HomeQuest for LiteracyFamily Involvement: A Key Ingredient in Children’s Reading Success

Family Involvement: A Key Ingredient in Children’s Reading Success

By Laura J. Colker, Ed.D.,  Reading is Fundamental
Published: September 17, 2009

“When parents are involved in their children’s education at home, they do better in school. And when parents are involved in school, children go farther in school and the schools they go to are better.”

A New Generation of Evidence: The Family is Critical to Student Achievement. (Henderson & Berla, 1994)

As the above quote suggests, it is a well-established fact that parental involvement is linked to children’s success at school. Thirty years of research—including the oft-cited studies by Joyce Epstein and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University and Anne Henderson and colleagues at the Center for Law and Education—demonstrate the strong correlation between parental involvement and increased academic achievement. In fact, a home environment that encourages learning is more important to student achievement than the family’s income, education level, or cultural background. (Henderson & Berla, 1994). In addition, Herbert Walberg found that family participation in education was actually twice as predictive of academic learning as family socioeconomic status. Kellaghan, Sloane, Alvarez, and Bloom (1993), in their book Home Environment and School Learning, summarize the phenomenon this way:

The socioeconomic level or cultural background of a home need not determine how well a child does at school. Parents from a variety of cultural backgrounds and with different levels of education, income, or occupational status can and do provide stimulating home environments that support and encourage the learning of their children. It is what parents do in the home rather than their status that is important. (p.145)

The positive results of parental involvement in their children’s schooling include improved achievement, reduced absenteeism, improved behavior, and restored parental confidence in their children’s schooling. (Institute for Responsive Education, 1993). Moreover, the earlier this involvement begins, the more profound the results and the longer lasting the effects. When families are involved in their children’s education in positive ways, children achieve higher grades and test scores, complete more homework assignments, demonstrate more positive attitudes and behavior, graduate at higher rates, and have greater enrollment in higher education. Parental involvement with older children extends these benefits beyond schooling into later life and career decisions.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) support these findings. Three factors over which parents can exercise authority—student absenteeism, the variety of reading materials in the home, and excessive television watching—account for nearly 90 percent of the difference in the average state-by-state performance of eighth-graders’ mathematics test scores among 37 states and the District of Columbia. In other words, most of the differences in achievement observed across states can be attributed to home practices. This means that families can improve their children’s achievement in school by making sure their children attend school regularly, encouraging their children to read at home regularly, and turning off the TV (Barton & Coley, 1992).

The influence of fathers’ involvement seems to be a particularly strong predictor of academic success. An analysis of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)’ National Household Education Survey (2000), concluded the following:

  1. In two-parent households, children are more likely to do well academically, to participate in extracurricular activities, and to enjoy school. They are also less likely to repeat a grade or be suspended or be expelled if their fathers have high rather than low involvement in their schools.
  2. In father-only households, children are more likely to do well academically, to participate in extracurricular activities, and to enjoy school. They are also less likely to repeat a grade or be suspended or be expelled if their fathers have high rather than low involvement in their schools.

Of all academic subjects, research shows reading is the most sensitive to family influence. In 1994, the College Board established a correlation between reading and a family’s support for their children’s efforts. Reading achievement is felt to be more dependent on learning activities in the home than either math or science. Moreover, success in reading appears to be the gateway to success in other academic areas as well.

Children’s success in school can thus be linked to reading to children and listening to them read. Indeed, the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading is reading aloud to children. In addition, parents can also take their children to the library, help them get a library card, and help them find books on their interests and hobbies. The availability of reading material in the home, whether owned or borrowed from the library, is directly associated with children’s achievement in reading comprehension (Lee & Croninger, 1994).

In the United Kingdom, The National Literacy Trust places a similar emphasis on the role of parental involvement in children’s literacy success:

The National Literacy Trust takes the position that parents, grandparents, and siblings have a significant role to play in children’s educational development and achievement and in cultivating an enjoyment of learning. The Trust is directly involved in promoting parental and family involvement through operating Reading Is Fundamental, UK, an organization that encourages the love of reading by way of book ownership, and The National Reading Campaign, sponsored by the Department of Education and Employment. In both cases, community support and participation provide powerful reinforcements for the literacy culture in the home.

The Trust considers the following literacy activities between parents and children to be important:

  • Carers reading to and with their children a whole variety of texts, although there may be value in repeated reading of favourite texts
  • Carers encouraging children to listen and talk and thereby develop communication skills
  • Carers developing their children’s understanding of different letter sounds and patterns
  • Carers pointing out letters and sounds in their children’s daily lives
  • Carers encouraging children to write according to their stage of development
  • Carers and their children sharing in literacy leisure activities such as going to the library, buying books, participating in literacy-oriented computer activities, and talking about the books, newspapers, and magazines they are reading
  • Carers recognizing and acknowledging their children’s successes, and thereby building their children’s self-confidence.

In conclusion, according to research, the family’s role in children’s learning is undisputed. Indeed, public support for this relationship has been growing over the last decade, as indicated by
these trends:

  • Forty percent of parents across the country believe they are not devoting enough time to their children’s education (Finney, 1993).
  • Teachers ranked strengthening parents’ roles in their children’s learning as the issue that should receive the highest priority in public education policy over the next few years (Louis Harris and Associates, 1993).
  • Among students aged 10 to 13, 72 percent said they would like to talk to their parents more about schoolwork. Forty-eight percent of older adolescents (14-17 years old) agreed (National Commission on Children, 1991).
  • Eighty-nine percent of company executives identified the biggest obstacle to school reform as lack of parental involvement (Perry, 1993). Clearly, the family’s role in their children’s learning—and most especially in learning literacy skills—must be honored.


Barton, P.E., & Coley, R.J. (1992). America’s smallest school: The family. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

College Board. (1994). College-bound seniors of 1994: Information on students who took the SAT and Achievement tests of the College Board. New York: Author.

Finney, P. (1993). The PTA/Newsweek national education survey. Newsweek. May 17.

Henderson, A. T., & Berla, N. (1994). A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to student achievement. St. Louis, MO: Danforth Foundation and Flint, MI: Mott (C. S.) Foundation.

Kellaghan, T., Sloane, K., Alvarez, B., & Bloom, B.S. (1993). The home environment and school learning: Promoting parental involvement in the education of children. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Collins, C. H., Moles, O., and Cross, M. (l982). The Home-School Connection: Selected Partnership Programs in Large Cities.Boston: Institute for Responsive Education.

Lee, V. E., & Croninger, R. G. (1994). The relative importance of home and school in the development of literacy skills for middle-grade students. American Journal Of Education, 102 (3), 286-329.

Louis Harris and Associates. (1993). Metropolitan Life survey of the American teacher 1993: Violence in American public schools. New York: Author.

National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2000 Reading Assessment.

National Commission on Children.(1991). Speaking of kids: A national survey of children and parents. Washington, DC: Author.

National Literacy Trust consultation paper (May 2001). Parental involvement and literacy achievement: The research evidence and the way forward. A review of the literature.

Perry, N. (1993). School reform: Big pain, little gain. Fortune, 128, November 29 , 130-138.

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  • I agree wholeheartedly with this essay. A great book that has shown us how to help support our kids in reading is Reading Together, by Diane Frankenstein. It’s a fantastic resource.

    October 2, 2009

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