The ABC’s of Family Engagement

Parent engagement is often lauded for its impact on child behavioral and educational outcomes, yet practical strategies for engaging families in early learning programs can be hard to find.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) helped shed light on best practices in early family engagement through its Engaging Diverse Families project. An extensive research review and in-depth study of exemplary practices led the NAEYC to develop six principles of successful family engagement.

Its report also highlighted the work of 15 high-quality early childhood education programs that embodied these six principles in their day-to-day operations. While all of the programs prioritized family involvement, each facilitated parent engagement in very different and creative ways.

Below is an overview of NAEYC’s six family engagement principles, as well as real-world examples of how these childcare facilities put principles into practice in order to maximize early learning success.

Principle #1: Programs invite families to participate in decision making and goal setting for their child.

Instead of a school-mandated approach, parents are invited to take an active role in making program decisions about their children’s education. Teachers and families jointly set goals for children’s education and learning both at home and at school.

Examples of this principle in practice include:

  • Providing intake questionnaires at the beginning of the year so the teacher can learn details about the child and family and begin mutual goal setting.
  • Assigning a primary teacher for each child who helps the family co-develop educational goals and evaluate progress throughout the year.
  • Hosting parent-teacher conferences that focus on goal attainment and development both at home and at school.

Principle #2: Teachers and programs engage families in two-way communication.

This strategy entails both school- and family-initiated communications that are timely and ongoing. Programs meet families where they are, including tailoring communication to accommodate each family’s language preferences.

Examples of this principle in practice include:

  • Creating a welcoming space that encourages face-to-face interaction with teachers and other families, and that may include a sofa, a computer with Internet access, a bulletin board, or even a kitchenette.
  • Distributing online or written communications that detail children’s activities and document individual progress through email or forms sent home in the child’s backpack.
  • Using visual and audio sharing methods with families whose home language is not English, including photographs, audio recordings, and videos during parent-teacher conferences.

Principle #3: Programs and teachers engage families in ways that are truly reciprocal.

This means that programs rely on families to bring their specific knowledge and skills to benefit the life of the school. Teachers seek information about children’s lives, families, and communities and integrate this information into their curriculum and teaching methods.

Examples of this principle in practice include:

  • Collecting getting-to-know-you forms from parents that inventory their skills, interests, and talents, so that teachers can identify appropriate opportunities for parent participation.
  • Publishing a family directory to encourage parents to connect with each other outside of school for play dates and birthday parties.
  • Hosting social events like potluck dinners, sing-alongs, family fun nights, parent coffees, or celebrations incorporating families’ cultural heritage.

Principle #4: Programs provide learning activities for the home and in the community.

Providing supplemental resources and activities helps to enhance children’s early development and education at home and in the community. Programs find ways to support families’ efforts to create a learning environment beyond the program.

Examples of this principle in practice include:

  • Participating in and/or hosting a reading club or literacy program for parents and children outside of program hours.
  • Providing take-home literacy kits that include resources and activities for dual language learners.
  • Offering a lending library of high-quality children’s books.

Principle #5: Programs invite families to participate in program-level decisions and wider advocacy efforts.

Programs with high levels of family engagement seek families’ input in making decisions about the program itself. Programs can also invite families to advocate for high-quality early childhood education in the broader community.

Examples of this principle in practice include:

  • Inviting family members to serve on a board of directors that makes key decisions on program policies, personnel-related decisions, and tuition rates.
  • Enlisting families to participate in committees that plan social and educational activities, raise funds, oversee the building and grounds, etc.

Principle #6: Programs implement a comprehensive system of family engagement.

Programs institutionalize policies and practices to ensure teachers, administrators, other staff, and families are aligned on a set of common goals, behaviors, and values that support family engagement.

Examples of this principle in practice include:

  • Empowering effective leaders to set the tone of the program through their actions, ideas, presence, accessibility, and attitude.
  • Enlisting a diverse staff that reflects the community the program serves, and providing them with meaningful professional development opportunities.
  • Ensuring sustainability by clearly articulating the program philosophy through written mission and vision statements, policies, and curriculum.

The NAEYC project provided helpful principles and practices for early childhood education programs seeking to promote a culture of family engagement. What other parent engagement best practices would you add to this list?

Source: National Association for the Education of Young Children, Engaging Diverse Families Project,

BlogSara RedingtonComment