What should be taught by teachers, and what by parents?

This is an article originally published in The Conversation by Pauline Lysaght, republished here with permission.

Who taught you to tell the time, to tie your shoelaces or to write your name? I have memories of my parents and teachers taking a hand in helping me to learn these skills as a small child. But what about more challenging tasks – who taught you to analyse a poem or to solve equations?

Mr Williamson, my favourite teacher, taught the principles of algebra to our class and patiently went over the information until it started to make some sense to me. I also remember my parents encouraging me to practise what I was learning in class and to try different approaches when the first solution didn’t work. So, who was doing the teaching in this instance – Mr Williamson or my parents?

I would say both. Mr Williamson had the knowledge and expertise that allowed him to present complex information in ways that matched my capacity for learning. My parents, on the other hand, knew that I would benefit from learning to persist in the face of difficult problems.

What lessons are the primary responsibility of the home?

Parents are typically a child’s first teachers. Initially, their focus is on helping very young children to communicate and, with age, to become increasingly independent, encouraging physical accomplishments such as walking and catching a ball, holding a cup and using cutlery.

Parents are also instrumental in teaching a range of social skills, including taking turns, greeting others and remembering to say “please” and “thank you”.

Information related to personal hygiene and sex education is also based in the home. Parents are regarded as important role models in terms of the ensuing behaviour of their children.

A stimulating home learning environment in which the value of education is reinforced by parents, and in which educational resources that support learning are available, is integral to the intellectual and social development of children.

While parents may be responsible for establishing a knowledge base in these and other areas, and encouraging related behaviours, teachers are influential in reinforcing and extending these behaviours within the school context.

With children spending six hours each day at school, teachers in the classroom actively encourage many behaviours that have been prompted within the home, such as expectations of fair play and respect for others.

In other instances, such as a knowledge of the body and an understanding of sexuality, the curriculum provides detailed information and opportunities for investigation and discussion that extend children’s understandings in the formal environment of the school.

What should we expect our children to learn at school?

Instruction in the three Rs as well as teaching across areas specified by the national curriculum are key items for teachers: for example, learning to read and write, to develop skills in numeracy, to gain an appreciation of the arts and sciences, and to understand our place in the world from the perspectives of other people’s values and beliefs.

However, the expertise of teachers goes well beyond simply knowing which information to present to students. Good teachers understand how to pace their teaching to match the learning trajectory of their students and how to encourage their students to go beyond their current capacity and to fulfil their potential.

Are there other settings in which teaching and learning takes place?

The answer is undoubtedly “yes”. We learn in many different locations in addition to the home and school and our teachers encompass a wide variety of people. Teaching and learning not only involve more players than we may typically imagine but, as individuals, we also contribute to what others learn.

Parents and community members contribute to the attitudes, expectations and aspirations of children. These factors frequently determine the extent to which students will engage in the learning opportunities that are provided in a classroom setting. But the expertise of teachers and their work in the classroom is pivotal in terms of children’s education and development.

In addition to academic achievement, formal education supports the development of capacities that include self-regulation, self-confidence, resilience, determination and aspirations for the future, essential skills that we all encourage for success in the 21st century.

While both parents and teachers are influential, albeit in different ways, as far as children’s learning is concerned, education is a shared responsibility. Schools, friends, families and communities all play unique but complementary roles.

‘Parents these days’ are judged too harshly

As the dad of a terrible two year old I found this interesting. This article was originally published in The Conversation.

AUTHOR – John Pickering, The University of Queensland

I need to start with a confession: I’m not a parent.

I am someone who investigates how science can help parents deal with the sleepless nights, the fussy eaters, the sibling rivalry, the intrusive in-laws, and a career that favours fulltime hours.

I certainly don’t know what it feels like to hold your own child in your arms and to see that same child grow to become an independent human being.

I haven’t experienced these things.

What I have experienced, though, is the growing and seemingly widespread view that parents these days aren’t doing a good job – that in fact they’re doing a “crap” job.

Parents are out of touch, we’re told, and too soft. They give in to their kids too easily. They’re over-involved helicopter parents, or under-involved don’t care parents. Or they could be bulldozer or lawn-mower parents, the ones who smooth the way for their child’s transition through life and make life difficult for everyone else in the process.

This is the old “kids these days” narrative but applied to parents.

Has parenting actually changed?

A 2012 study surveyed thousands of English adolescents in 1986 and again in 2006 to determine the extent that parent-child relationships had changed over 20 years.

The study showed that parental monitoring of youth behaviour and parent-child quality time increased from 1986 to 2006. Parents in 2006 also expected more from their children than they did in 1986, including the expectation of being polite.

The authors concluded that their study failed to provide any evidence that the quality of parent-child relationships had declined over time, and that there is little evidence of any decline in parenting across the target population.

This finding corroborates earlier studies which analysed parenting patterns across generations and found that both mothers and fathers tended to spend greater amounts of time in child care-related activities in the 1990s than they did in the 1960s.

So what is different?

The major trend that strikes me about parents today is the appetite for evidence that informs decisions about parenting. Parents want evidence that what they are doing is effective.

They invest time to research whether vaccines work; to find evidence that “breast is best”; evidence that car seat A is superior to car seat B; evidence that certain toys are developmentally appropriate; evidence that the discipline strategies they use are effective.

The costs of having children are also on the rise.

In Australia the costs of raising a child are estimated at anywhere between A$500,000 and A$1 million per child – and that’s just to the point when they leave home.

These costs have doubled since 2007 while household income increased 25%, which is perhaps an indication of why people are having fewer kids these days.

How you parent is important

Years of experimental research are now converging on a very simple, and plainly obvious, conclusion: the way we parent our children has a profound effect on how they develop and go on to contribute to society. Put differently, the specific parenting strategies we use with our children have a direct and significant impact on our children’s life chances and opportunities.

Early family relationships have been shown to have an impact on an individual’s cognitive ability, social and emotional adjustment, health and wellbeing, and involvement in crime and substance abuse.

Recent research has also demonstrated how different parenting styles and strategies influence various aspects of brain development. One study showed how harsh parenting reduced telomere length in the brain (a biomarker for chronic stress). Another demonstrated that, even in environments of poverty, altering the way we parent our children can help alleviate some of the adverse effects of disadvantage and promote better brain development in kids.

A fundamental skill that parents can teach their children is self-control. It’s a skill that allows us to get on with others, to focus and stick to tasks and to be sure to look after ourselves. The importance of self-control at both the individual and community level has been captured in a powerful longitudinal study which found that the level of self-control of children at age 3 could predict their later physical health, substance dependence, financial wellbeing and involvement in crime at age 32.

Nobel Laureate James Heckman, points out that disadvantage is better defined by the quality of the early nurturing environment and the types of parenting that children receive, rather than by the financial resources available to them.

As this evidence begins to make its way into the modern vernacular of parenting, the physical, emotional, financial and intellectual resources that parents are now investing in raising their kids have never been greater.

We need to stop damning parents of today, embrace their appetite for knowledge, and continue to evolve the sophistication and availability of evidence-based parenting strategies.