17 December 2001

Parents are a highly accurate and reliable source of information about their children`s intelligence and abilities with most able to predict their child`s IQ to within a few points, according to a University of Queensland PhD study.

For his thesis with UQ`s Graduate School of Education, Dr John Worthington conducted a longitudinal study of parents` and teachers` perceptions of children`s literacy from pre-school through to the end of year two.

"The study showed parents were an excellent source of knowledge about their child`s skills, learning behaviour and intelligence. This finding flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that parents will inevitably overestimate their children`s skills," Dr Worthington said.

"The study also showed clear differences in the patterns of how the same group of children were perceived by their parents and teachers as those children developed."

Dr Worthington`s research supports earlier research indicating that parents make judgements based on their child`s development at a given point over the lifelong time frame, while teachers look at what a child "should" know in the context of each school year.

He said that towards the end of year three, the view that a child was experiencing a learning difficulty was more likely to be shared consistently by parents and teachers.

His study tracked parents` and teachers` perceptions of educational development of children from 30 Brisbane families.

"These families were from a wide cross-section of the community and involved children from both state and private schools," Dr Worthington said.

Other findings included:

* Until about the middle of year two, children spent around 10 times more time with technology, such as computers at home than at school. "It seems the saying `home is where the hardware is` is very true in this case," Dr Worthington said. "Regular use of a computer at early primary school is still a rarity even in the so-called `Smart State`." In most cases there was a long lag-time before teachers were able to "catch up" with parents` knowledge about what young children could do with computers.

* In isolation, the number of books at home was not an indicator of a child`s literacy. "It doesn`t matter if a home has seven or 700 children`s books. The best indicator of literacy is what children do with them. If a child picks up books and looks through them without being prompted, this is a very good sign," Dr Worthington said.

* Literacy habits, for example the amount of time mum or dad read with the child, were set at home and during year one. With about 120 minutes a week spent in all reading activities spread over five-six sessions, this pattern remained relatively stable to at least the end of year two. "In other words, a teacher telling a parent to read with their child for an extra 15 minutes a day is often a very big ask," Dr Worthington said.

* Early writing patterns were different; however with children spending about 25 minutes working at home with pencil and paper before they started school. The data suggested fewer sessions of this type of activity occurred once the children started school.

* Reading at home with mum and dad was almost universal at pre-school age but dropped away by the middle of year two with "homework" replacing much of the time available for informal reading and early writing at home. Reading and writing also "migrated" from the child`s bedroom to the family living area as the child learned to read his- or herself," Dr Worthington said.

* Mothers did the majority of reading to children while fathers tended to be more involved as story-tellers, possibly as this did not involve any equipment. "Some families had amazingly rich literacy worlds and the invented stories went on for years with parents and children adding new `chapters` as they went along," Dr Worthington said.

For more information, contact Dr John Worthington (mobile 0414 883 463, email: j.worthington@mailbox.uq.edu.au, website: www.jweducation.com) or Shirley Glaister at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 2339, email: s.glaister@mailbox.uq.edu.au).