Parent involvement and learning to read: meta-analysis


Goal. Educators know that parents can help their child learn to read. But what evidence supports this knowledge? The goal of this report was to review the scientific literature on the role played by parents in the acquisition of literacy from Kindergarten to Grade 3.

Method. In the present review, parent involvement in literacy acquisition was narrowly defined to include parent-child activities that focus on reading and writing. Moreover, the 20 studies that were selected were those that included an intervention where researchers tested whether parent involvement would enhance children’s literacy. Standard meta-analytic procedures were used to analyze the study outcomes.

Findings: Overall. The combined results of the 20 intervention studies, representing 1583 families, were clear: Parent involvement has a positive impact on children’s reading acquisition. The mean effect size for the combined studies was moderately large.

Findings: Intervention type. The 3 types of parent involvement represented in the review differed in their effectiveness. Training parents to teach their child reading with specific exercises produced the greatest results as compared to having parents hear their child read with or without training. In addition, the two hearing reading groups also differed from each other. Training parents to hear their child read resulted in greater combined effect size than did the studies in which parents were encouraged to listen to their child read.

It the present review, intervention shorter than 3 months were more effective in producing positive outcomes than were interventions that were longer than 5 months. The amount of training the parents received as well as receiving supportive feedback during the intervention did not affect the effectiveness of the interventions in the present set of studies.

Findings: Participant characteristics. Although parent involvement had a positive impact from kindergarten to Grade 3, the size of the impact was greater for Grades 2 and 3 than it was for kindergarten and Grade 1. In contrast, the interventions were as effective for children at-risk for or experiencing reading difficulties as they were for normally-developing children. Finally, the socio-economic level of the participating families did not affect the impact of the interventions.

Findings: Study design. Studies that included standardized tests, that included a control group, and that were conducted more recently yielded smaller effects than other studies.

Conclusion. Parents can help their child learn to read. Parents are most helpful when they are trained to teach specific skills to their child. Training parents to read books with their child is also effective, but it has a smaller effect on children’s reading acquisition.