Family engagement is essential for enhancing children’s learning and family well-being. Family engagement occurs when there is an ongoing, reciprocal, strengths-based partnership between families and their children’s early childhood education programs (Halgunseth et al, 2009). Positive family-program connections have been linked to greater academic motivation, grade promotion, and socioemotional skills across all young children, including those from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds (Christenson, 2000; Mantzicopoulos, 2003; McWayne et al., 2004).
Family engagement is about much more than just greeting families when they drop off or pick up their child; real partnership means collaborating with families to build the learning environment around each child’s needs, strengths, interests, and cultural and linguistic background. Building sustainable family-school partnerships takes time, leadership skills, professional development, coaching, tools, and resources. It is important for early childhood educators to critically examine the dimensions of race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, language, ability, and religion in their students’ communities in order to connect students’ lives to learning contexts in their early childhood settings. Early childhood educators must think about similarities and differences in their own upbringing with those of their students and how their background impacts their interactions with their students.
Create a welcoming environment:
When families approach the child care setting do they feel they belong?
Are there opportunities for families to develop relationships and communicate with staff that serve their children?
Is the atmosphere family-friendly and reflective of the cultures and languages of the community?
Are there many ways to volunteer and participate in children’s early childhood development even for parents who may be working two jobs or who don’t speak English or have a car?
Build a respectful, inclusive community:
Do child care program policies and programs reflect and respect the diversity of the families in the community?
Does program staff work with families to identify and address barriers to involvement (such as differences of income, education, language, and culture)?
Are events open to the whole family and offered at convenient times and places?
Find materials to assist in Family-Program Partnerships here.