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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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About Family Involvement Research Digests

Harvard Family Research Project's (HFRP) Family Involvement Research Digests summarize research written and published by non-HFRP authors and/or written by HFRP authors but published by organizations other than HFRP.  To access the full research publication summarized in this digest, please see the citation at bottom . For help citing this article, click here.

Research Background

Parent involvement has been repeatedly identified as a protective factor for young, low-income children's positive development. Epstein and her colleagues (1996) have proposed a framework of parent involvement that includes six main types of activities that connect families, schools, and communities. While numerous studies have used Epstein's framework to examine relationships between components of parent involvement and important child outcomes, they have yielded inconsistent results. These mixed findings are most likely explained by research designs that discount the richness of parent involvement by using single or small sets of survey items to measure this multidimensional construct. In addition, parent involvement research has tended to focus on heterogeneous groups of children, hindering our understanding of the differential efficacy of involvement activities across different stages of development and for culturally diverse groups of children.

A recent study by Fantuzzo and colleagues identified a multidimensional construct of parent involvement with a preschool Head Start sample (Fantuzzo, Tighe, McWayne, Davis, & Childs, 2002). The Parent Involvement in Children's Education Scale (PICES) is a 40-item parent report instrument that provides information on the frequency of specific involvement behaviors across three dimensions:

  1. Supportive home learning environment – parent behaviors that promote learning at home, such as spending time with children talking about school activities
  2. Direct school contact – parents' direct involvement in school-based activities and direct communications with school personnel
  3. Inhibited involvement – barriers to parents' involvement in their children's education, such as time constraints

The purpose of this study was to identify a multidimensional picture of parent involvement in kindergarten, and to determine whether parent involvement dimensions in an ethnic minority, low-income kindergarten sample are congruent with those identified in a demographically similar preschool sample.

Research Methods

Three hundred seven ethnic minority kindergarten children and their caregivers recruited from seven urban public schools in the Northeast participated in this study. Of these families, 95% were African American, 4% were Asian American, and 1% identified as Latino or “other.” Boys and girls were represented equally, all came from low-income families, and most had attended preschool (72%), specifically Head Start (61%).

A number of teacher and parent measures were used in order to examine parent involvement and kindergarten children's social and academic competencies. Parents reported on their involvement using the Parent Involvement in Children's Education Scale (PICES) (Fantuzzo et al., 2002), as well as on their children's peer play competencies (PIPPS) (Fantuzzo & Hampton, 2000) and broader social skills and problems (SSRS) (Gresham & Elliott, 1990). Teachers also reported on children's social skills and problem behaviors, peer play competencies, and academic success (Academic Subscale of the teacher SSRS).

Two sets of analyses were conducted: (1) an assessment of the generalization of PICES dimensions across a kindergarten sample, and (2) an investigation of the relationships between family involvement (PICES) dimensions and kindergarten children's outcomes.

Through our analyses, we identified reliable dimensions of family involvement for this kindergarten sample identical to those found with a demographically similar population of Head Start preschool children: supportive home learning environment, direct school contact, and inhibited involvement. Additional analyses indicated that these three dimensions related significantly to children's academic and social functioning at both home and school.

Research Findings

Findings highlighted two distinct patterns of parent involvement for families of kindergarten children. First, involved parents were characterized as providing a rich learning environment at home with activities, including talking with their child about the importance of school and helping them practice what they are learning in school. Children of these involved parents evidenced high levels of social skills and were observed to be more cooperative, self-controlled, and prosocially engaged in both home and school environments. Additionally, the academic functioning of children with more involved parents was rated as higher than the functioning of children with less involved parents, as evidenced by greater academic motivation as well as achievement in reading and mathematics.

A second pattern of relationships emerged from this study with parents who reported being “disconnected” from the educational learning experiences of their child. Specifically, low levels of direct school contact and increased inhibited involvement were related to children's externalizing and internalizing problem behaviors in school. These parents reported more barriers, such as increased familial stress and work responsibilities, that often precluded their involvement. In summary, results using this multidimensional assessment tool suggest that parents who actively promote learning in the home, have direct and regular contact with school, and experience fewer barriers to involvement have children who demonstrate positive engagement with their peers, adults, and learning.

Implications for Practice

Findings from this study have several implications for early childhood educators and programs. Family involvement has become a greater challenge in recent years as the characteristics of families are changing. Now more than ever, mothers constitute a significant portion of the workforce, and many low-income children are living in single, female-headed households (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). This supports the call for a modification of traditional parent involvement activities that are largely school-based (such as volunteering in the classroom) to accommodate working mothers or those without childcare. In addition, ethnic and cultural diversity among low-income families is increasing (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2002). Demographic changes, and the discontinuity that often exists between home and school environments for young, minority low-income children, underscore the need for culturally sensitive methods for understanding and encouraging parental involvement (Slaughter-Defoe & Brown, 1998).

More partnership is needed between schools and families in order to find a common ground and a common language in which to discuss involvement strategies. It will be important to assess the expectations of educators and determine if those expectations are realistic given the familial and cultural context. Efforts that are not in the scope of possibility for parents experiencing multiple stressors will create further disconnection between home and school and have a disempowering effect on parents' ability to be involved in their children's education. In addition, information is needed regarding the successful strategies that culturally diverse, low-income parents are already employing that go unrecognized by early childhood staff, because they occur largely at home or because of personal biases that teachers may have toward particular cultural groups.

The significant impact of home-based involvement on child outcomes in this study highlights the need to stimulate educational involvement and support at home. We need creative solutions for engaging parents in their children's learning. For example, future intervention efforts may look to focus on the content of home-based learning activities and search for more effective and efficient ways for parents to spend time with their children in the home context. Schools and communities can also help create extracurricular activities that are known to support and enhance children's motivation and interest in school and be more accessible for parents with hectic lives (Gutman & McLoyd, 2000). Schools and families need to co-construct a workable operationalization of “involvement.” Given the protective potential of parent involvement, it is a task worthy of our commitment.


Epstein, J. L. (1996). Perspectives and previews on research and policy for school, family, and community partnerships. In A. Booth & J. F. Dunn (Eds.), Family school links: How do they affect educational outcomes? (pp. 209–246). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Fantuzzo, J. W., & Hampton, V. R. (2000). Penn Interactive Peer Play Scale: A parent and teacher rating system for young children. In K. Gitlin-Weiner, A. Sandgrund & C. Schaefer (Eds.), Play diagnosis and assessment (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.

Fantuzzo, J. W., Tighe, E., McWayne, C. M., Davis, G., & Childs, S. (2002). Parent involvement in early childhood education and children's peer play competencies: An examination of multivariate relationships. NHSA Dialog: A Research-To-Practice Journal for the Early Intervention Field, 6, 3–21.

Gresham, F. M., & Elliott, S. N. (1990). The Social Skills Rating System. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Services.

Gutman, L. M., & McLoyd, V. C. (2000). Parents' management of their children's education within the home, at school, and in the community: An examination of African-American families living in poverty. Urban Review, 32, 1–24.

National Center for Children in Poverty. (2002). Low income children in the United States. Available at (Acrobat file).

Slaughter-Defoe, D. & Brown, E. (1998, Spring). Educational intervention and the family: The Chicago tradition in policy and practice. National Head Start Research Quarterly, 39–111.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). Current Population Survey. Available at


Summarized from McWayne, C., Hampton, V., Fantuzzo, J., Cohen, H., & Sekino, Y. (2004). A multivariate examination of parent involvement and the social and academic competencies of urban kindergarten children. Psychology in the Schools, 41, 363–377.

Christine M. McWayne, Ph.D.
New York University
Department of Applied Psychology
239 Greene Street, Suite 537
New York, NY 10003

Marissa Owsianik
New York University
Department of Applied Psychology
239 Greene Street, Suite 537
New York, NY 10003

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