How important is it, really, for parents to be involved in school functions? Will your second-grader suffer in school if you don’t contribute to the bake sale? What matters most—volunteering your time, nagging about homework, going to teacher meetings, trying to influence the school curriculum, or making rules to limit television time?
The answer provided by Dr. William Jeynes, professor of teacher education at California State University Long Beach, may surprise you even as it makes deep, intuitive sense. In a recent article in Teachers College Record, Dr. Jeynes reported on results of a meta-analysis, essentially a statistical synthesis of many different studies on the impact of parental involvement.
The things we usually think of as parental involvement, such as monitoring homework, attending school meetings, and volunteering at school events, do matter some. What matters far more, both for elementary and secondary school children, are more subtle aspects of the parent-child relationship. Here are the three keys:
1. Parental expectations. This does not mean demanding that your child get all A’s. What it means is believing, year after year, that your child will achieve, learn, and go to college. Parents communicate this belief through conversation but also by action, such as sacrificing to save for their children’s college education. This one factor is about four times more powerful than the traditional forms of parent involvement mentioned above.
2. Second most important is parental style. A style that shows love, support, and “reasonable” discipline has a strong effect on student learning.
3. Finally, loving, open communication between parent and child is key. Such two-way communication develops over years, not overnight. It allows parents to communicate expectations, support, and rules.
This is great news for parents. What Jeynes tells us is that parental love and expectations matter most. The time we spend enjoying our children, whether fishing, doing puzzles, playing miniature golf, going to the movies, discussing music or baking cookies, all contributes to their educational success, even if we aren’t whizzes at French or great at gluing posters together.
Maybe this means we parents can back off a little from constantly worrying whether we’re keeping up, giving our children every competitive bit of educational enrichment and support. Instead we can show how much we love and value them by having fun together. The results will probably be just as good.