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Family Engagement in Early Education

Family Engagement in Early Education

mybrightwheel blog

When a child starts school, they’re beginning an educational journey. They’ll need a team of supportive, invested adults to guide them, including their teachers and parents.

It’s not always easy to increase family involvement in schools—encouragement won’t always result in instant family engagement. But with the proper strategies and a growth mindset, early childhood educators can build connections with families that improve communication and equip them to play an active role in their child’s education.

What is family engagement?

Family engagement occurs when families, teachers, and school staff partner to support a child’s education and assume an active role in their development. When families prioritize involvement in early childhood education, it helps start the child’s learning on a positive note and encourages the child to prioritize their education.

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Why is family involvement important?

There is a clear relationship between education and family engagement. Recent studies have shown that family involvement influences important aspects of a child's education, like their absence rate.

Research also shows that when teachers report high levels of active parental outreach, test scores improved at a 50% higher rate than students whose teachers had low levels of parent outreach activities. Consistent family engagement contributes to meaningful and lasting relationships and impact’s children’s success. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) uses family engagement in schools as a litmus test for quality programming. Becoming a NAEYC-accredited program involves a set of standards, many of which touch on the theme of family engagement.

Here are a few key ideas inspired by NAEYC’s recommendations and other best practices for improving family involvement in early childhood education.

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Honor diversity.

It’s human nature to feel more comfortable connecting with someone when they can see and honor your identity. The same concept applies to building stronger ties through family engagement in schools—families are more likely to connect with teachers that are sensitive to different cultures and languages.

Ways to build a stronger relationship with families by honoring diversity include:
  • Take time to understand the cultures and customs present in the families you serve
  • Encourage participation in community cultural events
  • Invite a diverse lineup of storytellers, musicians, and artists to your classroom
  • Openly share your own identity and culture with families

 

Invite family engagement.

Hosting annual school-wide events is a great way to get your families together and show off the community you’re building or your children’s progress. But some families have the flexibility to participate in classroom events—even those that occur at 10 AM on a weekday—while others don’t. Making it easier for families to participate is key to increasing family engagement.

Offer events at various days and times to encourage engagement and offer alternatives for families who can’t get off work. Plan a few weeknight or weekend events so working parents can attend. One great way to invite participation is to host a new family orientation.

Keep families informed.

From daily verbal check-ins to monthly newsletters, families want to hear from you as much as possible about their child’s progress. Hold parent-teacher conferences at least twice a year for formal reports and communicate daily with families.

Leverage all the various ways to communicate with families and consider using an easy-to-use mobile software app, like brightwheel, that will help you stay in touch with families. Your staff can use brightwheel to track daily events and activities in the classroom. Families get real-time updates delivered to their mobile devices throughout the day. This is a great way to keep your families looped in and engaged with daily activities.  

If you're planning parent-teacher conferences at your center, check out our free checklist! It breaks down tasks to complete before, during, and after each conference. 

Parent-Teacher Conference Checklist - brightwheel-1Get your free parent-teacher conference checklist! 

Build a strong school-to-home connection.

Learning doesn’t stop when a child is signed out at the end of the day. In the early years, when a child’s development is exponential, take the time to engage families in building a bridge between school and home.

Provide opportunities for families to build off daily work and progress by recommending or providing at-home learning activities. Make your families feel valued as team members working with you towards your common goal of educating their child.

Measure success.

Define success and use markers to determine your family engagement goals and objectives. For example, is it a success when a family member volunteers in the classroom? Attends events? Completes a certain number of at-home activities?

Tracking results is the best way to know whether your family engagement strategy is effective. For example, how positively do families respond? What do they want to see more of and what do they like less?

Ask families for feedback on the engagement activities and opportunities you’ve provided. Their valuable insight can equip you to respond to their unique needs and build a family engagement strategy that works.

Developing a family engagement strategy

The first step to strengthening family engagement in schools is to audit your current work. For example, the family engagement strategy you’ve been using might need to be updated to account for modern technology, cultural diversity, and the particular needs of children and families in your community.

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To get started, ask yourself the following questions as you outline your family engagement strategy:

  • Are there any processes we have that would be better suited for an online platform that families can easily access?
  • How can we utilize digital tools and social media to communicate with and engage families regularly?
  • Do we have any accessibility barriers that may prevent some families from involvement? How can we reduce barriers to family engagement?
  • What can we add to our staff development plan that helps staff accomplish our family engagement strategy?
  • Is our family communication schedule organized and streamlined?
  • Are we inviting families to participate in a two-way conversation and partnership or only broadcasting information?
  • How can we address our families’ challenges and meet them where they are?

Family engagement benefits everyone

Increasing family engagement is a long-game strategy that promises positive results. First, review your current family engagement strategy and consider how access, communication, and support resources can improve. Then, your efforts toward family engagement today will have a chain reaction that positively impacts a child’s future.

 

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