In instilling road safety skills, "parents who engaged in a natural form of dialogue with children, allowing them to work out their own conclusions, were more successful than the didactic approach teachers can adopt", said Kirstie Whelan, a research fellow at Strathclyde University.
A project in Glasgow's Drumchapel, where the road accident rate is six times the European average, involved 100 parent volunteers who worked for two to three years with 750 children organised in small groups.
Ms Whelan, a member of the university psychology department's road safety research team, said: "Results showed substantal improvements in children's roadside decision-making skills and in their understanding of the hazards involved. They were much more likely, for example, to be able to pick out a route around a parked car."
The findings have been used in a computer package as part of a Home Office pilot study in Glasgow primary schools, and results will be published next summer. "It is a realistic and desirable aim that parents and teachers work together on this type of project," she said.
Paired reading is another area of education where parents make a difference. Jim Boyle, senior lecturer in education psychology at Strathclyde, told the conference that a child's reading age could improve by 10 months if parents undertook three 20-minute reading sessions a week for six weeks.