Engaging dads in a parenting intervention improved outcomes

A parenting programme in which fathers engage with their children through reading was found to boost the fathers’ parenting skills while also improving the child’s school readiness and behaviour, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

The randomised controlled trial, conducted by Anil Chacko and colleagues, evaluated the effects of Fathers Supporting Success in Preschoolers, an intervention that focuses on integrating parent training with shared book reading to improve outcomes among fathers and their pre-school children. For the study, 126 low-income fathers – the majority of whom spoke Spanish – and their children were recruited across three Head Start centres in New York City. The intervention included eight weekly sessions, each lasting 90 minutes. The effects of the programme on parenting skills, child behaviour and language, and outcomes for fathers including stress and depression were measured before and immediately after participation in the programme. Measures included observations by the researchers using a behavioural coding system that measures the quality of parent-child social interactions, reports from the fathers and standardised assessments of child language.

The study found that parenting behaviours, child behaviours and the language development of the children improved. Moderate effect sizes were found for observed positive parenting (+0.63) and for observed child problem behaviour (+0.34). Using the Preschool Language Scales (PLS-4) to measure language outcomes, effect sizes of +0.52 were reported for auditory comprehension and +0.51 for expressive language. Parental stress and depression effect sizes were insignificant. Overall, the findings suggest more than a 30% improvement in parenting and school readiness outcomes.

Source: Engaging fathers in effective parenting for preschool children using shared book reading: a randomized controlled trial (January 2017), Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology

Can a postcard reduce pupils’ absenteeism?

In an effort to improve parents’ and guardians’ awareness of absenteeism, and therefore reduce pupil absenteeism, the Philadelphia school district in the US together with the National Center for Evaluation and Regional Assistance conducted a randomised controlled trial based on the principles of “nudge” theory. Nudge theory is an approach that involves unobtrusive intervention to promote desired behaviours.

In this study, the “nudge” was a single postcard sent to the homes of pupils in grades 1–12 (Years 2–13 in the UK) who had been absent the previous year to test whether it could reduce absenteeism and what impact, if any, different messages had. Two types of message were tested: one simply encouraging parents to improve their child’s attendance; the other included specific information about their child’s attendance history as well as encouraging them to improve their child’s attendance. A control group received no postcards from the school.

Todd Rogers and colleagues found that receiving a postcard reduced absences by around 2.4 percent. There was no statistically significant difference in pupils’ absence according to which message their parents received. The effect of the postcard did not differ between pupils in grades 1– 8 (Years 2–9) and pupils in grades 9–12 (Years 10–13).

Source: A randomized experiment using absenteeism information to “nudge” attendance (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

Text messages add up to improvement

A new study by the Education Endowment Foundation has found that text messages sent to parents increased maths achievement and lowered absenteeism.

The Parent Engagement Project (PEP) was designed to raise achievement by encouraging parents to engage with their children’s learning. Parents were sent regular texts about upcoming tests, whether homework had been submitted, and what their children were learning. On average, each parent received 30 texts during the academic year. The cluster randomised controlled trial involved 15,697 students in Years 7, 9, and 11 from 36 English secondary schools during the 2014/15 school year.

Children who received the intervention showed a small, significant, positive impact (an effect size of +0.033) on their maths achievement. There was also a significant reduction in their absenteeism (-0.054), even though none of the texts were about attendance.

Although the effects of the intervention were small, the programme is inexpensive and relatively easy for schools to implement. Parents were generally satisfied with the frequency, timing, and content of the texts. A teacher survey and interviews showed that schools were enthusiastic about the programme and liked its immediacy and low cost.

Source: Texting Parents (2016), Education Endowment Foundation

How do parents influence children’s mindset?

Children with a fixed mindset believe that they have a fixed amount of intelligence that they cannot change. As a result, when work becomes difficult they may question their ability, stop trying, and achieve less. In contrast, children with a growth mindset see their intelligence as malleable and something that can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and teaching. As a result, when work becomes difficult they are more likely to increase their efforts and achieve more.

To date, no clear link has been found between parents’ mindsets and their children’s. A series of experiments, published in Psychological Science, has found that parental response to failure is influential. Parents who believed that failure is a debilitating experience that inhibits learning and productivity had children who tended to have a fixed mindset. This occurred because these parents reacted to their children’s failures by focusing more on their children’s ability or performance than on their learning.

It may not be sufficient, therefore, to teach parents a growth mindset and expect that they will pass this on to their children. Instead, an intervention could target teaching parents that failure can be beneficial, and help them to react appropriately to their children’s setbacks in order to support their children’s future motivation and learning.

Source: What Predicts Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets? Not Their Parents’ Views of Intelligence but Their Parents’ Views of Failure (2016), Psychological Science.

Bookworms benefit

New research published in the British Educational Research Journal has found that reading for pleasure is more strongly linked to cognitive progress in adolescence than parents’ education.

Data on 3,583 16-year-olds was taken from the 1970 British Cohort Study. This study follows the lives of people born in England, Scotland, and Wales in a single week of 1970, collecting information on health, physical, educational, and social development, and economic circumstances among other factors.

The authors set out to explore the relative importance of economic and cultural resources in determining class differentials in educational outcomes. They found that the home reading culture (including reading to the child and parents reading books and newspapers) was linked to children’s test scores, and this had a role in mediating the influence of parents’ education and also to some extent in mediating parents’ social class.

Childhood reading was linked to substantial cognitive progress between the ages of 10 and 16. Reading was most strongly linked to progress in vocabulary, with a weaker, but still substantial link to progress in mathematics.

The research also found that parental education was much more strongly linked than parental social class to both vocabulary and mathematics scores, broadly supporting the idea that cultural resources matter more to cognitive outcomes than economic resources.

Source: Reading for Pleasure and Progress in Vocabulary and Mathematics (2015), British Educational Research Journal, 41(6).

TV shows help parents teach early maths skills

A recent report by WestEd examined the effects of maths-related online activities and parental support materials from the US TV shows Sid the Science Kid, Curious George, and The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That on preschool children’s maths skills and their parents’ ability to support maths learning at home.

Two Head Start centres in a low-income area in California were randomly assigned to serve either as an experimental or control group for eight weeks. A total of 90 parent/child pairs were involved, with two-thirds eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches. The mean age of the children was 4 years, 5 months.

All children learned the same maths concepts addressed in the TV shows (numbers and base ten, measurement and data, and geometry and spatial sense). However, the experimental group were assigned to use related online maths material and parental support materials at home for 30 minutes a day, four days a week, as well as attending a weekly meeting addressing that week’s theme.

Post-tests showed that the experimental group scored significantly better than the control group in numerical sense. Parental awareness of their children’s maths ability increased over time, and parent surveys showed that they felt guided and supported by the meetings and competent to continue to help their children at home.

Source: Learning with PBS KIDS: A Study of Family Engagement and Early Mathematics Achievement (2015), WestEd.