For early childhood professionals, family engagement is not just a buzz word. It is a rich and complex series of events that can create better outcomes for children. The research is clear: when providers see families as partners everyone wins. Investing time and taking a serious look at how we support parents and value their strengths will reap rewards for everyone.
In October, nearly 100 early learning and care professionals from across the state gathered to explore a homegrown tool — and to prepare to share it with programs across the state.
Over the course of one day, those program quality coaches, directors and supporters got deeply acquainted with Indiana’s Early Childhood Family Engagement Toolkit, as well as the values and research that support it. The Early Learning Advisory Committee developed the toolkit to align with evidence-based practices, the actions and program elements that can change the trajectory of how our state works with families and promotes families as children’s first teachers.
Let’s take a look at some takeaways and key questions to ask from our day:
- As with so many things, relationships are key! Families need to feel secure and supported. Do we train our staff to develop strong relationships that allow for quality communication?
- Great family engagement begins with valuing the family’s role as a child’s first teacher. They know their children on a level that is deeper than anyone else. Do all staff embrace this belief?
- Communicating with families in multiple, positive and culturally responsive ways is essential. Are all staff making sure this happens?
- Families should always have clarity on what happens with their children during program time. Do families receive information about curriculum, philosophy and assessments during meetings and family conferences?
- Providers that have an open-door policy create opportunities for families to volunteer, lead and advocate for their children. Partnering with parents to include them in decision making around policies and procedures that affect their children. Are family voices involved in all levels of program practices and changes?
- Building relationships with kindergartens and empowering parents can ensure smooth transitions into K-6 settings and beyond. Have staff cultivated those relationships, especially directors, owners and preschool/pre-k teachers?
Nearly every program has the opportunity to strengthen their practices. What can you do, as a director or owner? Take the assessment in the toolkit, speak to your local child care resource and referral agency, and work with them on taking your next steps in family engagement. Early childhood staff can encourage leaders to do the assessment, or consider how their individual environments exhibit these practices.
About the author: Lenore Friedly designs and implements projects that support families and early childhood professionals with the goal of creating strong, collaborative relationships that support all young children. Developing avenues for authentic partnerships between families and providers is her professional passion. Her previous work in the field, including teaching at a co-operative preschool, supporting parenting teens and working with Early Head Start families, has continuously reinforced the importance of uplifting parents in this important work.
Lenore says, “my hope is that more and more, we recognize that children are stronger when the adults in their world work as partners.” Her current projects include the Bloom Bright family texting service, amplifying Indiana’s Family Engagement Toolkit, and representing the interests, strengths and needs of families in a variety of additional Partnerships for Early Learners projects.
Cover image by Flickr user Maessive, Creative Commons license.