21 March 2016

Large-Scale Study Shows the Effectiveness of Parent Coaching Program in Improving Children’s Learning Skills

Professor Catherine McBride and Ph.D. student Katrina Dulay from the Department of Psychology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) conducted a research study in collaboration with Dr. Sum Kwing Cheung from the Early Childhood and Elementary Education Division at Hong Kong Baptist University on a new parent coaching program in Cebu City, Philippines. The results demonstrate that coaching by parents can enhance young children’s mathematics and literacy learning.

Young children get their first exposure to mathematics and literacy concepts at home. Parents, especially those living in low-income communities, may not realize how important their role is in their children’s early learning. Even if they perform the role, they may not know how to do it maximally effectively.  Interventions by poorer families are sometimes less effective than those by middle or higher income families.

In this latest study, conducted in Cebu City, 673 families were recruited to participate. All families had a child from 3 to 5 years old and most of the families were earning below the minimum wage. After an initial assessment of children’s early mathematics and literacy skills, the families were randomly assigned to the mathematics coaching, literacy coaching, or control groups. For 12 weeks, trained teachers visited the families in their homes three times per week (for less than two hours per week total) to demonstrate the activities, then to coach parents as they carried out the activities with their children themselves. Parents were also encouraged to continue the activities during the days when the teachers were not visiting.

In the mathematics coaching group, parents were taught to use a set of colorful number cards to develop important areas of their children’s early number sense, such as identifying the numbers 1 to 20, counting objects, reciting number sequences, comparing the magnitudes of two numbers or sets of objects, identifying the missing number, and performing simple addition. In the literacy coaching group, parents were taught using one of two types of literacy interventions. One involves reading storybooks using a dialogic reading technique. This technique encourages adults to use prompts and ask questions in such a way that children become more actively involved in telling the story being read. The other one encourages parents to introduce games that teach early literacy skills such as letter knowledge, concepts about print conventions (such as reading from left to right), and phonological awareness (the knowledge that spoken words can be broken down into smaller sounds).

After implementing the program, 579 children were re-assessed on their mathematics and literacy skills. Statistical analyses showed that the parent coaching program was successful. Children in the dialogic reading group demonstrated two to three times more improvement in vocabulary skills than children in the early literacy skills, mathematics, and control groups. This was measured by asking children to identify nouns based on pictures in the storybooks used in the program. Similar gains have been demonstrated by Professor McBride and her team for middle income Hong Kong Chinese children in a previously published work. Children in the early literacy skills group, on average, demonstrated four times more improvement in letter knowledge than children in the dialogic reading, mathematics, and control groups. Results also revealed positive improvements in children’s concepts of print conventions and phonological awareness following this type of coaching.

Children in the mathematics coaching group showed almost twice as much improvement in identifying numbers, counting objects, and reciting number sequences as children in the literacy and control groups. The mathematics results were consistent with a 2015 study, published in Child Studies in Asia-Pacific Contexts by Dr. Cheung and Professor McBride, focused on an earlier implementation of the mathematics coaching program in the Philippines. For both the literacy and mathematics groups, there was a significant positive correlation between the amount of time parents spent working with their children on reading/mathematics skills apart from the teacher training visits and children’s actual gains in literacy or mathematics skills. In order to understand the long-term effects of parent coaching on children’s mathematics and literacy skills, the research team is scheduled to conduct follow-up tests at the 6 month, 1 year, and 2 year points after the end of the program.

The parent coaching program and its observed effects highlight how parent involvement is a key factor in children’s early learning. Professor McBride urges parents to participate actively in their children’s early learning.

Arcanys Early Learning Foundation implemented this program with funding from the UBS Optimus Foundation. Within three years of operation, the Arcanys Early Learning Foundation has provided a total of 90,000 mathematics coaching lessons for over 3,000 families and has hosted Mathematical Olympiads for its beneficiary communities.

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