Summer 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB4

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Evaluating Alternative Parent Education Methods


Arlene Fulton
Child Development Specialist
Cooperative Extension Service
Oklahoma State University-Stillwater

Teaching parents ways to effectively interact with their young children has proven successful in Extension programming.1 However, a large time commitment while working with few clients has led Extension agents to question whether small group meetings are the best way to teach parenting skills. This study was conducted to examine the effectiveness of two types of instructional methods aimed at increasing parents' interactions with their children: (1) structured meetings and (2) a self-instructional format. The program was designed specifically for parents of three- and four-year-old children, and used identical materials and written leaflets.

A pre-test/post-test format was used in measuring the knowledge gained by the children2 as well as the attitudinal change of the parents toward interacting with their children. The parents who enrolled in the programs had a minimum of a 10th grade education. Eighty percent had graduated from high school.

The findings of this study indicated that each method of instruction resulted in significant gains in knowledge being made by the children. However, the structured meetings did prove significantly more successful than the self-instructional format in teaching interaction skills. The attitudinal changes of the parents toward interacting with their children in each group wasn't significantly different.

This study showed that parents can gain information on ways to increase their interaction skills with their young children through both structured class meetings and less-structured, self-study programs. At the conclusion of the program, parents in both programs discussed the information they'd gained. They expressed pleasure with both formats, but indicated that the 12-week program seemed "too short." The written leaflets and materials were described as being extremely useful in helping them to understand the importance of spending time with their children.

Another important conclusion involves the time spent by the Extension home economist in preparing and conducting programs for smaller groups of clientele. The structured class meetings averaged 75 minutes a class session each week, or a total time commitment of 12 1/2 hours. The unstructured format averaged 13 minutes per week for checking out materials and answering questions, or a total of just over two hours.

The implications that this study has for Extension personnel are two-fold. First, structured class meetings over a period of several weeks can have an impact on knowledge gained and skills used by parents. Second, although more knowledge was gained through the structured classes, children whose parents enroll in a self-study program can benefit, too, with considerable time savings for the county home economist.


1. M. Coleman, L. Ganong, and G. Brown, "Effects of Multimedia Instruction on Mother's Ability to Teach Cognitive Skills to Preschool Children," The Journal of Social Psychology, CXXI (October 1981), 89-94.

2. M. Blossom and L. Ganong, "Parent-Child Interaction: A Prototype for Parent Education," Home Economics Research Journal, XII (March 1984), 235-44.