In a world full of programs designed to put your child in college before she even starts kindergarten, new research continues to confirm that the best way to develop successful readers is through authentic experiences with reading and writing at home.
Research from the University of Washington suggests that long-term study and executive function skills necessary for school success are best developed not from programs designed to accelerate or enrich education, but from simple, authentic reading and writing experiences at home with involved parents.
At-home literacy activities like basic bedtime stories and journaling not only correlate with higher test scores in school, but are good lifetime tools as well. Nicole Alston-Abel, lead researcher, is pursuing her doctoral degree at the University of Washington, and she looked at data collected by her co-author, University of Washington Emeritus Professor of Education Virginia Berninger.
The data was from a five-year longitudinal study of the academic performance of children in first through seventh grade, and included information from parents about their involvement in authentic reading and writing opportunities at home.
Additionally, the researchers followed two groups of elementary school students in grades first to seventh, and compiled data about home activities and experiences, as well as parent involvement, for comparison.
To collect a range of ages and school experiences, the study followed two groups of students in public elementary schools near the UW campus — one cohort of students from first to fifth grade, the other from third to seventh grade. In all, 241 families participated over five years, completing annual questionnaires about how their child felt about reading and writing, what kinds of activities they engaged in at home, and what kind of help parents provided.
Alston-Abel said good students tend to become good employees, and this is based on strong executive functioning skills developed primarily through third grade. Parents who facilitate that development enable their children to have skills that allow them to know how to ‘do’ school in later years.
They also found that parents tended to help children more with writing than reading, but in those with stronger skills and scores, reading was a part of regular day-to-day life. Alston-Abel said that parents who work with their children at home on reading and writing experiences that have no particular assignment introduce and strengthen skills like impulse control and time management. Authentic experiences included things like emailing a friend, writing thank-you notes, or creating stories from spelling words otherwise unassigned. Opportunities for reading and writing for fun instead of assignment led to better self-regulation as reported by the surveyed parents.
While they did not find any direct causal links between student achievement and questionnaire, they did recognize patterns of behavior. Parents who admitted lack of setting modest goals of focus or achievement had children who generally scored lower in achievement academically than those whose parents encouraged executive functioning skills like staying on task or prioritizing tasks.
Alston-Abel said the important takeaway from the study is that parental involvement in habit development and modeling makes a significant difference in a student’s achievement, and that can translate into life success as well. While programs and supplements may offer some intervention, there is nothing that compares to home experiences where a learner can learn life-long habits for success.