Parent Involvement that Works
Dorothy Rich is the founder of the Home and School Institute and author of the award-winning book, MegaSkills(Houghton Mifflin). For over 30 years, Rich has helped parents and schools work together to educate kids. We spoke with Dr. Rich about her definition of parent involvement and why she thinks it works.
FEN: Parent involvement in education can mean different things to different people. How do you define it?
Rich: Some say it's school governance or working with kids at home. Others say it's service on committees and attending school-board meetings. There are many types of parental involvement, and they're all valid, but only one type has shown any evidence of impacting children's achievement. That's the area of parents as teachers of children at home. I usually think of it as parents focusing on educational activities in the home.
FEN: What can parents do at home for their kids?
Rich: When parents read with their kids, or hypothesize with them about ice cubes melting or plants growing, they're teaching a lot more than the basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. They're giving their kids more confidence, and helping them learn to concentrate better. Now we're talking about MegaSkills -- the skills kids need to become learners for life. Parents can also discuss grown-up things at home with older kids: read insurance policies, mortgages, and bank statements together. Helping kids learn about how much money it takes to own and run a car is academics! Yet a lot of parents don't get into it with their kids. They should.
FEN: Do you think that too much parent involvement can be a bad thing?
Rich: Sure. When parents forget they're parents and begin thinking they're schoolteachers. Home and school are complementary, yet very different institutions. And their strength really is in their difference. But sometimes parents become so anxious about their kids' education that they feel they have to run the school in the same way they run their homes. Unfortunately, that really dilutes an opportunity for children to learn about handling a different environment with different expectations.
FEN: Do you think that schools should be careful about defining their parent-involvement policies?
Rich: Absolutely. Some schools now overreact to a noise made by just one parent. I know parents who've become instrumental in getting rid of teachers. Some teachers deserved it, but others didn't. One parent may also want to strike certain books out of a school library. This is where teachers and principals have got to have a backbone. The school has got to take a leadership role while providing parents with a sense of security that it's doing its very best.
FEN: Do you have any suggestions to help parents get this school year off to a good start?
Rich: Dr. Spock said it, and I'll say it again: "You know more than you think you do." Raising kids causes great anxiety. I think that the most effective parent is one who struggles against that anxiety -- who tries to sustain a sense of competence and confidence in the development of children. The best thing you can do for kids is talk with them and read with them. Do activities with them. Be there. Your kids want YOU -- much more than they want the TV or the computer.
MegaSkills, visit the Home and School Institute.
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