Parenting Classes, Parenting Behavior, and Child Cognitive Development in Early Head Start: A Longitudinal Model

Article excerpt


This study analyzed Early Head Start Research and Evaluation (EHSRE) study data, examining the effect of parenting classes on parenting behaviors and children's cognitive outcomes. The study analyzed three sets of dependent variables: parental language and cognitive stimulation, parent-child interactive activities, and the Bayley Mental Development Index (MDI) of children. The analysis results, using Longitudinal Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) and multivariate analyses, revealed that parents who attended parenting classes stimulated their children's language and cognitive development and provided educational activities more than did parents who did not participate in parenting classes. The cognitive outcomes (the Bayley MDI scores) of the children whose parents attended parenting classes were significantly higher than those of the children of parents who had never attended these classes.

Key Words: Early Head Start, parenting classes, behavior, child cognitive development, longitudinal model, mothers, preschool, parent-child interactions


Parental involvement in children's education has been an important issue because it is a critical resource for children's success in school. Research has consistently indicated that parental involvement relates positively to school achievement. Many educational practitioners are making an effort to evoke parents' involvement in parenting workshops, volunteering in class activities, or various other opportunities. These efforts lead to better behavioral and academic outcomes for children (Bailey, Silvern, & Brabham, 2004; Flouri, 2004; Li, 2006; Reutzel, Fawson, & Smith, 2006; Senechal, 2006; St. Clair & Jackson, 2006; Sy & Schulenberg, 2005; Yan & Lin, 2005). Early studies on parental involvement in preschool programs have also indicated its benefits on children's cognitive and social development. When mothers participated in a program to improve verbal interaction, preschool children of low-income families showed significant cognitive development (Madden, Levenstein, & Levenstein, 1976); when mothers participated in parent-child intervention programs, 1- or 2-year-old toddlers displayed substantially improved cognitive development (Bronfenbrenner, 1974). Pfannenstiel and Seltzer (1985) also showed that preschoolers whose parents participated in a parent education program displayed significantly higher intelligence, language ability, and social development.

The findings of early studies substantiated the importance of intervention programs that first encourage parents to participate in parental education programs and later guide them in daily practice of their gained knowledge and skills to promote their children's cognitive and social development. Despite the proven importance of parent education, recent studies on the effects of parental classes in preschool or childcare programs have been under-represented. Moreover, research on the impact of parenting classes for children who are preschool age or younger have been less studied than those for school-age children.

This study examines the effects of parental involvement for infant and toddler preschoolers from low-income families by using Early Head Start (EHS) data. EHS constitutes a nationally representative dataset which contains variables of various family backgrounds and types of parental involvement. Among the types of parental involvement, we particularly paid attention to the effects of parenting classes on parental language and cognitive stimulation, parent-child interactive activities, and children's cognitive outcomes.

The study was guided by the following research hypotheses:

* The parents who participated in parenting classes from EHS would demonstrate more parental language and cognitive stimulation, as measured by home observation and by video recording, than those who did not.

* The parents who participated in parenting classes from EHS would demonstrate more parent-child interactive activities than those who did not. …


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