Want to help your child succeed in school? It’s about reading, not homework

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WATCH: Here’s what research says about helping your child to succeed in school – Sep 6, 2017

What parent doesn’t want their kid to thrive at school? Most of us would do anything to help our little ones hit academic and developmental goals.

It turns out, doing so might be easier than you think. The most effective way to help our children succeed has little to do with baking pies for school fundraisers or rushing to school meetings.

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“Parents matter a lot, but it has less to do with engagement with the school and more with engaging with your child,” said Elizabeth Dhuey, an associate professor at the University of Toronto who focuses on the economics of education.

That’s what clearly emerged from a broad review of the available research on the impact of parents’ involvement conducted by People for Education, a Toronto-based charity.

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Here are the four activities that emerged as having the greatest positive effect on kids’ performance in school and overall development, according to the report:

Parents having high (but reasonable) expectations of their children

In other words, if you expect your kids to do well in school, they probably will.

“A series of systematic review articles found high parental expectations […] had the greatest impact on student achievement,” reads the report.
This doesn’t mean demanding perfect grades, but “rather consistently communicating [your] belief in [your] children’s potential,” according to People for Education.
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Parents talking with their children, particularly about school

Know what works a lot better than helping your kids with homework? Talking with them about what’s going on at school.

According to a major study of 25,000 U.S. schoolchildren, simply chatting with your children about their school activities had a greater impact on their performance than checking their homework or limiting their screen time.

Indeed, another review of parental involvement in homework found its effects to be “negligible to nonexistent, except among the youngest students,” the report noted.

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Parents reading to or with their children

Parents who can’t afford to live in the best school districts can “mitigate a lot of that disadvantage” by reading to or with their children every day, said Dhuey.

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There’s a lot of emphasis on the importance of reading to very young children, but it’s very important to keep that up beyond the baby and toddler years, she added.

“While the letter-sound correspondence that children learn at school is vital, the motivation, comprehension and strong oral language skills children develop through conversation and reading together with their parents creates the crucial foundations for successful literacy in primary years and beyond,” reads the report.

That holds true even for older kids. Talking about the books your children are reading on their own is just as beneficial as bedtime stories.

Unfortunately, this is an area where parents often fall short. A survey of Ontario children, for example, found that only 21 per cent of those in grade 3 read together with a parent or guardian “every day or almost every day.”

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Parents helping their children develop positive attitudes towards learning and strong work habits

Did you hate school when you were a kid? You might want to pretend otherwise in front of your youngsters.

Positive attitudes toward school and stressing the importance of education is crucial, Dhuey told Global News.

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Fostering positive feelings about learning means taking on a key support role, “helping kids handle distractions, negotiating crises of confidence, praise for effort and persistence or constructively handling conflict while being positive about school as a whole,” according to the report.

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So what about school meetings and activities?

Keeping the lines of communications with teachers and principals open is, obviously, important. But participating in countless council meetings or volunteering at the school “is less closely linked to achievement,” according to People for Education.

A separate study of Toronto schools by the C.D. Howe Institute also found little correlation between school fundraisers and students’ academic success and grades.

“Passionate discussions are taking place about whether differing fundraising capabilities across public schools have a direct impact on education outcomes, and the prevailing opinion is that they do,” wrote David Johnson, one of the two authors of the report. “However, through comparing funds raised at similar schools – schools similar in the structure of grades taught and similar in terms of the background of their students – we discover that the apparent fundraising disparity diminishes substantially.”

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That’s likely because the amount of funds parents are able to raise amounts to a few hundred dollars per students at most. By comparison, the Toronto School Board had a budget of about $11,000 per student in 2011-2012, the research noted.

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“The very small amounts of money involved brings into question the strength of any association of funds raised and [academic outcomes,]” Johnson wrote.

Helicopter parenting, in other words, may be a waste of time. Just sit back, relax, sit your children on your lap and read them a good story.

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