The family environment can either make or break a child’s academic performance. James S. Coleman’s 1996 report, “Equality of Educational Opportunity”, found that family background influenced a child’s educational development more than school resources.
Although the report pulled from over 3,000 schools and 600,000 students, it was met with little reaction by the media and the public. This is most likely because the findings of the report weren’t in line with the accepted beliefs at the time; namely, that family mattered far less than educational resources like class size, teacher quality, and money.
This report was published twenty-four years ago, but still rings true today. While school resources, smaller classroom sizes, and excellent teachers all help create a positive learning environment, family dynamics are likely to play the greater part in a student’s academic success.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the major factors that impact learning, and how educators can benefit rom understanding how those factors affect a child’s education.
Five Family Dynamics That Impact Learning
There are a number of reasons why better-educated parents might lead to a higher quality education for their children, primarily:
- Educated parents are more likely to live in an area with better schools
- Parents who value education tend to pay closer attention to the quality of teachers and their relationship to students
- They are also more likely to participate in volunteer activities and parent-teacher conferences
- Parents with better quality education also read to their children more often, which improves vocabulary and language skills.
A closely-tied factor to parental education is parental income. Better-educated families tend to make more money, and so can afford to live in more affluent neighborhoods — and so can choose better schools (as noted above) as well as pay for enriching activities like extracurricular sports or field trips. If the child should need extra tuition, tutoring, or private lessons, affluent parents can afford that much more easily.
Nuclear Families vs. Divorced or Blended Families
Divorce can have a powerful effect on a child’s home life and well-being. Research has shown that kids from nuclear families receive better grades and are more likely to achieve a degree. One study concluded that educational outcomes for children in blended families are substantially worse than outcomes for children reared in traditional nuclear families.
When children are exposed to conflict, substance abuse, crime, neglect, or physcial or sexual abuse, it almost always impacts their learning and behavior. This effect could come from siblings, parents, peers at school, or even trusted adults. The chances of finishing high school are lower for children with an incarcerated parent; this also ties heavily into factors like income and parental support.
Sibling Bullying or Competitiveness
While sibling bullying has often been considered a “fact of life,” parents and educators should also be aware that bullying can have severe and long-lasting impact on a child’s state of mind, especially when it comes to anxiety and depression.
How Educators Can Recognize and Address These Factors
Recognizing these factors is not always easy — it will take engagement and attention to root out the issues bothering troubled students. Some common “danger signs” include:
- Isolation and withdrawal or feelings of rejection or being alone
- Little interest in school or learning
- Violence in writings and drawings
- Intimidating or bullying behaviors
- Serious threats of violence
- Chronic disciplinary problems or trouble managing anger
These issues can graduate to physical fighting with peers, destruction of property, or even possession of weapons.
Once an educator recognizes these signs, they’ll be in a much better position to do something about it. Here are some common strategies for dealing with these issues:
If you have the interest, it might make sense to continue your education in human development and family studies. Some teaching degrees might not allow for the full scope of the physical, social, and emotional factors that play a part in families and human development.
Engage with the student to gain their trust and work with them to help overcome or address some of the problems they’re facing. This requires a firm but delicate touch: a teacher must remain calm, avoid resorting to blame or ridicule, and be careful not to get into win / lose conflicts, focusing on problem solving instead of punishment.
Build positive parent-teacher relationships. This may not always be as easy as it seems — when home life is a major cause of a child’s learning problems, parents can get defensive and uncooperative. You may have to cultivate some people skills to work with them more effectively.
Use school support structures like additional classes, psychological help or counseling, and access to family services such as intervention support. If those resources aren’t available, try advocating for them and helping families find support outside the school system.