Effective teacher-parent relationships and parent engagement in their child’s learning improves student outcomes. Researchers in the United States have surveyed parents and carers of preschoolers about their role in their child’s learning, and the support they’d like from teachers.
The small-scale study found participants prioritise reading development over mathematics at home, lack confidence in fostering mathematics skills with their children, and want more information from teachers on their child’s progress and fun activities to support home-learning.
In their paper, Learning at home: What preschool children’s parents do and what they want to learn from their children’s teachers, Susan Sonnenschein, Michele Stites, and Rebecca Dowling from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, say ‘preschool teachers play an important role in supporting home learning of reading and mathematics. Preschool teachers and parents need to collaborate on home-based activities that support such learning’.
Their survey, which recruited participants through social media, received 126 responses and asked 38 questions to assess the beliefs these parents and carers have about their role in their child’s mathematics and reading development. Almost all were mothers of preschool children (97 per cent), and 92 per cent were considered highly educated, as they had at least a bachelor’s degree.
Supporting reading and maths in the home
Most participants (86 per cent) said they believe it’s very important for their children to engage in reading activities at home, and 77 per cent said it’s very important to assist their children with these activities. For mathematics, 68 per cent felt mathematics activities are very important to engage with at home, and 70 per cent said it’s very important to assist their children.
While 65 per cent of participants reported that their children engage in reading activities each day of the week, just 22 per cent said the same for mathematics activities. More time was spent with children on reading activities (29.4 minutes) than mathematics (16.9 minutes). The researchers say this is a troubling finding.
‘As the data in this study show, children not only engage in reading activities more times per week than in mathematics activities, the amount of time they devote to reading and mathematics activities differs and favours reading,’ the authors write. ‘Such a pattern is troubling given the importance of children’s mathematics skills at school entry for subsequent academic development and the importance of mathematics skills for future vocational outcomes.’
Parents and carers were also asked how confident they are that they know what to do to support their child's learning in reading and mathematics. Again, more were confident in supporting reading (40 per cent saying they are very confident) than in mathematics (32 per cent). Just over one-third (35 per cent) said they are not confident in assisting their children with reading, and 44 per cent said the same for mathematics.
‘Although parents may think that reading is more important than mathematics, the difference in children’s reported engagement in such activities may come from parents lacking confidence in how to foster their children’s mathematics skills,’ the report reads.
What do preschool parents and carers want from teachers?
The survey uncovered two main sources of information participants want from their children’s teachers: more information on how well their children are doing, and activities they could complete with their children at home that are fun and engaging.
Almost one-quarter of parents and carers (24 per cent) indicated their child’s school did not provide any information or activities to support reading and the figure rose to 37 per cent for mathematics.
When asked what kind of resources they’d like for reading and maths, three specific types emerged as most desirable:
- Instructions for activities to do at home (51 per cent would like this for reading, and 42 per cent would like this for maths)
- Notes or updates on progress (53 per cent would like this for reading, and 35 per cent would like this for maths)
- Toys or games (43 per cent would like this for reading, 45 per cent would like this for maths)
‘We argue that even highly educated parents often lack the confidence to support their young children’s academic growth, particularly in mathematics,’ the researchers conclude. ‘This demonstrates a critical need for teachers to communicate activities and ideas for parents to support learning in the home. If we hope to support the important relationship between the school and home for learning, these considerations need to be addressed.’
Sonnenschein, S., Stites, M., & Dowling, R. (2021). Learning at home: What preschool children’s parents do and what they want to learn from their children’s teachers. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 19(3), 309–322. https://doi.org/10.1177/1476718X20971321
How often do you speak to parents and carers about how they are supporting their child’s learning at home? Do they feel confident in assisting their children with home-learning tasks? Is this the same for reading and mathematics? Would they like more resources and activity ideas?