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Article: Why It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

By Mathilda Joubert, Education Consultant

I remember my mixed emotions when each of my two children started school: excitement for them to start such a wonderful new journey of learning and discovery, tinged with a bit of sadness that I would now have to share them with their teachers. Yet as the years progress it can be easy for us as parents to breathe a sigh of relief at the end of a long summer holiday and secretly think: “Thank goodness, now I can have a rest, or get back to work as I hand them over to the professionals again to take over.” It turns out that we cannot get off the hook that easily. The African proverb is true; it does take a village to raise a child – and when parents are deeply engaged with their children’s learning and schooling, everyone benefits.

There is a strong body of research evidence that shows that parent engagement improves student academic outcomes. It can advance their learning by as much as 2 – 3 years [1] and the impact on academic outcomes can be twice as high as that of socio-economic background [2]. The level of parent engagement in schooling also has a strong impact beyond academic benefits: research has demonstrated positive impact on children’s self-esteem, confidence, behaviour and motivation towards school, it improves their social skills, they develop more positive attitudes to learning, they show higher aspirations later in life and higher involvement in post-school academic studies, e.g. College or University [3].

“When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.”

Parental engagement in schooling holds benefits for children of all ages, even though the style of engagement may look different depending on the age of the child and work or other commitments of parents. Here are some ideas you may want to try or reinforce this year:

  • Talk to your child about their learning successes, failures, frustrations, and strategies to overcome challenges.
  • Display encouragement and enthusiasm to establish good study habits.
  • Set high expectations and model perseverance.
  • Join a class roster to come and listen to children reading or help with in-class activities.
  • Help your child to set goals and teach them that practice brings progress.
  • Offer to come and share your special interests, culture, history, skills or job with the school – at a mutually convenient time.
  • Participate in special events or activities at school. (I know this can be difficult for us working parents, but making time at regular intervals shows our children their learning matters to us.)
  • Read to your child, listen to your child read, model reading to your child.
  • Model cooperative communication with teachers.
  • Come and observe some lessons.
  • Offer to coach a sports team or help out with music activities.
  • Praise effort, not just results.
  • Attend evening parent meetings or events at school, particularly if your work commitments make it hard to attend activities during school hours.
  • Help to shape your child’s identity as a learner, thinker and problem-solver.
  • Encourage experimentation, curiosity, inquiry and discovery.

Of course, the children are not the only ones benefiting from greater home-school collaboration: teachers, the school and parents themselves also benefit as they build a community of learning together. How will you get involved this year? It really does take a village to raise a child.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.… A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

[1] Hattie (2008)

[2] Michigan Department of Education (2014)

[3] Henderson & Berla (1994)

[4] Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (2002)