Parents are good reading partners for their children

Most parents are eager to assist with the schooling of their children, but often do not feel qualified to help. Studies support this, indicating that parents can contribute to the development of children’s reading skills, yet need training in specific methods in order to help their children effectively. Researchers Lori Fitton and Gilbert Gredler, University of South Carolina, reviewed studies of parent involvement in reading. They conclude that involving parents in reading with their children produces significant positive results and is cost-effective.

One study compared the reading development of children with reading difficulties in six working-class, urban elementary schools over a two-year period. Two of the schools helped parents work with their children at home.

The families in these two schools received home visits and were offered tips on how to read with their child and how to correct mistakes. Two other schools organized in-class teacher help for struggling readers. These students worked in small groups with a reading specialist. The remaining two schools did not implement any additional programs.

Results showed that children whose parents read with them at home after learning how to help, performed significantly better on a standardized reading test than their peers in either of the other two groups.

Poor readers need more than in-school tutor

Researchers concluded that poor readers simply need more help than an in-school tutor can provide. Teachers’ reports also indicate that the children who read at home with their parents were better behaved and more interested in school than students who did not.

In a follow-up study three years later, the children who received help from their parents showed lasting benefits. These students were reading above the national average, while students who had read in groups with the reading specialist had made no significant gains over their peers in the control group. These researchers concluded that parental involvement appears to improve students’ performance more efficiently and effectively than extra help at school.

Research in the last 15 years has studied several programs designed to train parents to read with their children at home. This research supports the conclusion that parents can be invaluable components in their child’s learning, that reading at home has significant positive effects on a child’s academic performance, and that parents are more helpful tutors if they have specific guidelines to follow when reading with their children.

Reading Methods for Parents

Several reading methods have been used with parents, including Hearing Reading; Paired Reading; Pause, Prompt, Praise; and Direct Instruction. Fitton and Gredler describe one study that compared the effects of these four programs on the reading achievement of 40 first-grade students without notable reading problems.

Parents in the Hearing Reading group received a letter relating the benefits of reading to children at home as well as some general advice about how to read with your child. However, no specific instructions or reading techniques were offered.

In the second group, parents learned the techniques of Paired Reading. They were trained in one 90-minute evening session. The parent and child read aloud together until the child signals the parent to stop. The child continues reading alone until he or she makes a mistake. The parent waits four seconds after the mistake, then tells the child the correct word and the child repeats the word. The two continue reading aloud as the cycle repeats itself. The parent quietly praises the child for reading successfully and for self-correcting.

The third group learned the Pause, Prompt, Praise method. Parents attended a 90-minute training session to learn the correction procedures, which included delayed correction, emphasis on semantic and syntactic cues, and praise for self-correction. Books in these first three groups were chosen by the child and parent.

The fourth group learned the parent version of Direct Instruction in three 90-minute training sessions. Direct Instruction is a comprehensive, phonics-based program with fully scripted lessons and graded reading material. It follows a didactic system of word and letter pronunciation, blending and error correction procedures.


Student progress was measured by a standardized reading test, the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability. At the end of 10 weeks, the Paired Reading and Direct Instruction groups improved in accuracy and comprehension significantly more than the groups using the other two methods. The scores of these readers were two or three times greater than those in Hearing Reading or Pause, Prompt, Praise.

These researchers suggest that parental involvement programs should be simple and inexpensive so they can be used widely and on a long-term basis. Direct Instruction, although effective, involves expensive materials and is time-consuming for parents to learn and use. Paired Reading is equally effective at increasing reading skills, yet very easy for parents and children to master.

Reading aloud in unison reduces anxiety and increases fluency which, in turn, improves comprehension. This method also allows children to choose the books they read, to set the pace of reading and to control the amount of parental help.

Children quickly become adept at selecting books at an appropriate level by browsing the text. Paired Reading creates a safe environment in which to practice reading skills. Continuous feedback and modeling by a competent reader offer strong cognitive support to the beginning reader. In addition, it is an extremely cost-effective method. A single evening of training and practice, with access to teachers for support, makes this an easy program to start and maintain.

“Parental Involvement in Reading Remediation with Young Children”, Psychology in the Schools, Volume 33, Number 4, October 1996, pp. 325-333.

Published in ERN January/February 1997 Volume 10 Number 1

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