Home learning kits increase parent participation in North Carolina elementary school

iStock_000014442615XSmallHome learning kits are not a new idea, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth a fresh look by educators who want to increase family involvement in children’s education, according to a recent article in “Intervention in School and Clinic.”

Two researchers describe one North Carolina elementary school’s use of home learning kits to reach out to ethnically diverse families and to families of children with disabilities. Use of the kits resulted in a jump in family involvement in this school, where the percentage of children on the free or reduced price lunch program was 43%, the researchers write.

The school developed the kits not only to raise family involvement, but also to increase the use of active learning strategies for Grades K-5 and provide supplemental intervention and support services for its economically disadvantaged students.

The school brought a few new twists to the home-learning-kit concept:

  • The learning kits were designed for the families to keep, unlike other learning kits that are merely circulated to families.
  • Teachers collaborated with the Parent Teachers Association to create the home learning kits.
  • Parents attended a workshop about how to use the kits with their children.

“One first-grade teacher shared that she couldn’t believe ‘how many parents you get to come to [the workshop],'” the researchers write. “She indicated that parents were stopping by asking questions about the kits, homework, and other things, ‘and they’ve never done that before.'”

During the workshops hosted by the PTA, teachers explained the purpose of the kits and demonstrated their use. Parents also were educated about how the kits helped make progress toward state standards. The PTA obtained $1,000 in external funding for the kits, which cost from $23-35 each.

Each container included a book and activity materials such as a box of crayons, a pen and 2 response journals, one for families and one for children. They could incorporate puppets, board games, sorting-matching cards and play props. There were kits for both reading and math.

One kit centered on the Judy Blume book, Freckle Juice, included a blank recipe card, a packet of Kool-Aid, a bottle of water and a plastic soon. Like the main character in the book, children and their families create a recipe for a juice that grows freckles and describe their concoction. As a math extension activity, families were instructed to count the number of freckles everyone at home has on their faces and then to record and graph the freckles.

Families could create a multi-colored bar graph and then answer questions such as who has the most freckles in your family?

“Most significantly, families were encouraged to be creative, have fun, and commit to spending time reading to their child and engaging in suggested activities,” the researchers write.

When designing their kits, teachers referred to the state standards and also worked with general education teachers to be sure the kits met the Individualized Education Program goals and academic needs of students with mild to moderate disabilities. They also referred to a checklist of goals and important features for the kits:

  • Does the kit reinforce content area objectives?
  • Does it use every-day materials that can easily be found at home?
  • Does it include a clearly written introductory letter?
  • Does it include simple, step-by-step directions?
  • Does it have a content list?
  • Is it attractive, colorful and contained in a container such as a nylon bag or shoe-box

During a 2-year period, 76 families participated in the project, including 33 families from ethnically diverse backgrounds and 21 families of students with disabilities. Parents were positive about the project and conscientious about upholding their agreement to read and complete activities with children, the researchers write.

The kits provided a concrete means for families to assist in reinforcing academic progress, they write. “The project seemed to empower parents of children with special needs to become teachers of their own children, and it encouraged the parents to provide home atmospheres that supported learning.” The researchers make the following recommendations for other schools that want to create their own home learning kits:

  • Collaborate with your Parent-Teacher Association.
  • Prepare and organize for the funding, assembling and implementation of kits
  • Recruit parent volunteers to assist with brainstorming, purchasing supplies and organizing kits.
  • Include extension activities such as asking students to explore what is in their back yards.
  • Record contents of home-learning tool kits. Use a spreadsheet to record the contents of all the kits by grade level.
  • Think outside the box so that the kits will be fun and stimulate the creativity of families and children.
  • Keep costs low.

“Using Home Learning Tool Kits to Facilitate Family Involvement,” by Loury Ollison Floyd and Lisa Jo Vernon-Dotson, Intervention in School and Clinic, Volume 44, Number 3, January 2009, pp. 160-166.

Published in ERN January 2009

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