A study for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations on their reading comprehension and ability to use what they’ve learned in math and science to solve real problems (the most important skills for succeeding in college and life) found that fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background.
Most parents know, instinctively, that spending more time with their children and being actively involved in their education will give their children a good head-start in life. But as many parents have to juggle competing demands at work and at home, there never seems to be enough time. Often, too, parents are reluctant to offer to help their children with school work because they feel they lack some of the skills that would make a difference to their children’s success in school.
The good news coming from analyses of PISA data is that it does not require a PhD or unlimited hours for parents to make a difference. In fact, many parent child activities that are associated with better reading performance among students involve relatively little time and no specialised knowledge. What these activities do demand, though, is genuine interest and active engagement.