Creating Home-School Links

Research in child development suggests that the single most important influence on a child's development is the family, and the second most important environmental influence is the school (Valentine, 1992). Children whose parents are connected to the school in positive ways have distinct advantages both academically and behaviorally (Epstein, 1986; Epstein, Coates, Salinas, Sanders, & Simon, 1997). Increased academic performance, improved student self-esteem/ attitudes toward school, improved attendance, and fewer inappropriate behaviors are all correlated with parent involvement (Epstein, 1986, Epstein, et al.,1997).

The quality of the interactions between the home and school dramatically impacts the nature of the interactions between the parent and child with regard to school issues (McCarthey, 2000). When schools foster positive interactions with families, not only do parents report that they implement teacher recommendations for assisting their children at home, but teachers also report feeling more positive toward children in schools (Epstein, 1986). The effect of school practices on parent involvement is clear.

Home instruction, volunteering in the classroom, and participation in school governance are three broad areas linked to improvement in student learning and motivation (Watkins, 1997). Of these three areas, home instruction is the most underused educational resource (Watkins, 1997). A number of home and school factors, play a role in the neglect of this powerful resource. Parents' feelings of competency are a primary factor in determining how much and what kind of help they give their child. However, parents' confidence in their ability to assist the child at home is influenced directly by the frequency and quality of teacher communication (Watkins, 1997). Teachers' assumptions about the willingness and ability of parents, particularly minority parents or parents of students with special needs, impact the quality of their interactions with the parent.

The two strongest predictors of positive home-school interactions are specific school programs designed to increase the interaction between children and parents around educational issues, and teacher practices that encourage and guide parents' involvement (Epstein, 1986). All forms of parent involvement strategies are useful, although programs that are well planned, comprehensive, enduring and offer a variety of options are the most effective (Epstein, et al., 1997.) Eighty to 90% of parents report they want to know how to supplement their child's learning and expect to receive teacher instructions in this area (Epstein, et al., 1997). In addition, parents are more likely to participate in home support of their child's learning when teachers emphasize the importance of the parents' role in improving student learning and behavior (Watkins, 1997). Teachers play a crucial role in providing the kinds of information that is both helpful to families with regard to supporting school learning and respectful of the families individual needs and priorities (Epstein, 1995).

The following are some strategies found effective in creating positive home-school connections that benefit student performance. Conferences, workshops and activities need to be scheduled for the convenience of those parents who are the least likely to be able to attend due to work, distance, or childcare needs. An appreciation of individual variation among families and the unique contribution that they can provide is needed to facilitate the creation of positive home-school connections (Baker, 1997; McCarthey, 2000).

Communications
  • Clearly explain the ways in which parents can become a part of the child's education.
  • Provide the rationale behind the importance of parents' participation in their child's education.
  • Communicate early in the school year before problems occur.
  • Inform parents of problems well before report card time and, more importantly, report the good things that are happening at school. (Baker, 1997).
  • Use different forms of communication. Class newsletters, e-mail, web sites, faxes, and computerized phone messages can give parents specific daily or weekly information and provide a better connection for parents to the school.
  • For children with special needs use a home-school journal, a form of two-way communication, helpful for maintaining day-to-day communication that addresses areas of concern. Teachers, parents, and students can all contribute to the journal.
Homework
  • Provide parents with specific guidance concerning how to assist with homework. Many parents are unclear about how much and in what ways they should supervise homework (e.g., should they correct homework?).
  • Provide homework hotlines that can verify homework assignments or assist callers with their assignments. Schools may need to determine the greatest homework needs and then decide how best to meet these needs.
Joint Learning Opportunities
  • Invite families to participate in family fun and learning nights.
  • Provide interactive homework designed for students to talk to adults in their home.
  • Invite parents and their children to parent- teacher conferences held at various times and locations.
  • Provide more frequent back-to-school nights and/or weekend enrichment courses for parents with "make-it-take-it" activities.
  • Arrange for parent work parties to make classroom materials.
  • Provide summer home learning packets with explicit instructions.
  • Other activities might include family writing conferences to record family stories, hands-on experiences with computers, and nights devoted to content areas--math, reading, science, and social studies.
Volunteer Opportunities
  • Provide parents with ways to share talents outside of the school building, as well as in the school or classroom. Such activities might include making audiotapes of books, tutoring neighborhood children, and taking students to the local library on weekends.
References

Baker, A. (1997). Improving parent involvement programs and practice: A qualitative study of parent perceptions. The School Community Journal, 7(1), 9-34.

Epstein, J. (1986). Parent's reactions to teacher practices of parent involvement. The Elementary School Journal, 86, 277-294.

Epstein, J., Coates, L., Salinas, K.C., Sanders, M.G., & Simon, B.S. (1997). School, family, and community partnerships. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

McCarthey, S.J. (2000). Home-school connections: A review of the literature. The Journal of Educational Research, 93(3), 145-153.

Watkins, T. J. (1997). Teacher communications, child achievement, and parent traits in parent involvement models. The Journal of Educational Research, 91(1), 3-13.