Family Engagement Toolkit

vertical_bar INTRODUCTION

It is important that programs recognize the value of family engagement by establishing stronger parent/provider and parent/parent relationships. Why?

  • Involved families improve school readiness and cognitive outcomes for children.
  • Families have the ability to utilize their skills and knowledge to help the program.
  • Families view themselves as their child's first, and most important teacher. They are partners with the teacher in the child's learning.
  • Families will establish social connections with other parents. By connecting with others, parents feel they have additional support to improve family outcomes.
  • Families feel more comfortable sharing personal and family struggles. The provider can then connect the family with resources. 
  • Involved families improve children's social and emotional development and reduce problem behaviors at school and home.
  • Increased parent satisfaction with the early learning provider reduces child turnover.
  • Parents gain knowledge of parenting, child development and leadership skills.

Click on the links below for templates, samples, and general information. The ELC of Duval developed much of the toolkit, along with the workgroup members. Other items were obtained from outside resources and Internet searches.

  • Engagement Continuums: Will help define what effective engagement is, and the factors teachers and programs should have in place to improve practices.
  • Surveys: Will help develop program goals and improve overall practices.
   
     
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vertical_bar FAMILY WELL-BEING

Since parents and families are their child’s first and best teachers, it is important to know about the overall well-being of the family. This allows early childhood professionals to assess a family's needs and provide them with the proper adjustments and/or resources. Obtaining such awareness includes providing an open and friendly learning environment that allows parents and families to freely express their feelings or concerns (Global Work/Life Fund, 2004).

Like most families, early childhood families deal with deep-routed issues such as anxiety, depression, financial difficulties, homelessness and domestic violence (Head Start Framework, 2011). These adversities often make it impossible for children to learn and make it difficult for parents/families to engage their children in the home. Therefore, it is important early childhood providers create learning environments that are conducive to open communication with families (Global Work/Life Fund, 2004). Below are some samples of how early childhood providers can support family well-being:

  • Community Resources  –  Can be shared with families through face-to-face conversations, brochures, parent information boards, and newsletters.
  • Activities  –  Host activities where families can network (examples of flyers, agenda, pictures, etc.)
 
 
 
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vertical_bar POSITIVE PARENT/CHILD RELATIONSHIPS

The relationship between a child and his/her family is very important.  A child's first experience includes exploring the outdoors with a family member, reading with a parent, cooking with family, etc.  When children enter into early child care, those relationships continue and hopefully early childhood professionals encourage these positive parent-child relationships (Zero to Three, 2010).

Parents and family members can also cultivate these relationships through positive interactions with others. This secton includes several samples of how early childhood professionals can encourage positive parent-child relationships.

 
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vertical_bar FAMILIES AS LIFE-LONG EDUCATORS

From infancy, children are learning morals, values, attitudes and expectations of themselves and others (Head Start Framework, 2001).  Research shows families that view themselves as life-long educators have children who are more likely to be socially competent, have increased cognitive skills, better literacy, expressive language skills and increased positive interactions with others.  Each childhood provider can partner with parents to ensure they view themselves as life-long educators by offering parents a variety of learning opportunities (Head Start Framework, 2001).

Early childhood educators should emphasize the importance of taking action and getting involved during the early years. If parents and families are engaged, the transition will be easier for children moving into a new school dynamic where parent-led engagement is not as prevalent (Harvard Family Research Project, 2006).

This section includes forms and samples early childhood providers can use and offer families to increase involvement.

 
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vertical_bar FAMILIES AS LEARNERS

Research shows children who have home and learning environments that support and compliment each other are more successful across all developmental areas. The National Association of the Education of Young Children note how important it is for families and teachers to establish a trusting relationship at the beginning of care (Magruder et. al., 2013).

Building strong bonds between families and teachers allows both parties to help children succeed, and provides a median for teachers to see what parents need to maintain an active role in their child's learning. These trusting relationships mean teachers are more likely to discover issues involving learning, mental health, language barriers and financial barriers that often prevent families from providing a safe and/or productive learning environment at home (Head Start Framework, 2011)

This section outlines some activities and resources providers can make available to families to support them along their way as learners.

 
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vertical_bar FAMILY ENGAGEMENT IN TRANSITIONS

Life transitions can be difficult for most people because of the element of surprise and, often times, because of a threat of safety or security.  The key is preparation.  Families must ensure children are safe and secure during any transition, including the move to kindergarten or any other early childhood environment  (Head Start Framework, 2011). Therefore, it is important for educators to provide parents with vital information and offer them guidance.

This section outlines ways early childhood professionals can aide families.

 
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vertical_bar FAMILIES AS ADVOCATES AND LEADERS

Parents and families often find themselves multi-tasking, problem solving and trying to meet others' needs, while also working inside and outside the home. Given that these vast responsibilities coincide with that of advocates and leaders, it is not far-fetched that parents/families should become advocates and leaders themselves (Head Start Framework, 2013). There are great benefits to families becoming advocates and leaders since they are also role models for their children.

This section outlines ways early childhood providers can encourage advocacy and leadership through effective communication, offering volunteer opportunities, increasing parent self-confidence, developing relationships and sharing responsibility.

 
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vertical_bar FAMILY FRIENDLY ENVIRONMENTS

Creating a family-friendly environment is one of the first-steps to providing an atmosphere conducive for successful family engagement. This would not be possible without staff that is warm, open and friendly. Providers should clearly explain their expectations and values, regarding families, to all staff members. Quality training will also empower them as professionals and stress accountability (Hochberg, 1993).

Centers/Programs should always acknowledge and embrace families by considering the varying cultures in the population. Teachers should also learn what they can about a families' home and work lives to better understand the demands and needs of their families (Global Work/Life Fund, 2004).

Providing an open-door policy, likewise, allows families to feel open to express themselves about any concerns/struggles they are experiencing. It also helps teachers and administrators to become more flexible and create varied methods of communicating with families. It creates a space, as well, for parents and teachers to have positive interactions.

Below are some strategies and examples for establishing family-friendly environments:

 
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vertical_bar COMMUNICATION

Communicating with families can be a difficult task to carry out, but effective communication with parents is worth it!  When providers and families communicate effectively, children learn more and both parents and children feel supported. In addition, providers gain useful insight on the child's home life, culture and any special circumstances, and can then provide families with helpful community resources (Kreider, Mayer & Vaughn, 1999).

It is also important that the communication is child-focused, intentional and includes both challenges and achievements. This helps sharpen a teacher's ability to discover and seize teachable moments for parents. Even short interactions with families provide meaningful information (Highscape Extensions, 2012).

Ultimately the goal is to build trusting relationships so there is a mutual exchange to increase the child's overall development. It is up to the provider to decide what methods of two-way communication to use in their center/program. This section offers some simple ways to incorporate two-way communication (Kreider, Mayer & Vaughn, 1999).

 

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