaboration between parents and teachers concerning decision-making, and to encourage parents to participate in school activities.
Although involving parents in their children’s education is critical, understanding why some parents are more involved than others is difficult as a host of unobservable parent, child, and program characteristics may be involved. The alignment between a family’s theories about child development and a program’s theories about child development, and the extent to which parent involvement in early intervention settings carries over into parenting skills and parent-child interactions could be just some of the factors that contribute to involvement.
Some research studies suggest that the quantity and quality of parent involvement in children’s education is related to a host of educational outcomes. This column summarizes key findings of the parent involvement research literature relevant to the context of early intervention.
In a review of research concerning parent involvement in early intervention home visiting services (Korfmacher, Green, Staerkel, Peterson, Cook, Roggman, et al., 2008) several factors were found to be related to parent involvement, including parent characteristics, qualities of the home visitor, and program features. With regard to parent characteristics, for example, review of the research literature seems to suggest that parent involvement may be more closely related to parents’ own perceptions that they need early intervention services than the program’s perceptions of family risk factors. With regard to program features, programs that maintain a child focus (programs with activities designed to promote child development, as opposed to family issues) during home visits have been found to be associated with greater parent engagement and involvement during home visits and longer enrollment in intervention services than programs that that include activities not directly related to the child.
Among teacher and classroom characteristics measured in one study (Castro, Bryant, Peisner-Feinberg, & Skinner, 2004), classroom quality was found to be more strongly related to parent involvement than other teacher and classroom characteristics measured (Head Start experience, teachers’ parent involvement reports, teachers’ perceptions of parents). Classroom quality in the study was measured by the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale–Revised (Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 1998), which addresses seven major areas: space and furnishings, personal care routines, language-reasoning, activities, interaction, program structure, and parents and staff.
Teacher ratings of parent involvement (in grades 1-6) has been found to be associated with school dropout, even when different child and family background characteristics are taken into consideration. Children whose parents were rated by their teachers as participating more than the average had a lower likelihood of dropping out of school than children whose parents were not rated as participating more than average (Barnard, 2004).
For children who participated in a preschool program that required parent involvement, the long-term effects of preschool (as measured by third grade math and reading achievement scores) were greater for those children whose parents continued to be involved in their education (as reported by first grade teachers) than for children whose parents were less involved in their education (Reynolds, 1992).
As this brief review of the research shows, parent involvement is a complex construct, related to parent’s perceptions about children’s needs for early intervention services, children’s early childhood education classroom quality, and other variables. It is promising to see that parent involvement in early intervention and in the early years of formal education is related to positive educational outcomes throughout children’s school years, and early childhood educators will likely want to try to increase parents’ involvement in their children’s education. There are several ways this might be accomplished, in both the home and school settings. For example, teachers can involve parents in the home setting by structuring activities that parents and children can engage in together (e.g., by establishing a lending library for books related to themes the children are studying). Teachers can also involve parents in the home setting by sharing their e-mail address with parents, and encouraging parents to contact them whenever a question about their child’s education and development arises. Teachers can involve parents in the school setting by inviting them to volunteer to read to small groups of children, or to help prepare and serve snacks and meals. Teachers can also involve parents in the school setting by inviting parents to attend science fairs, art exhibits, and musical or dramatic performances by the children. Whatever strategy or combination of strategies teachers use, it is important that teachers aim to make parents feel welcome and to convey the importance of parent involvement to children’s short- and long-term education outcomes.
Barnard, W.M. (2004). Parent involvement in elementary school and educational attainment. Child and Youth Services Review, 26, 39-62.
Castro, D.C., Bryant, D.M., Peisner-Feinberg, E.S., & Skinner, M.L. (2004). Parent involvement in Head Start programs: The role of parent, teachers, and classroom characteristics. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19, 413-430.
Harms, T., Clifford, R.M, & Cryer, D. (1998). Early childhood environment rating scale (Revised. ed.), New York: Teacher College Press.
Korfmacher, J., Green, B., Staerkel, F, Peterson, C., Cook, G., Roggman, L, Faldowski, R.A., & Schiffman, R. (2008). Parent involvement in early childhood home visiting. Child and Youth Care Forum, 37, 171-196.
Reynolds, A. J. (1992). Mediated effects of preschool intervention. Early Education and Development, 3, 139-164.
Khara Pence Turnbull, Ph.D. is editor of Assessment in Emergent Literacy (Plural Publishing) and author of Language Development from Theory to Practice (Merrill/Prentice Hall).