The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children
Annual statistical report 2010

7 Family education environment

Suzanne MacLaren, Australian Institute of Family Studies

Children's experiences of early education and their home learning environment are important influences on later educational outcomes (Melhuish et al., 2008). This chapter looks at various factors that make up the educational environment of the home, and how families differ in the manner in which they support children's early learning. Parenting factors considered include the frequency with which the child is read to, which has been linked to better developmental outcomes and greater motivation to learn (Melhuish, 2008). Other parenting factors discussed in this chapter include whether or not parents help with homework in the early years of school, are involved in children's classroom activities or do activities with children at home. These factors are important in shaping the way a child comes to view his or her school environment, and how motivated about and engaged in learning the child is (Mansour & Martin, 2009). Mothers' expectations about how far their child will progress through the education system are also examined, as well as family differences on children's exposure to television and how many books are available for the child to read at home.

This chapter uses LSAC data for Waves 1-3 for the K cohort to examine how often children are helped with their homework, mothers' involvement in class activities, mothers' expectations of child's educational achievements, and numbers of books in the home.1 Data from the B cohort at Wave 3, when children were aged 4-5 years, is used in addition to data from the K cohort to examine how often children spend time reading with a family member, and how much time children spend watching television.

The analyses examine how various measures of the quality of the child's home learning environment vary for different subpopulation groups. Comparisons are made between the following subpopulation groups (see Chapter 2 for details about these groups):

  • family socio-economic position (SEP) (lowest 25%, middle 50% and highest 25%);
  • main language spoken at home by the mother (English, not English);
  • highest level of parental education (highest qualification between both parents) (lower than Year 12, lower than Year 12 with diploma/certificate/other, Year 12, Year 12 with diploma/certificate/other, tertiary);
  • mother's age at the birth of the child (younger than 25, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40 or older); and
  • type of family (two-parent family, lone mother family).

This chapter compares the percentages of mothers from different subpopulation groups who gave various responses to the questions, and uses a chi-square test of independence to indicate whether there is a significant relationship between different subpopulation groups and responses to the questions. For example, it tests whether there is a relationship between the family's socio-economic position and the frequency with which mothers reported helping their children with their homework. In interpreting the results of these analyses it is important to recognise that many of the factors explored here are related (for example, parental education is one of the components of the measure of family socio-economic position), and further multivariate analysis is required to further define the relationships between the different factors. This chapter intends to provide an overview of the topic, and highlight potential areas for further research.

7.1 Helping with homework

When the K cohort children were aged 6-7 at Wave 2, there was a significant relationship between the socio-economic position of the child's family and the frequency with which mothers helped their child with homework (Table 7.1). Mothers from the middle 50% on the measure of family socio-economic position were more likely than lowest or highest ranking families to assist their children with homework daily. The wording of this question changed slightly in Wave 3 to ask whether any family member had helped the child with their homework, but the relationship with the family socio-economic position remained significant.

Table 7.1 Frequency with which mothers (Wave 2) and any family member (Wave 3) helped children with homework, by family socio-economic position, K cohort, Waves 2 and 3
  Lowest 25% Middle 50% Highest 25%
Wave 2 a
Daily 68.1 72.3 70.4
A few times a week 23.1 21.2 24.5
Once a week 5.8 4.9 4.1
A few times a month or less 3.0 1.6 1.0
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 1,054 2,112 1,038
Wave 3 b
Five or more days a week 26.5 29.1 26.1
3 or 4 days a week 33.7 36.5 36.3
1 or 2 days a week 27.4 26.2 28.3
Less than once a week 8.7 5.9 6.8
Never 3.7 2.2 2.5
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 1,033 2,067 1,019

Notes: a Wave 2: χ2(6, n = 4,204) = 22.0, p < .01. b Wave 3: χ2(8, n = 4,119) = 20.8, p < .05. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

A significant relationship also existed at Wave 2 between the type of family and the frequency of mothers helping with homework: mothers in two-parent families were more likely to spend time helping with homework (72% helped daily) than lone mothers (64% helped daily) (Table 7.2). Despite wording differences (see above), the significance of this relationship remained when the children were 8-9 years old.

Table 7.2 Frequency with which mothers (Wave 2) and any family member (Wave 3) helped children with homework, by family type, K cohort, Waves 2 and 3
  Two-parent family % Lone-mother family %
Wave 2 (mothers)a
Daily 71.8 64.3
A few times a week 22.0 25.2
Once a week 5.1 6.7
A few times a month or less 1.5 3.8
Total 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 3,609 601
Wave 3 (any family member)b
Five or more days a week 28.9 22.0
3 or 4 days a week 36.2 31.9
1 or 2 days a week 26.4 30.2
Less than once a week 6.3 10.3
Never 2.2 5.6
Total 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 3,543 580

Notes: a Wave 2: χ2(3, n = 4,210) = 26.9, p < .01. b Wave 3: χ2(4, n = 4,123) = 52.6, p < .01. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

7.2 Involvement in class activities

Mothers of K cohort children were asked at Waves 2 and 3 about their involvement with their child's classroom activities. Table 7.3 shows the percentage of mothers who indicated that they had visited the child's class, contacted the child's teacher, and attended a school event during the last school term, for the three levels of family SEP. Mothers were more likely to visit their child's class when the children were aged 6-7 (Wave 2) than when they were aged 8-9 (Wave 3). There was a significant association between family socio-economic position and all three items relating to the mother's involvement with their child's class, for both waves. For example, in Wave 3, 64% of mothers from the lowest socio-economic position had recently attended a school event, while 82% of mothers in the highest socio-economic position had done so. This trend is consistent for all three questions relating to mothers' involvement in their child's class, with involvement being more likely as family socio-economic status increases.

Table 7.3 Mother's involvement in class activities during the previous school term, by family socio-economic position, K cohort, Waves 2
  Wave 2 Wave 3
Lowest 25% Middle 50% Highest 25% Lowest 25% Middle 50% Highest 25%
Visited study child's class a 81.4 87.7 88.8 64.6 71.2 73.2
Contacted the teacher about study child b 69.8 72.4 76.2 67.2 77.2 82.3
Attended school event c 68.0 79.2 82.0 63.8 72.9 81.8
No. of observations 1,076 2,153 1,061 1,033 2,067 1,019

Notes: a Wave 2: χ2(2, n = 4,290) = 33.9, p < .01; Wave 3: χ2(2, n = 4,119) = 23.0, p < .01. b Wave 2: χ2(2, n = 4,290) = 11.2, p < .05; Wave 3: χ2(2, n = 4,119) = 70.9, p < .01. c Wave 2: χ2(2, n = 4,290) = 75.1, p < .01; Wave 3: χ2(2, n = 4,119) = 81.8, p < .01.

There was also a significant relationship between the main language spoken by the mother at home and her involvement in her child's school activities. Table 7.4 shows that when children were aged 6-7 (Wave 2) and 8-9 (Wave 3), levels of involvement were higher for the mothers who mainly spoke English at home across nearly all activities. In Wave 2, 87% of mothers who spoke English at home visited their child's class during the last school term, while 81% of mothers whose main language was not English had done so. This disparity is also seen at Wave 3, with 70% of English-speaking mothers visiting the class, compared with 65% of mothers whose main language was not English visiting the class. This pattern is also evident for mothers who attended a school event, but for contact with the child's teacher at Wave 2 there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups.

Table 7.4 Mothers' involvement in class activities during the previous school term, by main language spoken at home by mother, K cohort, Waves 2 and 3
  Wave 2 Wave 3
English % Other % English % Other %
Visited study child's class a 87.0 80.9 70.4 65.3
Contacted the teacher about study child b 72.3 72.2 76.0 70.4
Attended school event c 77.7 70.4 73.9 60.8
No. of observations 3,687 609 3,576 547

Notes: a Wave 2: χ2(1, n = 4,296) = 19.6, p < .01; Wave 3: χ2(1, n = 4,123) = 7.0, p < .05. b Wave 2: χ2(1, n = 4,296) = 0.0, p = .959; Wave 3: χ2(1, n = 4,123) = 9.4, p < .05. c Wave 2: χ2(1, n = 4,296) = 18.5, p < .01; Wave 3: χ2(1, n = 4,123) = 48.6, p < .01.

7.3 Mother's expectations of child's future educational achievements

At Waves 2 and 3, mothers of K cohort children were asked to indicate whether they expected their child to:

  • not finish high school;
  • finish high school only;
  • complete a trade or vocational training course;
  • go to university and complete a degree; or
  • complete postgraduate qualifications.

Table 7.5 shows a significant relationship for both waves between mothers' expectations of their children's future educational achievements and the level of parental education (the highest level of education between the two parents). Although mothers from all groups were most likely to expect their child to gain a university degree, higher levels of mothers' expectations of their children's educational achievements were associated with higher levels of parental education. In Waves 2 and 3, 82% of mothers from a family where at least one of the parents had a tertiary degree expected their child to also gain a tertiary degree. In contrast, 43-44% of mothers in the lowest educational category at both waves expected their child to gain a degree. In Wave 2, 26% of mothers from families in which neither parent had completed Year 12 expected their child to complete Year 12 only, while only 6% of mothers in the highest educational category had this expectation. This trend was also apparent in Wave 3.

Table 7.5 Mothers' expectations of child's educational achievements, by highest level of parental education (both Parent 1 and Parent 2), K cohort, Waves 2 and 3
Parents' highest level of education
Lower than Year 12 % Lower than Year 12 and diploma/certificate/other % Year 12 % Year 12 and diploma/certificate/other % Tertiary %
Wave 2 a
Don't know 6.9 3.0 2.5 3.4 2.3
Leave school before finishing secondary 3.1 2.5 1.9 0.8 0.5
Complete secondary only 26.1 22.4 19.9 15.3 5.9
Complete a trade or vocational training course 19.7 21.4 15.5 18.0 8.9
Go to university and complete a degree 38.7 44.5 54.8 54.9 67.2
Complete postgraduate qualifications 5.5 6.2 5.5 7.7 15.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 418 780 563 850 1,684
Wave 3 b
Don't know 5.3 3.3 1.6 3.1 1.9
Leave school before finishing secondary 5.9 4.1 1.8 0.9 0.8
Complete secondary only 24.5 21.5 21.4 11.9 5.1
Complete a trade or vocational training course 21.5 26.0 19.1 20.5 10.5
Go to university and complete a degree 38.3 39.9 51.2 54.8 68.3
Complete postgraduate qualifications 4.5 5.4 5.0 8.8 13.4
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 380 727 540 825 1,650

Notes: a Wave 2: χ2(20, n = 4,295) = 460.5, p < .01. b Wave 3: χ2(20, n = 4,122) = 516.8, p < .01. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

Table 7.6 shows a significant relationship between the mother's age at the birth of her child and her expectations for her child's education. While a university degree was again the most frequent response for all groups, K cohort mothers in Waves 2 and 3 who were younger than 25 at the time of their child's birth tended to have lower expectations of how far their child would go in their education: 54% (Wave 2) and 51% (Wave 3) expecting their child to at least complete a degree, compared with 68% (Wave 2) and 66% (Wave 3) of mothers who were 30-34 years old.

Table 7.6 Mothers' expectations of child's educational achievements, by mother's age at birth of child, K cohort, Waves 2 and 3
Mother's age at birth of child
Under 25 years % 25-29 years % 30-34 years % 35-39 years % 40 years or older %
Wave 2 a
Don't know 4.3 2.3 3.0 4.8 3.2
Leave school before finishing secondary 3.5 1.3 1.2 0.6 0.5
Complete secondary only 21.6 15.8 13.1 15.1 11.6
Complete a trade or vocational training course 16.8 17.7 14.7 12.1 13.6
Go to university and complete a degree 45.6 54.8 58.7 55.1 56.4
Complete postgraduate qualifications 8.1 8.1 9.3 12.3 14.8
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 625 1,389 1,464 661 131
Wave 3 b
Don't know 4.4 2.2 2.5 3.0 3.8
Leave school before finishing secondary 4.9 2.2 1.6 1.7 1.2
Complete secondary only 18.5 16.5 12.3 11.4 9.1
Complete a trade or vocational training course 21.5 19.9 17.5 15.1 14.4
Go to university and complete a degree 42.5 51.8 57.0 60.0 60.1
Complete postgraduate qualifications 8.3 7.5 9.1 8.9 11.4
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 576 1,335 1,411 646 129

Notes: a Wave 2: χ2(20, n = 4,270) = 97.7, p < .01. b Wave 3: χ2(20, n = 4,097) = 93.6, p < .01. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

7.4 Reading to child

Recent research has emphasised the importance of parents reading to their children as one of many factors that create a positive home learning environment. This in turn has a significant effect on a child's academic achievement (Melhuish, 2008). This section shows the frequency with which children from both the K and the B cohorts had books read to them when they were 4-5 years old.

When children were aged 4-5 years (for both the K cohort at Wave 1 and the B cohort at Wave 3), there was a significant relationship between the frequency with which their parents or someone else in the family read books to them during the week and the highest level of education achieved by their parents (both Parent 1 and Parent 2) (Table 7.7). For both cohorts, the children who were read to most frequently by their parents or someone in the family were those whose parents had the highest educational qualification.

Table 7.7 Frequency with which child is read to, by highest level of parental education (both Parent 1 and Parent 2), K cohort Wave 1 and B cohort Wave 3
  Lower than Year 12 % Lower than Year 12 and diploma/certificate/other % Year 12 % Year 12 and diploma/certificate/other % Tertiary %
K cohort, Wave 1 a
None 11.4 4.5 4.3 3.1 1.5
1 or 2 days 30.0 26.6 24.6 22.1 10.7
3-5 days 30.3 34.4 34.0 30.8 25.5
Every day 28.3 34.6 37.1 44.0 62.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 508 902 640 949 1,834
B cohort, Wave 3 b
Not in the past week 19.3 9.1 9.8 7.1 2.5
1 or 2 days 28.1 22.1 16.9 17.4 9.5
3-5 days 26.0 31.8 31.7 29.1 21.4
6-7 days 26.6 37.0 41.6 46.4 66.6
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 280 576 529 1,047 1,862

Notes: a K cohort: χ2(12, n = 4,833) = 442.8, p < .01. b B cohort: χ2(12, n = 4,294) = 457.1, p < .01. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

The age of the mother at the birth of the child was also significantly associated with the frequency with which the child was read to. Table 7.8 shows that for both cohorts, the older the mother was at the time of the birth of her child, the more likely the child was to be read to by someone in the family every day.

Table 7.8 Frequency with which child is read to, by mother's age at birth of child, K cohort Wave 1 and B cohort Wave 3
  Under 25 years % 25-29 years % 30-34 years % 35-39 years % 40 years or older %
K cohort, Wave 1 a
None 5.7 4.1 3.5 4.4 -
1 or 2 days 25.9 21.2 19.2 18.0 13.1
3-5 days 34.6 31.6 28.6 26.5 31.1
Every day 33.8 43.2 48.7 51.1 55.8
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 759 1,546 1,616 733 152
B cohort, Wave 3 b
Not in the past week 10.3 9.1 6.1 5.4 3.8
1 or 2 days 20.8 18.6 14.3 13.5 14.3
3-5 days 32.7 24.9 25.7 26.3 24.8
6-7 days 36.2 47.4 53.9 54.9 57.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 575 1,128 1,664 747 171

Notes: a K cohort: χ2(12, n = 4,806) = 80.3, p < .01. b B cohort: χ2(12, n = 4,285) = 94.9, p < .01. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

7.5 Number of children's books in the home

At Wave 2, when children in the K cohort were 6-7 years old, there was a significant relationship between the socio-economic position of the child's family and the number of age-appropriate children's books they had in their home. Although the majority of mothers (65%) in the lowest socio-economic position had more than 30 books for their children to read, a greater percentage of mothers (93%) in the highest socio-economic position had more than 30 children's books in their home (Table 7.9).

Table 7.9 Number of children's books in the home, by family socio-economic position, K cohort, Wave 2
Number of books Socio-economic position a Mother's language b
Lowest 25% Middle 50% Highest 25% English Not English
None 0.6 - - 0.1 0.7
1-10 10.4 2.7 0.4 2.2 15.8
11-20 10.3 6.3 1.8 4.9 14.3
21-30 13.5 8.2 4.7 8.3 12.7
More than 30 65.2 82.8 93.1 84.4 56.5
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 1,077 2,163 1,067 3,701 612

Notes: a Socio-economic position: χ2(8, n = 4,307) = 328.7, p < .01. b Mother's language: χ2(4, n = 4,313) = 424.4, p < .01. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

There was also a significant relationship between the main language the mother spoke at home and the number of books she had for her child. Mothers whose main language was other than English were less likely to have more than 30 books at home for their child to read; 57% had more than 30 books available to their child, compared with 84% of English speaking mothers (Table 7.9).

7.6 Television in child's bedroom

On average, 20% of children had a television in their bedroom. The family's socio-economic position was significantly associated with the child having a television in their bedroom: 30% of children from families in the lowest socio-economic position had a television in their bedroom, while only 6% of those from families from the highest socio-economic position did so (Table 7.10).

Table 7.10 Whether child has a television in their bedroom, by family socio-economic position, K cohort, Wave 2
  Lowest 25% Middle 50% Highest 25%
Television in bedroom 30.0 19.1 6.3
No television in bedroom 70.0 81.0 93.7
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 1,077 2,163 1,067

Notes: χ2(2, n = 4,307) = 189.7, p < .01. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

7.7 Time spent watching television

At Wave 3, when the K cohort children were 8-9 years old, the education level of their parents (the highest level of education between both of their parents) was significantly associated with the amount of time children spent watching television per week.2 For both cohorts, the more highly educated the child's parents were, the less the child watched television. The mean number of hours of television watched per week for children with at least one tertiary-educated parent was about 12 hours, while children for whom neither parent completed Year 12 watched about 17 hours of television on average per week (Figure 7.1).

Notes: K cohort: F(4, 268) = 37.9, p < .01; B cohort: F(4, 268) = 29.9, p < .01.

Figure 7.1 Average weekly hours spent watching television, K cohort Wave 1 and B cohort Wave 3

Figure 7.1 Average weekly hours spent watching television, K cohort Wave 1 and B cohort Wave 3 - as described in text

7.8 Summary

This chapter demonstrates significant differences between subpopulation groups on aspects of the home learning environment. However, in interpreting the results of these analyses it is important to recognise that many of the factors explored here are related (for example, parents' level of education is likely to be related to their age), and further analysis is required to further define the relationships between the different factors.

In Waves 2 and 3 for the K cohort, socio-economic position was significantly associated with the amount of time families spent helping children with homework, with mothers (Wave 2) or family members (Wave 3) from families with lower socio-economic position spending less time helping children with homework than those from families with a higher socio-economic position. Family type was also consistently related to the frequency with which mothers (Wave 2) or family members (Wave 3) helped children with homework, with children being less likely to be helped if they were in a lone-mother family.

Mothers in the K cohort were more involved in their child's class activities in Waves 2 and 3 if their family had a socio-economic position in the middle 50% or highest 25%. Levels of involvement were also higher for most activities for mothers who spoke English at home compared to mothers who did not speak English at home.

Mothers in the K cohort (Waves 2 and 3) had higher expectations of their child's future educational achievements if they (or their partner) had higher levels of education. While keeping in mind that the age of the parent is likely to be related to their level of education, it is also interesting to note that there was also a significant relationship between the mothers' age and her expectations for her child's education, with older mothers tending to have higher expectations. However, the majority of mothers from all groups expected their child to reach university level.

The level of education of the parents was also significantly related to the amount of time both the K cohort (Wave 1) and B cohort (Wave 3) (4-5 year old children) spent reading with their parents or another household member; children of more highly educated parents spent more time on this activity. Children of older mothers were also read to more often. Socio-economic position was significantly related to the number of children's books a family had in the home, with mothers in the K cohort (Wave 2) who were from a middle or higher socio-economic position being more likely to have a large number of age-appropriate books for their children. Mothers who spoke English at home were also more likely to have more books for their children.

Socio-economic position was significantly related to children having a television in their bedroom, with children in the lowest socio-economic position more likely to have a television in their room. Children from the lowest socio-economic position were found to spend more time watching television than their peers from families with a higher socio-economic position (both cohorts).

7.9 Further reading

  • Berthelsen, D., & Walker, S. (2008). Parents' involvement in their children's education. Family Matters, 79, 34-41.
  • Smith Family. (2008). Home-to-school transitions for financially disadvantaged children: Final report. Sydney: Smith Family.

7.10 References

  • Melhuish, E. C., Phan, M. B., Syla, K., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Taggart, B. (2008). Effects of home learning environment and preschool centre experience upon literacy and numeracy development in early primary school. Journal of Social Issues, 64(1), 95-114.
  • Mansour, M., & Martin, A. J. (2009). Home, parents, and achievement motivation: A study of key home and parental factors that predict student motivation and engagement. Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 26(2), 111-126.

Footnote(s)

1 Because the majority of primary parents were mothers (see Chapter 1), results in this chapter are presented for mothers only.

2 Data on time spent watching television is based on responses from the primary parent (Parent 1); not necessarily the mother.

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