While most parents know that reading and writing can boost their child’s literacy skills, there are other notable, less-discussed benefits as well. It’s a great way to bond and interact, and it can give your child more confidence in the classroom. But reading and writing with your child may also improve their study habits and executive function skills, a new study says. All in all, that could mean more success for them now, and on into adulthood.
“People who are good students tend to become good employees by being on time and putting forward their best work. All of the things that make you a good student also make you a good employee,” Nicole Alston-Abel, a Federal Way Public Schools psychologist and co-author of the University of Washington study, told Science Daily. “If you make sure your child is academically engaged at home through third grade, kids go on autopilot — they know how to ‘do’ school after that.”
Funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the study examined and compared data on 241 families living near the university. Parents were asked to report how their children felt about reading and writing. They were also asked about the types of activities their children engaged in at home, and if they offered help with any of those tasks.
Divided into two separate cohorts – one group of children in first through fifth grades and one with children in third through seventh grades – the children were followed over a five-year period. Approximately 85 percent of the children were either white or Asian American, and around three-fourths of their parents held a bachelor’s or advanced degree. A more diverse group would have been illuminating and useful, the study authors pointed out, but the results would have remained 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 said. “It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic status you come from.”
Overall, students spent significantly more time reading than they did writing at home, and typically chose reading over writing when they did not have a specific assignment. Parents offered more help with writing than reading, but as the child aged, and writing assignments increased (around fourth grade), parental assistance declined with writing more than reading.
Approximately three-fourths of the fifth- through seventh-grade students used a computer for writing tasks. About 19 percent of the fifth-graders and 53 percent of the seventh-graders were said to be “fluent” in computer use, according to their parents. And parental ratings on “self-regulation,” or being able to stay on task, seemed to be associated with academic performance, particularly in areas involving reading comprehension and written expression.
Although these findings did indicate some notable patterns, the link is not causal. Instead, researchers say that the information is most useful in helping parents and teachers understand the importance (and process) of working together for the benefit of the child.
“Some kids come to kindergarten reading basic ‘sight words,’ and others don’t know their letters. Add up the disadvantages and the demands of the curriculum, and it becomes very apparent that if you don’t have a collaborative effort, for these same kids, that gap is always going to be there,” Alston-Abel said.
Teachers can help in this area by asking parents how they support their child’s learning at home. For example, teachers might ask what kinds of reading and writing the child does, how often throughout the week, and how much the parent helps. These sorts of open-ended questions then open up opportunities to discuss other ways that parents can become involved (i.e. encouraging the child to journal or write a thank-you note). Overall, that may provide children with better study and job skills, later on in life.
“Academic success is an all-hands-on-deck enterprise,” Alston-Abel said. “Teacher, parent, and student all have a part to play. Fostering home-school partnerships that enhance and extend the experience of the learner can lead to life-long habits that foster success.”