George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Parent involvement is the number one predictor of early literacy success and future academic achievement. However, according to a 2007 report by National Endowment for the Arts, there are more literate people in the United States who don't read than those who are actually illiterate. How do we change that pattern for the future of our children?

PreK/Early Childhood Development Domains

Educators and parents alike know that preschool-age children need a lot of modeling to navigate through social/emotional, cognitive and gross/fine motor skills. Many experts in the field of education in the last decade have emphasized the importance of play-based curriculum and its vital role in developing a child's imagination and social skills. Learning to get along with others is modeled and developed throughout the preK years and a child's formative years through programs under the umbrella of SEI (Social/Emotional Skills): anger management, problem-solving and empathy skills. Kindergarten teachers are thankful for the beginning role that preK teachers play in this initial modeling and development. Fine and gross motor skills are honed through everyday preK learning activities such as cutting, drawing, sorting, painting, catching, throwing, kicking, hopping, jumping and writing one's name.

Cognition Domain: Early Literacy Needs Today

However, recent preK research has focused specifically on cognition within early childhood development and on how parent involvement fits into preK literacy development. Past early literacy research emphasized the importance of daily adult/child reading time, as well as having 100 or more books in one's home, and its link to a child being academically ready and successful in kindergarten. Recent research has proved that reading as a stand-alone activity will not help children with pre-literacy skills (Phillips et al., 2008). Unfortunately, the latest research on parent involvement in early literacy has stressed that children need to be given more specific skills while being read to in order to be successful with early literacy skills (Roberts, Jurgens, & Burchinal, M., 2005).

Parent Involvement: What Skills Need to be Part of a Daily Routine?

Parent involvement in early literacy is directly connected to academic achievement. Children need parents to be their reading role models with daily practice in order to navigate successfully through beginning literacy skills. According to research, parents should focus on the words on the page while reading with their preK reader (Evans, Shaw, Bell, 2000).

Here are some strategies for beginning and seasoned readers' literacy success:

  • Point to each word on the page as you read. This beginning literacy strategy will assist children with making print/story/illustration connections. This skill also helps build a child's tracking skills from one line of text to the next one.
  • Read the title and ask your child to make a prediction. Beginning and seasoned readers alike need to make predictions before reading a story. This will go a long way to ensure that a child incorporates previewing and prediction in his or her own reading practices both now and in the future.
  • Take "picture walks." Help your child use the picture clues in most early readers and picture books to tell the story before reading.
  • Model fluency while reading, and bring your own energy and excitement for reading to your child. Both new and seasoned readers struggle with varying pitch, intonation and proper fluctuations when they read aloud. Older readers will benefit from shared reading (taking turns).
  • Ask your child questions after reading every book. Reading comprehension is the reason we read -- to understand. The new CCORE standards assessing U.S. children's readiness for the workplace and college ask children at all grade levels to compare and contrast their understanding of concepts. This takes practice. Help your child explain his or her understanding of any given story in comparison to another. Have your child share a personal experience similar to a problem or theme within a story. Higher-order thinking skills (critical thinking) are skills children are expected to use in both written and oral assessments in school. There is no way for a teacher to ask every child to use a critical thinking skill every day. Parents can.
  • Connect reading and writing if possible. The connection between reading, writing and discussion should be incorporated with daily literacy practice. Have a young child dictate to a parent who writes in a journal or on a sheet of paper. Modeling the formation of sentences aligned with the words of a story is crucial for a child to begin making a neural interconnectedness between reading and writing. A child's process of drawing pictures brings his or her personal creativity toward the story. Sharing these illustrations of experiences and individual interpretations related to the sentence he or she has created on the page is yet another step toward this early balanced literacy approach.

Beginning and lifelong literacy is transformative and constantly growing. However, the process must begin when initially learning to read, and must be as intuitive to a child as when he or she learned to speak. This can happen through incorporating repetition, proper skills and modeling.

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Erika Burton's picture
Erika Burton
Teacher, Founder of Stepping Stones Together ,and Educational Entrepreneur

Mrs. Raines,
I appreciate your interest in Stepping Stones Together and skill based Pre-emergent literacy skills. There are easy to use skill based strategies that parents can use which will make a difference for their child. However, these are still difficult for parents who are not educators to repetitively employ (which is necessary) unless trained and provided with a daily and complete set of tools for success. Parents are overwhelmed with so many resources from teachers, all well intended, for their benefit. They really do need an easy to use, all inclusive, program they are given daily to use at home. However, think of it from their perspective. We wouldn't expect to walk into another person's job and train someone else on how to do it? Why would we give parents manuals and only pieces with which they can be successful with skills based instruction for their child when we can provide them with training and a tool kit of all the resources they need to be successful in an easy to read success based application process?
Just my thoughts.
Erika Burton

Erika Burton's picture
Erika Burton
Teacher, Founder of Stepping Stones Together ,and Educational Entrepreneur

Parent involvement nights are often difficult to fill unless childcare is provided for those in need. Some suggestions of how to get strategies to parents that I have are offering webpages, classroom blogs or wikis ( offers a classroom protected free site you can utilize), video links of ideas, home newsletters of how to get ready for the school year introducing yourself, newsletters that need to be signed, I've even personally gone door to door introducing myself to parents. When you make those initial first introductions that you care sometimes it opens the doors to being heard about important beginnings.
Let me know how it goes!

Erika Burton's picture
Erika Burton
Teacher, Founder of Stepping Stones Together ,and Educational Entrepreneur

I cannot agree with you more about the importance of exposure to early Pre-emergent literacy skills and am also surprised at the spectrum of what our Pre-K children come to the classroom with in terms of SEI skills and development of the cognitive domain. In terms of embracing nursery rhymes- We learn and develop vocabulary the more we embrace the world around us in a meaningful way. I know that culturally many nursery rhymes are altered and the vocabulary is obviously varied to fit cultural norms. Introducing that new vocabulary will help ESL learners too! Childcare is an important piece to getting families to attend any curriculum nights.

Joenelle Gordon's picture

I believe that parent involvement in early literacy is the key to academic success.A child's brain develops at an incredible rate during the first three years of life. A child's early experiences with language contribute to healthy brain development and lay the foundation for learning to read when a child enters school. Parents are indeed a child's first and most important teachers. Parent involvement is linked to children's school readiness.The first school for children is the 'home' .Family literacy is very vital in a child's life. Furthermore,parents who introduce their babies to books give them a head start in school and an advantage over their peers throughout primary school . Although parental involvement has the greatest effect in the early years, its
importance to children's educational and literacy outcomes continues into the teenage and even adult years. I believe that children whose parents are involved in their lives
show greater social and emotional development , including more resilience to stress, greater life satisfaction, greater self-direction and self-control, greater social adjustment, greater mental health,more supportive relationships, greater social competence, more positive peer relations, more tolerance and fewer delinquent behaviors.

Kaydeon Anderson's picture

I believe that parents play an important role in their child's literacy development. The home is the first school and parents need to model to their children how import reading is. parents need to read to children everyday, this will help the children to develop a love for reading. A child is his or her environment and if the environment is a positive one there will be a positive result for that child in the end. As a mother I make it utmost duty to read to my three year old daughter everyday, and I'm very proud because she enjoys reading and she is presently reading her little story books by herself. I feel pleased when she comes to me with her story books asking me to read stories with her. That is the direction in which we want our children go. Too often parents complain about not having enough time to engage in reading with their children. I do support the idea of teaching parents how to help their children with reading.

Devene Sutherland's picture

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." I first must state that I absolutely agree. The power of literacy lies not only in the ability to read and write, but rather in an individual's capacity to put those skills to work in shaping the course of his or her own life. With the insight that genuine literacy involves "reading the word and the world," renowned educator Paulo Freire helped open the door to a broader understanding of the term. As parents and our children's very first teachers, we can begin to support early literacy development as soon as our child is born. As parents we are deemed as primary educators, we should make it our appointed duty to ensure that we devote our time and model reading to our children. Many of us parents engage in this already and don't even realize how much we are helping to build a solid and firm foundation of learning for our children.By reading books, reciting rhymes, and playing games with our toddlers, we take this learning a step further, and the possibilities for sneaking in lessons here and there are endless. Parents should not take it for granted that teachers should and can do all the work. A child emulates what he/she see and it grows a part of them. Children who learn to read at an early point in life become good readers and become confident about reading and develop a positive attitude towards learning. Also, children who read with their parents develop an absolute love of reading that last a lifetime.From keen observation and research parents can help children to become good readers by:
1. Make books readily available for them.
2. Read aloud to your children everyday
3. Show your child that reading is important by reading to them.
4.Ask your child question before, during and after reading. This aids with vocabulary development and critical thinking.
Parents should be cognizant that when they become apart of their children's learning, they have a positive influence on their children's success throughout the school years.
In order for children to read parents need to make it fun instead of some harsh punishment. By reading your child story everyday the child will become familiar with words and can be able to identify them, such as sight words. Sight words, often also called high frequency sight words, are commonly used words that young children are encouraged to memorize as a whole by sight, so that they can automatically recognize these words in print without having to use any strategies to decode. For example "IT", WE" etc. One needs to bare in mind Reading is a skill that holds profound importance in the lives of children. Learning to read well is vital for children's success in school. A child who has poor reading comprehension will have great difficulty in achieving school success, especially in today's educational environment which emphasizes standardized testing and specific benchmarks that have to be reached in order for children to be promoted to the next grade. The foundations of literacy are laid down very early for children; these foundations do not just begin when a child begins formal schooling. Early literacy starts with parents and other caregivers that begin preparing a child to read from the day that child is born.

April Childers's picture
April Childers
Kindergarten teacher from Cambridge, Ohio

I agree that parents are a child's first and most important teacher. I teach at a Title 1 school and parental involvement is a struggle for us. In my experience, I have found that several parents are intimidated by teachers. Some of them have had bad experiences and are afraid to ask the teacher for ideas to help their child at home.
We have two literacy nights each year at my school. There are usually 30 students that attend. Since we have 400 students at my school, this number is very low. We have tried a variety of things to get more students to participate. We have offered snacks and free books to all that come. We just started having a "Book Walk," which runs exactly like a "Cake Walk" and the students seem to LOVE that activity!
I think the parent being involved not only helps the students in my class, but also the parent. When the parents are reinforcing what is happening at school, they understand what concepts we are working on at that particular time. The parents are also aware of the skills their child has and what skills need additional work and support.
I was talking with a new colleague at my school today. She is a veteran teacher, but relocated and accepted a position at my school two years ago. The kindergarten teachers at her previous school had an activity called "Coffee and Conversation." The parents were given articles about how to help their child at home before the meeting. During "Coffee and Conversation," the teachers would talk about the articles with the parents. More important, the teachers would model how to appropriately help the students at home. I believe my parents would welcome these suggestions and especially in this relaxed type of atmosphere.
My grade level team is going to discuss doing this next year for kindergarten parents. I was thinking one meeting every nine week period? I am interested in what others think of this idea. I look forward to reading responses from other educators about parental involvement.

Ruby Singh's picture

Hey firstly it's such a great and touching article. I completely agree with your points that parents are the first guiders of child and being a mother I am really inspired. I have just admitted my child to pre nursery schools in pune ( ) . Will keep your points in mind and definitely try to be my child's first and best teacher/friend.

Judy Kranzler's picture

As a K teacher I find that the best way to lure my reluctant parents to hang out so I can model things they can do, is to start a Doughnut Friday routine for parents or caregivers. They are invited to hang out for the first 15 minutes of school (and the next month I do this for the last 15 minutes of school). Then while they munch on doughnut holes (great bakery donates these day olds to us for free), I give them a way each time to be playful with their kids, with a learn-to-read activity for hands on learning, or reading games that involve a physical component.

Titu Singh's picture

Parents have a bigger role to play when it comes to early childhood education. Children are more comfortable with their parents and can learn easily in the homely atmosphere.I have got my child admitted play school( The school has unique approach and uses innovative methods to teach these young toddlers in fun and playful way.

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