This is a condensed version of an article from Teacher Magazine, offering an evidence based approach to how parents can support their children’s learning at home.

Again the emphasis is assuring parents they are not meant to be the teacher and in fact, stepping back a little , not being quick to solve  their problems can encourage them to be more independent in the long run.

Joan Gill

Director of Student Wellbeing – Programs

Evidence-informed parental engagement

At Evidence for Learning, we have recently published two Guidance Reports that provide evidence on how to best support children in their learning (Evidence for Learning, 2019a, 2019b).

We also have dedicated pages on the benefit of effective parental engagement in our both our Teaching & Learning Toolkit (Education Endowment Foundation, 2020b) and Early Childhood Education Toolkit (Education Endowment Foundation, 2020a).

There are three recommendations from this evidence base that can be helpful to inform the role that parents can play in supporting learning at home:

  1. Parents to supplement what teachers do, not to replace them.
  2. Parents to help children develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning.
  3. Educators can provide practical strategies for parents to support learning at home (Evidence for Learning, 2019a, 2019b).

The level of support and ways of engaging with children varies substantially based on their age. The first two recommendations draw from the evidence on the effective use of Teaching Assistants and are useful to frame the revitalised role that parents can play in their child’s learning.

Parents to supplement what teachers do, not to replace them

In parents supplementing what teachers do, the focus is on helping their children in their readiness for learning, ensuring they are prepared and focused for the lesson (Evidence for Learning, 2019a, p.14). Importantly, parents aren’t expected to deliver material or content. In a home-supported learning environment readiness to learn includes:

  • Supporting children to create regular routines and study habits;
  • Ensuring a quiet space free from distractions e.g. asking the child to set aside materials that they don’t need for learning (e.g. phones and other digital devices not required for learning);
  • Home computer/laptop with adequate internet and video to interact with educators and rest of the class or group were applicable; and,
  • Stationary items required for that lesson, including pen, paper and calculator.

If a child is struggling with certain content, the parent can help younger children to seek help from their educator. For older children, parents can encourage metacognition and self-regulation through the child seeking help from the teacher (Evidence for Learning, 2019a). We have explored some of the key aspects of metacognition and self-regulation in a recently published Guidance Report (Quigley et al., 2019) and accompanying article in Teacher magazine (Vaughan & Schoeffel, 2019a).

Parents helping children develop independent learning skills

Improving the nature and quality of parents’ talk to their children can support the development of independent learning skills that are associated with improved learning outcomes (Evidence for Learning, 2019a). Schools can encourage parents to help their children to develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning through:

  • Providing the right amount of support at the right time;
  • Encouraging children to take risks with their learning;
  • Using open-ended questions;
  • Ensuring children retain responsibility for their learning; and,
  • Giving the least amount of help first to encourage children’s ownership of the task (Evidence for Learning, 2019a, p.15; Vaughan, 2018).

Educators providing practical strategies for parents

The practical strategies that schools can provide parents within relation to home-supported learning vary greatly depending on the age of the child (Education Endowment Foundation, 2020b; Evidence for Learning, 2019b).

Parents of preschool children can encourage their child’s oral language development through conversation and read to their children (Bus et al., 1995; Education Endowment Foundation, 2020a; Houen et al., 2020). For primary-aged children, parents can support reading activities (Sénéchal & Young, 2008) and general academic activity (Nye et al., 2006). Parents can be helpful in the home-supported learning environment with older students by setting routines and encouraging good habits (Evidence for Learning, 2019b).

Parents can encourage preschool children’s oral language development by creating spaces for their talk and keeping conversations going; using intentional pausing creates time for children to think and construct a response (Evidence for Learning in collaboration with the University of Queensland, 2019a). Parents can create space for children’s talk by using ‘I wonder’ questions such as ‘I wonder what happens outside when it’s autumn?’ (Houen et al., 2019). These types of questions invite children’s thoughts and ideas about a topic. Several strategies can be used to keep a conversation going, such as:

  • Having conversations about children’s personal experiences, lives and interests which might involve using photographs as a prompt;
  • Using active listening techniques such as making eye-contact, using short verbal clues, facial expressions and gestures; and,
  • Paraphrasing a child’s talk to model more complex language (e.g. If a child says, ‘Look there’s a bird’, you might respond, ‘Oh yes, I can see the lorikeet in the tree. It reminds me of a colourful rainbow). (Evidence for Learning in collaboration with the University of Queensland, 2019b).

For young children, promoting shared reading can support oral language development and early literacy. Shared reading is explored in greater detail within a previous Teacher magazine article (Vaughan & Schoeffel, 2019b). The key here is to encourage reading that is interactive, ‘promoting longer and more frequent conversations with their children,’ (Evidence for Learning, 2019b).

Parents with primary-aged children can use the ORIM framework when working with books and other print materials. The ORIM framework is outlined below (Evidence for Learning, 2019b, p.11):

  • Opportunities – for example, books or other print materials;
  • Recognition – praise and attention when children take part;
  • Interactions – sharing and working on activities together; and,
  • Modelling – demonstrating a skill.

For children of all ages, although more pertinent for older students in home-supported learning, parents ‘can promote the self-regulation in children necessary to achieve academic goals including goal setting, planning perseverance, and the management of time, materials, attentiveness, and emotions,’ (Evidence for Learning, 2019b, p.13).

Key takeaways

Parents can act to support their children by shared reading, oral language activities and promoting self-regulation. However, the work of educators is not replaced by parents in home-supported learning. Educators can encourage parents to support children by helping them to be ready for learning and encouraging them to seek help from teachers when stuck. Fostering independent learning is crucial. We can encourage this by giving the least amount of help first to support children’s ownership of the task.