A new study shows that home literacy activities help children build long-term study and executive function skills, thus providing them with tools for lifetime success.
To collect a range of ages and school experiences, the study followed two groups of students in public elementary schools near the University of Washington (UW) campus: one cohort 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 at home, whether for assignments or just for fun, what kinds of activities they engaged in at home, and what kind of help parents provided.
As the study was carried out by UW researchers and detailed in a paper published in the Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, the demographics of both cohorts reflected neighborhoods around the university: About 85 percent of students were white or Asian American, and nearly three-fourths of parents had a bachelor's or advanced degree.
Nicole Alston-Abel, a Federal Way Public Schools psychologist who conducted the study while pursuing her doctorate at the UW, noted that a more diverse pool would be illuminating from a research perspective, but the basic message would remain the same.
"The takeaway is still the importance of having a parent involved in developing the habits and models a child needs to be successful," Alston-Abel was quoted as explaining in a news release from the university in U.S. Pacific Northwest. "It doesn't matter what socioeconomic status you come from."
Alston-Abel analyzed data collected by co-author Virginia Berninger, UW emeritus professor of education, who sent home questionnaires asking parents if, and how, they helped their children with reading and writing; Alston-Abel, a former primary teacher, then compared the responses with students' academic performance.
The study speaks to the need for a collaborative effort between parents and teachers, Alston-Abel said.
One way for parents to help is to engage a child in writing at home through journals, a story to a family member, even an email or thank-you note, and another way is to look for specific skills to help develop, such as spelling or reading comprehension, but pull back when the child appears able to accomplish more independently.