Evidence for Learning: Parental engagement

Parental engagement

The summary below presents the research evidence on parental engagement approaches in the Australasian context.

The Early Childhood Education Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of communication and language approaches on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.

This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on communication and language approaches. In contrast to the Early Childhood Education Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by early learning professionals and young learners. This information is valuable for early learning centres interested in finding out more about particular examples of communication and language approaches that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.

CoLab (a partnership between Telethon Kids Institute and the Minderoo Foundation) generated this evidence summary in July 2019.

The terms parental engagement and involvement describe the ways in which parents support their children’s academic learning (Australian Department of Education, 2017). For this summary, parent engagement includes:

  • approaches that aim to develop parenting skills,
  • approaches that support parents to help children with academic skills such as reading,
  • involvement of families in children’s early learning.

Factors in parental interactions

Children’s learning begins in the home environment, and parents play an important role in shaping children’s early learning opportunities (Emerson, Fox, & Sanders, 2012). Factors in parental engagement important for children’s development and learning in early childhood include parental role beliefs and parenting style.

Parents having a positive perception of their role in their child’s education and learning and a supportive parenting style that encourages open communication between parents and children is conducive to children’s wellbeing, with this having a flow-on effect for academic achievement (Emerson et al., 2012). Furthermore, parental engagement that begins in infancy and continues throughout childhood is important for child development. Parenting education that helps parents to improve the quality of their interactions with their children has been shown to be effective, as have child-directed interactions (Emerson et al., 2012).

Partnerships with Early Childhood Education and Care providers

Parental engagement and involvement in children’s learning and development is extremely valuable and important in children’s early development (Chan & Ritchie, 2016). Evidence suggests that Early Childhood Education and Care providers use a range of methods to support parent-child relationships, and regularly communicate with parents regarding their child’s development, though interventions designed specifically to strengthen parent engagement appear to be lacking (O’Connor et al., 2017).

Parent-child book reading and literacy

Shared parent-child reading is influential on children’s developing literacy (Daniel, Wang, & Berthelsen, 2016), vocabulary and school readiness (Farrant & Zubrick, 2013). Having fewer than 20 books in the home, and low levels of parent-child book reading, was associated with lower children’s vocabulary at school entry by two and a half times (Farrant & Zubrick, 2013).

Examples of universal family literacy programs operating in Australia include Better Beginnings (Barratt-Pugh & Maloney, 2015) in Western Australia and Launching into Learning (Department of Education Tasmania & Educational Performance Services Tasmania, 2014) in Tasmania. These programs encourage shared parent-child reading and focus on inclusion of diverse families from a range of backgrounds and circumstances.

Parents of Indigenous children

While there is strong evidence to suggest partnership between parents and early childhood education and care sector is valuable, there is evidence from New Zealand that this isn’t always the case for children from the non-dominant culture (Chan & Ritchie, 2016). Inclusion of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and New Zealand Maori children, and parents from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds, need further consideration. For example, parents from these cultures may hold the belief that the teacher is a figure of high authority and may feel it is inappropriate for them to work alongside the teacher, though this doesn’t mean they are not working with their children behind the scenes (Chan & Ritchie, 2016).

There is evidence to support the importance of parental engagement and involvement to support children’s learning though it is important to note that programs to encourage such involvement need to be ongoing and regular (Emerson et al., 2012).

Australian Department of Education. (2017). Parent engagement in learning Retrieved from https://www.education.gov.au/parent-engagement-learning‑1

Barratt-Pugh, C., & Maloney, C. (2015). Growing Better Beginnings”: An Evaluation of a Family Literacy Program for Pre-Schoolers. Issues in Educational Research, 25(4), 364 – 380.

Chan, A., & Ritchie, J. (2016). Parents, participation, partnership: Problematising New Zealand early childhood education. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 17(3), 289 – 303.

Daniel, G. R., Wang, C., & Berthelsen, D. (2016). Early school-based parent involvement, children’s self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An Australian longitudinal study. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 168 – 177. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecre…

Department of Education Tasmania, & Educational Performance Services Tasmania. (2014). Launching into Learning Longitudinal Study: Progress Report 2013. Retrieved from https://documentcentre.education.tas.gov.au/Documents/Launching-into-Learning-Longitudinal-Study-2007 – 2014-Report-2013.pdf

Emerson, L., J., F., Fox, S., & Sanders, E. (2012). Parental engagement in learning and schooling: Lessons from research. A report by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) for the Family-School and Community Partnerships Bureau: Canberra. Retrieved from https://www.aracy.org.au/publications-resources/command/download_file/id/7/filename/Parental_engagement_in_learning_and_schooling_Lessons_from_research_BUREAU_ARACY_August_2012.pdf

Farrant, B. M., & Zubrick, S. R. (2013). Parent-Child Book Reading across Early Childhood and Child Vocabulary in the Early School Years: Findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. First Language, 33(3), 280 – 293. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0142…

O’Connor, A., Nolan, A., Bergmeier, H., Hooley, M., Olsson, C., Cann, W., … Skouteris, H. (2017). Early childhood education and care educators supporting parent-child relationships: a systematic literature review. Early years, 37(4), 400 – 422.

  • Google Scholar
  • ERIC
  • Informit A+ Education
  • Sage Journals
  • EBSCO Host
  • OECD

Parent engagement; parent involvement; early learning; early years; cognitive development; family literacy programs; father/​mother involvement; parent support; joint book reading; family support programs.