Decades of research have shown that students are more successful when families are more involved, but increasing family engagement can be difficult even for experienced educators. There are a variety of obstacles that influence the school-to-home connection, which makes it even more important for educators to identify those obstacles early and work to create strategies that address those issues. Effectively removing family engagement obstacles will help educators and families work together to dramatically improve students' proficiencies and skills.
At Kaplan Early Learning Company, we understand the diverse challenges families face every day, as well as the many transitions that young children experience during the early childhood years. Our materials and resources support the efforts of educators, families, and home visiting professionals as they strive to increase family engagement in education and prepare children for a lifetime of successful learning. Look through our free resources and tools for more information about how educators can encourage families to be more involved in their children's education.
What You Can Do
There are many types of family engagement events and activities - home visitation, conferences, family education classes, family workshops, family meetings, and volunteering just to name a few. While a single approach won't work for all of the families in your class, a combination of approaches can help you create a family engagement strategy that attracts and encourages family involvement.
11 Ways to Strengthen the School-to-Home Connection
Once you've figured out which approaches work best for all of the parties involved, the next step is to work on finding solutions to obstacles that may influence the success of your family engagement events. Here are some suggestions that will help you strengthen family-school partnerships and get families more involved in their children's education:
Develop a purpose for each family engagement event.As you start planning your family engagement events for the school year, be sure to ask yourself what you want to accomplish with each event. Whether it's to answer questions about grades or to teach families about how to help their kids practice the new math concepts they're learning, it's always a good idea to share your intentions for each event with families.
Make an appropriate plan for each family event.Once you've determined how many family events you're going to have and their purpose, you can start coming up with creative topics and titles to make them more appealing to families. It's also a good idea for you to create a planning schedule for the few weeks leading up to each event. Having a list of what you need to do and when can help you save time and prevent any confusion or problems from occurring.
Give timely notifications of any family engagement activities.Remember to send home an invitation for a family meeting or event at least two weeks in advance. This will give families plenty of advance notice, but be sure to send home one or two reminder notes the week of the family engagement event. Consider posting a reminder on your school's Facebook page or on other social media channels. Email reminders also work well for many families.
Ensure activities and meetings are held at convenient times for families.Depending on the type of event, it's important that you offer a variety of different time slots for families to choose from. If you're holding conferences with parents and guardians, have time slots available before school and after school. You can also encourage families to contact you to work out a different time if none of the available times work for them.
For family meetings, workshops, and other similar events, it's important for you pick a time that accommodates most of the families in your class. Send home a survey or ask families at the beginning of the school year which days and what times would work best for them, so you at least have an idea of what times are most likely to be convenient for everyone.
Encourage families to give their input on what topics and activities interest them.Once you become a little more acquainted with families and feel that they are more comfortable talking with you, ask for input on what topics should be covered in meetings and what types of family activities would be most appreciated. Families are more likely to be involved with their children's education if they feel their input matters with educators. If the families you're working with are a little reluctant to share input, create an anonymous drop box for them to write down and share their ideas and concerns.
Provide childcare at family engagement events if it is needed.Most family engagement events will be ones the whole family can attend, but it's a good idea to provide childcare for the meetings that have an adult-only focus. Having a separate room with competent care providers and equipped with materials appropriate for a variety of ages can make it easier for families to attend family engagement events.
Make sure family engagement events start and finish on time.Do your best to make sure family events and meetings start and finish on time. Families will be irritated and less likely to attend another event if they have to wait for latecomers or stay an extra 30 minutes. Sticking to the schedule will let families know you value their time. If a meeting does start late or veer off schedule, make sure you apologize and give them a simple explanation if appropriate
Keep events relaxed and comfortable by serving refreshments and encouraging families to dress casually.If you want the event to have an informal and relaxed atmosphere, let families know they can dress casual on the event invitation and reminders. Providing some simple refreshments, such as cookies and juice, will also contribute to the relaxed atmosphere and help families feel more comfortable.
Don't be discouraged if only a few families show up at your family engagement events.Educators often feel disappointed and become discouraged if they don't have a good turnout for their family engagement events. If only a few families show up, make an effort to go on with the meeting as you had planned. Word will spread and attendance will increase at other events if you bring the enthusiasm and organize a great event that helps families
Ask families to evaluate the family meetings and activities they attend.Feedback is an essential part of increasing family engagement in education. Knowing what works and doesn't work and what families are interested in will help you plan future family engagement events. Be sure to make your own personal evaluation of each event and take notes of things you think would improve future events.
Send home informative brochures and handouts that families can use to help kids learn after school and during summer vacation.Provide families with the resources they need to help their children learn at home and utilize what they learn in family conferences and meetings. Brochures and handouts with helpful tips or suggestions on how to practice a new concept children are learning will help bridge the school-to-home connection and will keep kids learning when they're out of the classroom.
For more information about these and other strategies that can help you build school-to-home connections, check out Bob Rockwell and Janet Rockwell Kniepkamp's Partnering with Parents and our other family engagement resources.
"Autism Fact Sheet" (NIH)
"22 Tips for Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders" (Monster Teaching Community)
"What is Autism?" (Autism Speaks)
"The Autism Advantage" (The New York Times)
"Autistic Kids at Risk of Wandering: How to Keep Them Safe" (NPR)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
National Autism Association
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services