Why does parent-child engagement matter? You have probably heard the saying that parents are a child’s primary educator and caregiver, but do you really understand what your role entails as a parent?
The first five years of a child’s life are particularly important; they are the building blocks for a child’s future growth, learning and development. During the first few years, the child’s brain undergoes a period of rapid development - more than one million neural connections are formed each second  - and by age five, 85% of intellect, skills and personality are developed. As children grow, they become particularly sensitive to external stimuli, and research indicates that the early experiences, including responsive and stimulating interactions with parents, have a direct impact on how children develop learning skills as well as cognitive, social and emotional abilities. In fact, such experiences can have an impact that lasts a lifetime.
Since children spend most of their time with their parents, the parent-child relationship matters a lot! And while many factors influence child learning, the home learning environment shapes their development the most. A family’s socio-economic status is evidenced to predict a child’s success in early learning, however, parenting is twice as predictive.
All children need care, protection and support. Raising a child, is therefore not limited to the fulfillment of basic needs but extends to include psychological needs fulfillment, and the best people to provide that support are the child’s parents. Parents play a key role in children’s development and learning, through the way they speak, play, behave and interact with them. Even if the parents are not literate or educated, they still can positively influence the child learning process at home, after, of course, understanding the stages of child development, and knowing what to expect and how to best support the child as he or she grows.
Thus far, it is clear why a child’s learning journey begins at home and how the early years create a ‘window of opportunity’ for parents, but the question that remains is what can parents do, especially given the busy lives they lead, and the economic and social stresses they are under.
Parental engagement can take many forms, and approaches vary by level of impact. The two core domains of engagement include family-led learning and family-school partnerships. The latter involves parent-teacher communication and parent engagement in the school community, whereas the former includes strategies as simple as parents talking, reading and playing with the child, or as structured as providing trainings targeted at developing parents own knowledge and skills. Such interventions can be delivered at home or outside the home in health centers, schools, community centers or via various media forms. In terms of impact and across studies, parental engagement in early years education has consistently shown a small to moderate, yet significant impact on children’s future academic success. According to the Education Endowment Foundation, programs, on average, contribute to a positive impact of four additional month’s progress on learning over the course of a year.
Parents, schools, communities and governments should work together to allow children to reach their full potential. Therefore, by targeting parents, we are targeting one of the most importance sources of child learning, while slightly compensating for economic and social disadvantages.
In Jordan, unfortunately, the majority of parents are not involved in their children’s learning and development. This partially stems from the lack of knowledge and inaccurate perceptions towards early child education and care. A Queen Rania Foundation survey has revealed that 55% of mothers ‘totally’ or ‘somewhat’ believe that parental care at home has limited impact on a child’s learning outcomes. In terms of engagement, around 41% of mothers did not read to their children, and 40% did not teach them any letters, numbers or words.
Disregarding these facts could lead to long-term detriments to the society and economy at large. So first things first, parents need to be enlightened; they need to be given a chance to learn and acquire the knowledge, skills and abilities that will enable them to support their children.
Given the fact that children’s learning is time-sensitive, it is essential for parents to be involved in their children’s learning and development as early as possible. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that what really matters is the quality of the engagement rather than the quantity.
Research and Program Development Officer
Queen Rania Foundation
 Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2017). Five Numbers to Remember on Early Childhood Development.
 Wisconsin Council on Children & Families. (2007). Brain Development and Early Learning.
 Facts for Life Organization. Child Development and Early Learning: Why it is importance to share and act on this information.
 Melhuish, E.C. et al. (2008), “Effects of the home learning environment and preschool center experience upon literacy and numeracy development in early primary school”, Journal of Social Issues, No. 64, pp. 95-114.
 Chavkin, N. F. (Ed.). (1993). Families and schools in a pluralistic society. SUNY Press.
 Fox, S., Olsen A. (2014). Education Capital: Defining Parental Engagement.
 Education Endowment Foundation. (2018). Early Years Toolkit: Parental Engagement.
 Queen Rania Foundation. (2015). Early Childhood Development (ECD) Survey.