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Family and Consumer Sciences

College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources

LIFE - Children, Youth and Families at risk

Self-Teaching Module for Parents

Horizons for Parent Involvement in Children’s Learning in Home and School Settings

The following information is specifically designed for parents and family members interested in enhancing their child's learning and the effectiveness of their child's school.

Project designed by Ben Silliman, University of Wyoming Family Life Specialist, in conjunction with and funded by the Parent Education Network of Wyoming.

Parent Involvement in Children’s Learning

Parents as first teachers

Family members are the first and most important influences on the learning of children at all ages. While parents are usually the strongest models and have the greatest impact, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends also can act as role models, aides, and encouragers. These influences often shape input from peers, neighbors, teachers, and others.

Important aspects of family leaders:

  • Parenting: Provide a blend of caring and discipline to foster confidence and capability appropriate to each child's unique personality and developmental stage
  • Communication: Maintain consistent and positive relationships with teachers and other mentors to increase awareness of school and community activities
  • Volunteering: Involvement in school and community organizations
  • Learning: Provide a stimulating and thoughtful environment for a child's growth and development and success in school
  • Decision-making: Active participation in leadership in school and community groups
  • Collaborating with the community: Involvement through neighborhood and community (human, information, facilities, policies)

This Web site focuses primarily upon roles of parenting and learning at home, including:

  • Modeling: Introduce and share learning activities, reading aloud together, and learn new things at home and work
  • Setting positive, high expectations: Encourage interests, hard work, success in school and extracurricular activities
  • Communicating: Listen with concern, share ideas, and feelings, troubleshoot
  • Recognizing talents and interests: Notice and encourage interests and skills, monitoring training and practice, sharing and supporting skill development.
  • Building a learning climate: Providing interesting and challenging learning experiences as well as helping with homework and school projects.
  • Connecting children with community resources: Introducing children to persons, organizations, and activities which can answer questions and encourage growth.
  • Staying in touch with teachers: Initiating and maintaining contact about behavior, performance, special needs and opportunities week-to-week.

Important messages to send through daily contact with your child:

  • Share experiences and goals on effort, working hard, planning ahead
  • Establish realistic, consistent family rules for work around the house to promote healthy routines and a sense of responsibility
  • Encourage children to think about the future, including dreaming, exploring options (via real and virtual field trips), and sacrifice

Source: Helping your child succeed in school, Eric Documents, November 1992

Important Roles for Parents in Children’s Learning

Modeling learning:

Stimulate learning from an early age

  • Read to and with children
  • Engage in play, especially involving language and creativity
  • Make available art, dramatic play, writing supplies
  • Teach/allow children to do things for themselves, take responsibility for chores
Help children organize themselves
  • Establish a schedule including alone time and family time, fun and chores
  • Help children identify reachable goals, divide big challenges into small parts
Demonstrate a lifelong love of learning
  • Read and talk about new ideas and skills
  • Discuss or demonstrate new things learned at work
  • Watch science, history, or current events TV; show curiosity
Promote the positives/blocking the negatives
  • Encourage participation in organizations (scouts, sports, service, etc.)
  • Limit TV time and types of programs viewed
  • Monitor time with friends and acquaintances
Setting positive, high expectations

Unrealistic or unrelenting pressure to perform or personalized criticism for failure can damage motivation and self-esteem. However, great challenges, together with great encouragement can enable a child to reach un-dreamed-of accomplishments and build confidence.

Some ways of building high aspirations:

  • Model the learning of new skills, including activities with the child
  • Monitor the child’s personal behavior and peer relations for honestly, compassion, responsibility, and hard work
  • Monitor school performance for consistency, effort, imagination, and critical thinking—remember that "learning to think" and "trying to apply" are more important than all A’s
  • Support extracurricular efforts which interest, inspire, or energize the child. Fixing cars or computers may tell more about learning potential than making the honor roll. Excelling at karate, piano, or debate may balance efforts in academic success.
  • Introduce new activities, people, places, and events in which the child can interact as well as observe. A retirement home may do as well as a museum, a disabled child can teach more than a senator or astronaut—the variety of experiences and challenges counts.
  • Introduce the child to older peer and adult role models and mentors.
  • Discuss and explore higher education and career options. Motivation and achievement will open doors to financing dreams if parents allow dreams to flourish.

Good Listening Skills

  • Interest and attentiveness—eye contact and responsiveness (can be just "uh-huh" but can’t be ignoring or criticizing).
  • Invite sharing of feelings and experiences; encourage brainstorming of options, ideas.
  • Remain open—not all ideas or requests need to be fulfilled; listening is what will be remembered
  • Avoid interruptions or quick judgments—let the child speak for self and share their entire feelings
  • Listen to non-verbal messages (tone of voice, facial expressions, energy level, posture, change in behavior)
Suggestions for Improving Communication with Children
  • Show interest in children’s ideas, feelings, activities on a consistent basis. Take on an attitude of acceptance rather than judgment.
  • Avoid dead-end questions which focus on yes/no or right/wrong answers. Ask for description, examples, reactions, and new ideas which come from an experience.
  • Extend conversations by restating an important feeling, probing an interesting idea, or asking a "what if" question. Focus on the child’s answer rather than the subject itself to avoid getting too caught up in your own opinions.
  • Share your own thoughts and dilemmas and involve the child in problem solving on simple things such as where to place furniture or how to fix a recipe.
  • Observe signs that the child wants to end a conversation: staring into space, giving silly responses, several requests for repeating your comments which indicate that attention is waning.
  • Reflect feelings by restating or rephrasing words or attitudes which indicate emotions
Source: ACCESS ERIC: How can parents model good listening skills?

Strategies for Building Cooperation

  • Describe the problem. Observations are often more insightful than advice or criticism.
  • Give information. Facts or reminders enable responsibility rather than resistance.
  • Offer a choice. Participation in decision-making or consequences increases motivation.
  • Say it with a word or gesture. Lecturing or explaining often impede cooperation.
  • Put it in writing. A note is often clearer and less threatening than face-to-face contact.
  • Be playful. Humor, spontaneity, and fun spice up difficult or disagreeable work.
Source: A.Faber & E.Mazlish. (1995). How to talk so kids can learn. New York: Simon & Schuster/Fireside.

Recognizing and Encouraging Talents, Interests

Many Kinds of "Smart": Varieties of Abilities

  • Linguistic: skill in understanding and using language
    • Develop by…reading and discussing books, helping organize and editing writing
  • Musical: abilities to hear, play, or compose music
    • Develop by…playing different kinds of music, music lessons or band/choral
  • Logical-mathematical: logical thinking and reasoning about quantities
    • Develop by…math or reasoning games, calculating construction or financial problems
  • Spatial: capacity to understand patterns and objects arranged in space
    • Develop by providing blocks, puzzles, gadgets; encouraging drawing, sculpture, design
  • Bodily-kinesthetic: movement and body control as in sports, exercise, or dance
    • Developed by exercise, routine patterns of movement
  • Interpersonal: insight into relationships, helping or leading others
    • Developed by…talking and listening, sales, leadership, debate, teamwork
  • Personal knowledge: understanding own feelings and ideas; evaluating performance
    • Developed by…support and accountability from others, poetry, philosophy, goal setting
  • Natural: awareness of objects, events, and patterns in Nature; ability to blend with it
    • Experience exploring, observing, experimenting with the natural world
Adapted from: H. Gardner. (1999). The disciplined mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Appreciating Abilities and Needs at Each Stage of Development

Infancy: Senses and movement organize learning, aided by interaction with caregivers. Trusting relationships with caregivers establish security, confidence

Preschool: Exploration and fantasy shape discovery of self, others, and the world. Freedom to explore and lessons in responsibility help balance development

Childhood: Observation, experimentation, and practical skill-building cultivate a widening understanding of the world and how it works. Mastering practical skills, teamwork, and adult mentoring build confidence

Adolescence: Growth of abstract reasoning allows more long-term and in-depth application. Increased sense of personal values, roles, and goals gives direction to learning

Building a Learning Climate

  1. Establish a daily family routine including… time, space, quiet, and materials for studying, reading, and hobbies assigned chores and shared tasks health habits of rest, activity, regular meals, and hygiene shared meals and special meal celebrations (holidays, picnics) regular bedtimes, with slowing down and getting ready activities self-regulated time management with limits and balance to activities
  2. Monitoring out-of-school activities, maximizing learning opportunities… guide leisure time for constructive out-of-school activities set clear rules and standards about appropriate activities set limits on television, video, or computer/Internet time
  3. Model the value of learning and hard work through… reading, writing, and engaging in other learning activities at home use family leisure for planning, discussing/debating, challenging games, learning and cooperative activities, questioning and improving involving children in the hard work of household projects and family activities use reference materials and Internet sources to solve problems Volunteer to help in school or community projects
  4. Express high but realistic expectations for achievement by… setting goals and standards appropriate to age and maturity encourage and assist hard work and persistence toward long-term gains affirm special talents and potential to learn praise achievement by noting accomplishments which led to it
  5. Encourage child’s development and progress in school via… warm and supportive home environment applying rewards, sanctions, and guidance appropriate to circumstances decorate the refrigerator with symbols of success ask teachers for home learning activities and homework
  6. Reading, writing, and discussions among family members addressing… reading aloud at a regular time plus listening to children read Discussing current and family events, creating stories and scrapbooks Telling stories including humor, character models, and problem solving Writing letters, messages, grocery lists, and diaries
  7. Use community resources such as… libraries, museums, movies, organized sports, and enrichment programs introduce children to responsible mentors, religious services, youth groups
Source: Iowa Department of Education. (1997). Parent involvement in education: A resource for parents, educators, and communities. Des Moines: Iowa Department of Education. 

Homework Help (remember it’s their homework; you’re just helping!)
        Homework is the best way to extend learning and develop study habits.
                                                                                            ---Iowa Department of Education

Organizational Rules

  • Agree on a regular time and place for homework
  • Provide (check on) good lighting, pencils, paper, and other supplies
  • Turn off the television (and other appliances) during homework time
  • Help child manage time by limiting out-of-school activities, scheduling ahead (especially for long projects or tests), and balancing enjoyable with boring activities
  • Plan weekly and check daily on special needs (new supplies, trips to the library, time at the computer) to coordinate assignments with other family activities
Approaches to Helping
  • Make sure the child understands the assignment and brings home the right materials
  • Talk about the child’s homework assignments and what they are learning in school
  • Make suggestions in a positive way such as, "The teacher will understand your ideas better if you write in your best handwriting."
  • Promote mastery by helping child build a study guide (key points and explanations), rehearse over and over, and explain or apply ideas and strategies to new problems
  • Check assignments for completeness, neatness, accuracy and help the child understand the criteria for each (so they eventually judge and refine for themselves)
Increasing Effectiveness
  • Follow up on homework assignments to better understand performance, grading, and needed adjustments
  • Personalize learning by using approaches which fit learning styles and skills (drawing a chart for a visual-oriented child; dancing through math steps for an active child)
  • Send a note or make a call to follow up on declining grades or learning troubles
  • Discuss teacher homework expectations during parent-teacher conferences
  • When a child is organized and trying hard but still not succeeding, check into additional teacher help or private tutoring
  • Be sure to praise hard work, progress, and success. Often, just an observation about the child’s sense of responsibility, learning accomplishments, neatness or organization communicates esteem and encourages self-direction and reward
  • Be tolerant of imperfection—learning more often comes from mistake or failure
Source: Iowa Department of Education. (1997). Parent involvement in education: A resource for parents, educators, and communities. Des Moines: Iowa Department of Education. 

Links to Resources in the Community

Local people and places. Personal experience, suggestions from teachers and librarians, other parents’ ideas, and the Yellow Pages can open the door to a wealth of support and learning resources in your own or nearby communities. Places to check include:

  • Teachers
  • Professionals and professional groups (i.e. doctors and lawyers)
  • Public agency professionals
  • Internet sites
  • Specialized businesses
  • Librarians
  • Advocacy groups
  • 4-H or Scout project leaders
  • Youth Club leaders
  • Grandparents
  • Neighbors
  • Tradespersons (i.e. plumbers and electricians)
  • Museums

Government publications. The U.S. Department of Education has produced many inexpensive and helpful documents available through Consumer Information Catalog, Pueblo, CO 81009:

Computer resources. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and outlines of almost any topic can be found on the Internet. Search engines such as Yahoo or InfoSeek allow for location of specialized information in seconds. In addition, software programs on math, science, geography, history, finances, and writing provide tools for informal learning or organizing school projects. A school or library teacher or computer consultant can suggest resources or demonstrate "how to" for a parent or child.

Web sites that help parents find information about involvement in schools and learning:

Partnership for Family Involvement in Education. Seeks to promote children’s learning and foster partnerships among parents, schools, employers, religious groups, and community organizations.

National Parent-Teacher Association. PTA has a wealth of information on many phases of growth and learning, parent involvement, and school or community projects to promote learning on an individual and community level.

Staying in Touch with Teachers

  • Reading messages, announcements, report cards
  • Communicating with teachers regularly
  • Taking part in classroom and school events
Effective Relationships between Parents and Teachers
  • Make contact as early as possible. Get acquainted and show interest.
  • Communicate information about the child’s interests, habits, abilities, and difficulties
  • Contact teacher if you notice big changes in the child’s attitude or behavior.
  • Touch base when a grade report or teacher call signals difficulty or dropping grades.
  • Get involved as a classroom volunteer, assisting with classroom or field trip tasks (organizing, refreshments, demonstrating or leading events), preparing materials or displays at home, or supporting school events (registrar, usher, fund-raiser, coach, board member, or backstage at an event).
Getting the Most from Parent-Teacher Conferences
  • Be prepared to listen as well as talk. Jot down questions and comments beforehand and be ready to take notes and ask questions from the teacher’s comments.
  • Listen for specific details about a child’s behavior or performance. Check on standards and rules for evaluating children.
  • Discuss your child’s talents, skills, hobbies, study habits, and any special sensitivities, such as weight or speech difficulties.
  • Indicate needs for special help or special circumstances such as addition of a new baby, illness, or an upcoming move that might impact ability to learn.
  • Ask about specific ways to help the child at home.
  • Think about the teacher’s comments when you return home and discuss them with your child (i.e., set new homework rules, bedtimes, weekend activities).
Source: Helping your child succeed in school. November 1992 ERIC Clearinghouse.

Strategies for Resolving Parent-Teacher Disagreements

  • Know school policy, rights and responsibilities of students, parents, and teachers as well as procedures for clarifying expectations and working through differences.
  • Talk with teacher first to clarify expectations, misunderstandings, facts and feelings.
  • Maintain confidentiality by keeping facts and feelings exclusive to those concerned.
  • Avoid criticizing the teacher in front of the child. Children can participate in discussion and solutions, but will be impeded by adult anger or anxiety.
  • Choose a good time and place to discuss concerns. Scheduling appointments after fact gathering, reflection, and calming, perhaps with a mediator, may aid problem solving.
Source: L.G. Katz, A. Aidman, D.A. Reese, A.Clark. (1996). Preventing and resolving parent-teacher differences. ERIC Digest, EDO-PS-96-12, November.

Principles of Parenting

Care for Self: Maintaining personal health, balance, adaptability, and relationships.

  • Manage personal stress by reframing crises, building coping resources
  • Manage family resources
  • Offer and accept support
  • Recognize one's own personal and parenting strengths
  • Set purposeful child-rearing goals
  • Cooperate with childrearing partners
Understand: Appreciating the developmental, personality, and personal interests unique to each child.
  • Observe carefully and understand development, capabilities, temperament, personality, situations that stress or support
  • Recognize how children influence and respond to their world
  • Model good parenting with empathy, openness, and tuning into feelings
Nurture: Cultivating affection, respect, and kindness through modeling.
  • Express affection and compassion
  • Foster children's self-respect and hope
  • Listen and attend to children's feelings and ideas
  • Teach kindness

Guide: Model and direct appropriate behavior through involvement, problem solving, limits, and opportunities.

  • Model appropriate desired behavior
  • Establish and maintain reasonable limits
  • Provide children with developmentally appropriate opportunities to learn responsibility
  • Convey fundamental values underlying basic human decency
  • Teach problem-solving skills
  • Monitor children's activities and facilitate contact with peers, and adults
Motivate: Inspire and stimulate curiosity, imagination, and problem-solving about self, others, and the world.
  • Stimulate intellectual development by teaching children about themselves, others, and the world around them
  • Stimulate curiosity, imagination, and the search for knowledge by giving children chances to explore
  • Create beneficial learning conditions by encouraging problem-solving, answering questions, and listening
  • Help children process and manage information
Advocate for your child and all children through work with other adults and the community.
  • Find, use, and create community resources to benefit one's own and all the children in the community
  • Stimulate social change to create supportive environments for children and families
  • Build relationships with family, neighborhood, and community groups
Source: C.A. Smith, D.Cudaback, J. Myers-Walls, & W. Goddard. (1994). National Extension Parent Education Model. Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University Cooperative Extension.


Participation in formal and informal requests to identify parent interests, talents, and availability provides practical assistance to schools and organizations and powerful role model for other parents and children. Volunteering at school can include:

  • Participation in formal and informal requests to identify parent interests, talents, needs, and availability
  • Help with classroom housekeeping, decorating, and routine recordkeeping
  • Supervision of children in class, playground, cafeteria, computer lab, or reading groups (which may involve screening and training in special skills)
  • Parent patrols to increase school safety
  • Assistance with out-of-school responsibilities such as
    • phone calls to other parents
    • arrangements for projects, guest speakers, field trips, or parties
    • gathering supplies through purchases or donations
    • preparing learning materials (learning kits, play-dough, charts, etc.)
    • tutoring and academic assistance
  • Use of or support for parent meetings or resource rooms
  • Presentation of experience or expertise through guest speaking, demonstration, or mentoring of individual students or groups
Decision-making in School Settings
  • Troubleshooting children's issues with teachers quickly and informally.
  • Involvement in gaining participation of a wide variety of parents and youth.
  • Involvement in parent-teacher organizations, school advisory councils, and committees (curriculum, safety, curriculum).
  • Participation in advocacy and grievance boards.
  • Participation in school reform and improvement.
Collaborating with the Community
  • Help inform students and families on community programs and services for health, cultural, recreational, and social support.
  • Publicity on community activities that link to learning skills and talents.
  • Sharing in community organizations and partnerships.
  • Promoting service to the community by students, families, and schools (e.g., recycling projects, art, music, drama, activities with senior citizens, tutoring or coaching programs).
  • Alumni participation in programs for students.
  • School-business partnerships.
Adapted from: J.L. Epstein, L. Coates, K.C. Salinas, M.G. Sanders, & B.S. Simon. (1997). School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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