Family Engagement Is Essential. Are You Doing It?

Families Are Children’s First Teachers.


From day one, children learn from their families: what they do and how they interact with their them. A young child will learn from their family how to have conversations, make eye contact, play and so much more. Families also learn a lot from their little ones: as they grow, their children reveal their personalities little by little, teaching their grown-ups when they want to eat and when they like to sleep. So for educators, achieving the best outcomes for children means working with families as a team.


Click here to download a useful guide for empowering a child’s first teacher.

The work educators do is critical.

For children, the first years of their lives are absolutely critical: Their brains are developing more and faster than they will ever develop for the rest of their lives. Working as a team with families means we can share our knowledge of what they could be doing with their child, and in return, they can share with us information about our students that we need to learn to work best with them.

FAMILY: “Giving Charlie this blanket will help them calm down whenever they are upset.”

EDUCATOR: “Oh, that’s so helpful. We’ve been giving Charlie a minute away from the busy part of classroom to feel calm, and it’s been working too.”

The link to families can make a huge difference, for you, for them and for children.

Think about a little learner in your life. Now, think about all the things you know that make them special. I bet some of the sweet little things you know about them could be very useful to the educators and other grown-ups in their lives.

I always use the example of my daughter who was very quiet little girl. To a person that only saw her in a new setting, she may have come across as falling behind on her learning because she always stood back — as a matter of fact, sometimes behind my leg. But for her, it was important to assess a situation first, once she was comfortable or knew she was safe then she knew what she needed to know to be herself in that situation. Knowing this fact about her, we could help her feel comfortable by allowing her a minute instead of pressuring her into unfamiliar territory. And sharing this information with her teachers helped her get the best out of her classroom experiences.


“If you find yourself free for the afternoon or want to come over for lunch, you don’t have to call me.”


Tips for improving family engagement:
  1. Open door policy — Let families know they are welcome any time. “If you find yourself free for the afternoon or want to come over for lunch, you don’t have to call me.” This simple gesture let’s families know you give their child consistent, high-quality care. 
  2. Form a family committee — Give families an opportunity to be involved in decision making within the school. Families will feel you value the knowledge they bring to the table, and that you want to know want they want for their child.
  3. Assign an area or place for families to gather — Is there a lending library for families? Are there signs that show families where to go when they first come in? Thinking of what the child care experience looks like from the perspective of a parent can make a difference in whether families feel involved and welcomed.


When it comes to family engagement, language is important.

All families are different. So when it comes to building a partnership with a family, it is important to make sure that we’re not leaving anyone out of that conversation. If we say, “We want all parents to come in,” the language excludes guardians, foster or temporary parents, grandparents, or even a good friend of the family. If the language doesn’t include every person invested in the life of a little learner, they may not feel as though you are speaking to them or that you are recognizing their role as important. Using language that is inclusive helps people feel seen and valued for what they bring to the table.


No mater the age group, meeting with the family — before and during the transition — gives families an opportunity to say, “these things are happening at home.”


Family engagement leads to smooth transitions.

Does the family meet the new teacher prior and are they aware of what’s going on before the transition, and are they involved in that transition when it happens? What does the teacher need to know about their new student? There are a lot of transitions in early childhood, and particularly in child care settings. When moving from a class of one-year-olds to a classroom of two-year-olds, a child will need time to adjust. Kindergarten is a big transition that we talk about, and we know to pay attention to what’s going to change, as well as answer family questions, like “how do I prepare my child for that transition?” No mater the age group, meeting with the family — before and during the transition — gives families an opportunity to say, “these things are happening at home.” Those in depth pieces

For smaller transitions, linking families to other families that can speak from experience, can help you set expectations. For big transitions, like when a child is ready for kindergarten, giving families a tool to communicate specific information about their child can help the new teacher understand the child better. This can be a form you fill out or even just making a phone call to communicate that information yourself. With great communication, everyone wins.


Looking for more ideas for improving family engagement? Click and download the Essentials of Family Friendly Practice fact sheets.