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November 2003Page 3REALBOOK NEWS Issue 14

Feature ArticleParent participation – underutilised benefits?

‘As teachers of primary-aged children, we have found out that learning is most successful when home and school are working together. …… This is particularly true in the teaching of a foreign language.’ Anne Farren and Richard Smith in Bringing it home *  

What ‘home’ says or even thinks about how a child is achieving at school is important to the child’s self-esteem and consequently his self-motivation. Many children spend most one-to-one time at home with their parents, siblings and members of the extended family and like to please them and hear their praise for what they do. ‘Sasha’s in the school play and he has to say something in English. He’s getting very good in English,’ mother told grandpa over the phone within Sasha’s hearing. Imagine how proud Sasha felt and what affect this has on his attitude to English at school. Conversely if parents are not pleased with the way English is being taught at school, their criticism can be felt by the child, even if it is not actually verbalised in front of them.

Good liaison between the school and home is very important if participation is to be successful and beneficial for the child. Many parents show more interest in English and the way it is taught than in other subjects like History or Music. This could be because many parents are innate language teachers who have already successfully taught their children to speak their ‘home’ language. Some parents who began English in Secondary School, and learned through grammatical analysis methods, may expect their young children to learn in the same way and initially may be sceptical of Primary School language acquisition methods.


Before children start learning English as a foreign language it is useful for parents to have some brief explanation, either in the form of an English News Letter or through an informal meeting, about the following:


How young children pick-up English Young children pick-up English using many of the same skills they used when their parents were teaching them how to speak their home language. Much of what children say in English initially will be single words or blocks of language. Girls may be quicker than boys to use English and it is not helpful to make comparisons (Issue 11). At this stage parents should not expect them to know anything about the grammatical rules of their utterances or even how many words they comprise. (eg What-are-you-doing?)


Parents’ participation   Support at home in English should be similar to that which parents gave when they were helping their children to begin to speak their home language. Support can take place at regular time in the day (eg an English Time or English Book Time) or at any time when the child shows he wants to speak English (eg the child starts a rhyme and mother and child go on together). It should always be a fun time and not be associated with formal Homework tasks.


Links to activities   There has to be some logical reason for the child to use English instead of his home language; an English language based activities can provide this. Using English language to communicate is only part of the learning that takes place whilst participating in activities. Activities can also broaden the child socially, cognitively, emotionally, creatively and even in some cases physically. In any English based activity there is usually some cultural content that naturally leads to comparisons of differences and similarities. Learning English for the young child is not ‘a subject’ like Geography or Maths; it is about communicating in another code and broadening at the same time.

Types of participation

The degree of participation allowed by Education Authorities or Individual Schools varies from country to county. In some countries the system of Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) is not allowed.

Even if formal parent participation is restricted, some form of sharing between the child’s two worlds of home and school is natural for the child and, if positive, can also be beneficial. Parents often encourage sharing by asking, ‘What did you learn in English today?’ The parent should not

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