- Recognize and understand the importance of family engagement.
- Describe the significance of building relationships with families and identify practices that help families feel welcome.
- Plan activities that promote family engagement.
Family Engagement: What Is It?
What are your feelings about working with families as a whole? What do you enjoy about it? What seems difficult or challenging? While you may feel motivated to develop relationships with families and to support family engagement, it is common to feel more success and effectiveness in focusing on your daily practices and your direct interactions with the children in your care. It may not seem simple or intuitive to combine these practices.
Family engagement has different meanings for different people. In many cases, it relates to an ongoing partnership and collaboration between you and the families you serve. Quality family child care homes are committed to engaging and involving families in meaningful ways, and families are committed to actively supporting their child’s learning and development. The literature around family engagement highlights the following characteristics:
- Strong, trusting relationships between providers, families, and community
- Recognition, respect, and support for families’ needs, as well as their differences
- Strength-based partnership where decisions and responsibility are shared
- Activities, interactions, and support increase family involvement in their child’s healthy development
- Families and caregivers take a shared responsibility for their child’s learning
- Acknowledgment that family engagement is meaningful and beneficial to both families and the family child care home
It is important to realize that family engagement can look different and take on many forms. What family engagement means and looks like depends on the unique characteristics and the individual comfort levels and understanding of each family.
To help make sure that families are committed to their child’s learning and are engaged in the family child care home, families should be invited to participate at whatever level they feel most comfortable. Participation could mean reading a book to all of the children in the family child care home, or going on a field trip. You can also arrange opportunities for parents to contribute to the family child care program even if they are unable to actually spend time in the home. Examples include: donating recyclables that children can use for art, making a family poster to display in the home, or sharing a favorite family recipe. Provide a variety of ways for parents to be involved and connected, especially for families who have widely varying schedules and commitments.
It is important for families to feel supported and recognized for the ways in which they are able and choose to participate and engage—from bringing their child to the family child care home each day to sharing their concerns or organizing activities. See the resources attached in this section for additional ideas and considerations to support family engagement
The Importance of Family Engagement
Family engagement in family child care can benefit children, parents, families, providers, and program quality in various ways. Can you remember what caring adults in your family, community, school or family child care did to help you grow, learn and develop?
Family members are their children’s first teachers and they have a powerful effect on their young children’s development. This important relationship continues throughout a child’s life. Family engagement during the first years of life can support a child’s readiness for school and the ongoing academic and lifelong success of school-aged children.
Research shows that when children have involved parents or caregivers, the results are very positive, especially over the long term (Henderson and Mapp, 2002). When families are involved in the family child care home, they may also feel more vested in what happens there and more competent in their role as parents. Through these interactions and relationships, families may learn additional strategies to promote development and learning at home. Such strategies include expanding children’s language, reading stories aloud, engaging in conversations and problem-solving, asking open-ended questions, encouraging children’s efforts and independence, identifying and expressing feelings and emotions, or responding calmly to challenging behaviors.
Children develop within their family unit, which is different for each child. Since a child’s entire family can influence his or her development, it is important to think about ways to acknowledge and include a diverse representation of family types in your home. Throughout this series of lessons, we use the term family to refer to important people in children’s lives. These people can be parents, siblings, guardians, extended family members such as aunts or cousins, and other individuals who are involved in children’s lives.
Benefits for Families of School-Age Children
According to research conducted in 2002 by the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, there is strong evidence to connect parent involvement with student achievement. In their research, authors Henderson and Mapp found specific benefits for children and youth from schools and programs that have opportunities for family involvement. Many of these benefits are important in a school setting, such as improved test scores or higher grade-point averages. The benefits that may be observed in before-school, after-school or summer-care settings are:
- Better social skills
- Improved behavior at home and school
- Better attendance
- Improved family relationships
Family involvement not only increases child achievement, it also creates a high-quality learning environment. Programs that encourage and expect families to be involved should see benefits such as:
- Effective communication between caregivers and families
- Feeling of community between the caregivers, children and youth, and their families
Relationships with Families
Think about a relationship you have with someone special and how it initially developed. What is it about this person (their characteristics and their actions) that supported your relationship development? Was this person upbeat, consistent, flexible, respectful, a good listener, reliable, honest? Some of these same characteristics and supportive interactions can lead to a positive, trusting relationship with families.
To effectively build relationships with families, you, as a caregiver, must first understand yourself and what “relationships” mean to you. Now, think about the importance and influence of your family and family relationships. For example, ask yourself, “What messages did I receive about relationships from my family and culture?” “Do I build relationships and interact with others in the same way important adults interacted and behaved with me when I was a child (e.g., playful, joking, patient, honest, cautious)?”
By first understanding yourself, you can better recognize the importance of family in the lives of others and create an environment where different values and traditions are respected, honored and encouraged.
When you build respectful, trusting relationships with families, you help create a network of support for children that promotes healthy development and well-being. These relationships are critical to provide the best care for all children and foster a sense of safety and attachment.
You can work together with families to build strong relationships that support consistent sharing of strength-based information regarding a child’s development and learning progress. For example, share something positive about a child with her family: “Trinity used the cleanup basket today when I asked and she helped pick up all of the blocks!”
You can also make sure that families have access to and are provided developmental information that is understandable, meaningful and specific to their child’s age and stage of development. As families share information about their child’s interests and successes at home, you can use this information to establish and work toward goals for their child in the family child care setting, home, and community. Lesson Three, Communicating with Families, will offer additional information and ideas for sharing developmental information with families. You can also:
- Create and provide families with newsletters, calendars, or postcards with developmental topics or activities.
- Take photos of children engaged in various play activities and write captions for the photos, such as, “Bobby is making a new friend.”
- Observe families interacting with their children and share how certain behaviors are typical of a developmental stage. “Toddlers are busy bees! I bet she keeps you moving quickly, too!”
Family engagement starts by meeting families where they are and engaging them in interactions and experiences they choose and that feel most comfortable to them. When families have trusting, consistent, and responsive relationships with others (such as community members, service providers, caregivers, teachers), they are more likely to have positive relationships with their children. In essence, if you think of yourself in partnership with families, you will be attuned with family-centered practice that you learned about in Lesson One. Keep the following things in mind when engaging with families:
Children are born into families
When you focus on families, children’s learning and development are optimized.
Families have different strengths and skills
When they share what they know, everyone benefits.
Families have goals for their children
Sometimes these goals may differ.
Helping Families Feel Welcome
Families and family child care providers ultimately have a common interest in children’s development. It is crucial to establish and maintain collaborative relationships between home and your family child care program that will promote children’s learning and growth. Considering that for many families, your family child care home is the first encounter with group care, the beginning may seem scary and stressful. Begin by thinking about what it might mean for families and new parents to consider your home for their child. Families often experience uncertainties and feel scared when seeking a care setting for their child. As a quality family child care provider, you can do the following to support families during this sensitive time:
- Invite families to visit your home before their child’s start date.
- Send families a personal welcome note before the child’s start date.
- Ask families about their child’s interests, favorite toys, nap routines, extracurricular activities, hobbies, and preferences, likes and dislikes.
- For children whose first language in not English, ask families to provide a list of words or phrases in the child’s native language.
- Ask the family to video- or audio-record a message to their child that you can share with their child during difficult times in the transition period.
- Encourage families to bring a comfort item for their child from home, such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket.
- Ask families to share their hopes, goals, and priorities for their child.
- Give families information about the different ways they can participate in your family child care home.
- When it comes to families of children with special learning needs who are transitioning to family child care from intervention services, provide information about the transition process, including a timeline of events.
- For children with special needs, provide information about how your family child care home includes children with special needs and creates an inclusive environment.
- Make sure you ask families about their preferred method of communication in case you need to reach them about their child.
- Display photographs of children and their families—hang them on the wall where they can be seen or in durable photo books that children can hold and explore. Include books about families in your home.
- Ask families how they would like to participate in your family child care home.
- Encourage families to volunteer or participate in activities throughout the year, and provide a calendar of events.
Encouraging Families to Be Involved
There are many ways to encourage family involvement in family child care programs. If parents feel welcome and that their experiences, opinions, and feelings are valued, they are more likely to want to volunteer, assist with projects, and attend special events.
Within your family child care home, there should be a specific plan as to how to engage families throughout the year. Though families’ participation is voluntary, you can make them feel welcome by actively encouraging their involvement. Family child care activities should reflect families’ interests and motivate them to participate. Additionally, your program may have or can build a family involvement group. This group should be composed of family members who encourage communication and involvement with the goal of strengthening and supporting the well-being of children and families. This group is a resource and asset to your program as families may discuss issues or concerns and suggest changes to improve family satisfaction and involvement. Collaborate with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator to promote family involvement.
In the table below, you will find a variety of methods for involving families in your family child care program.
Invite family members to visit your home at any time.
Encourage family members to volunteer for jobs in the daily routine. Some ideas are morning helper, guest reader, party planner, or activity-preparation helper. Family members can also add a helping hand with cleaning and rearranging your home.
Family Movie Night
Invite families to your home to watch a movie and share refreshments. It is a good idea to make the movies friendly for all age groups. This is a great way to have the whole family participate in one event.
Celebrate a variety of holidays throughout the year by hosting parties and events. These parties could include refreshments, crafts, games, activities, and movies.
Encourage healthy lifestyles by hosting fitness events at your home, a local park, or recreational facility. There are many national days that celebrate fitness that you can tie into, or you can create one of your own. You can host field days, water days, mini-Olympics and other fun events.
A special event could be just about anything! Have a dance, a birthday party for Dr. Seuss, vacation photo contests, science days, a potluck dinner, or any event that would encourage family participation in your home and allow families to spend time with their child in your home setting.
Plan a talent show, play, or musical performance for the families. School-age children will enjoy using and showcasing their skills and talents.
Cultural Appreciation Events
Invite family members to share their diverse cultural backgrounds with everyone. This could be done in a variety of ways, such as having cultural celebrations, potlucks, or informal presentations.
Family Show and Tell
Invite family members in to share their experiences, careers or special talents with the children. For example they could play an instrument, talk about a trip to another country, lead a cooking activity, sing or make a craft.
Create opportunities for families to get involved in their community by helping those in need.
Schedule opportunities for families to join their child for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Individual Family Meetings
Meet regularly with families to review and evaluate the goals they have for their child. Talk to them and ask, “What do you see happening? What do you think is working? What is not working? What could we do differently next time?”
Extended Family Members
Encourage extended family members to come and spend time at your home. They can participate in any of the ideas listed above.
Be Open to Suggestions
Encourage families to share suggestions or concerns with you. You can use a suggestion box or send out a short survey to families asking about their ideas and suggestions for ways they might like to participate.
Talk to your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator about opportunities to involve parents in larger family involvement groups for all parents in the area. These opportunities might include:
Invite a community member to come and talk about an area of concern or interest for your parents. Some examples include a police officer to talk about car seat safety, or a librarian to discuss the importance of early literacy.
Parent Involvement Group (or your program’s equivalent)
Invite family members to join a group that meets regularly to discuss your larger family child care program. These family members might work together to plan events, field trips or special experiences for the children. This group would also work to contribute ideas and goals to their family child care provider.
Families help teach the skills that enable their children to relate positively with others and to engage in activities. In addition, research has found that home-learning opportunities and parental responsiveness are significantly related to motor and social development, language competence, and achievement test scores across poverty levels and different ethnic groups for children birth to age 13. By offering a variety of ways that families can choose to be involved in your family child care and continue learning at home, you help enrich learning through stable, nurturing relationships.
Strategies to Promote Family Involvement
There will be times when you find it challenging to engage all families in your family child care. Although you may provide several opportunities for family involvement, some families may still not participate, and you may sometimes feel discouraged by their lack of involvement. Lack of participation does not mean they do not care. Families may not be actively involved in your home for a variety of reasons, such as work and social commitments, time constraints, and cultural practices. Continue inviting less-involved families to family child care events to ensure that they feel welcome to come when they are able. The Global Family Research Project offers some strategies on promoting family involvement.
- Focus on families’ assets: Families want to feel appreciated and welcomed. When planning activities, always appreciate the family’s knowledge base and skill set. Plan events that celebrate families and allow family members to share their knowledge and skills with others.
- Consider the concerns and needs of the families, children and youth served: All families are different and will have different needs. Plan a wide variety of activities and events to engage all families. Always observe families and take note of any critical needs that a family may have.
- Solicit family input: Family ideas and feedback are crucial to ensuring family satisfaction. Offer families a variety of opportunities to provide input, such as a suggestion box, conducting periodic surveys, and hosting group discussions for family input.
Family partnerships will look different for each family child care. Creating a partnership between yourself and families should revolve around the specific needs of the children in your home.
The following video provides insight on the importance of creating family partnerships.
A great way to encourage family involvement in your family child care program is by establishing personal connections with families of the children in your care. Think about families as partners; sharing information about yourself and your work with children will help families to get to know you better and ultimately help them feel more comfortable being a part of your family child care experience.
Here are some ideas to help you continue to engage families, to increase their involvement in your family child care, and to build a strong and collaborative relationship:
- Communicate with families and take time to observe their body language to help you measure their comfort level in the care setting. For example, if they are always standing by the door, invite them to sit at the table and share an activity with you and their child.
- Find ways to ask them how they are feeling about your home, such as morning coffee and conversation once a month, or a brief questionnaire. Use frequent conversations as opportunities to discuss any concerns they might have.
- Smile and greet families by name.
- Arrange the environment in a way that encourages families to spend time there. Keep the entrance area open and uncluttered with simple but attractive signs welcoming them. If possible, have a space for families' coats or belongings. Consider setting up a large board on a wall near the center of the room for parents to leave daily messages. Include some comfortable spots, such as pillows on the rug or a small sofa, so parents can read, have a quiet moment, or relax with their children.
- Spend time observing families as they interact with their children to learn strategies for supporting them while in your care. For example, watch a parent change an infant’s diaper and notice the interaction and steps taken to support relationship building during this routine. Show families where important supplies and other items are stored so they have access to things they might need for their children when in the care setting.
- Include special materials or customs from a family’s culture.
- Establish regular times to meet with families face-to-face and help families design a plan or create activities to reach the dreams and goals they have for their children.
- Share observations and other strength-based information about their children.
- Ask families questions about their children.
- Share something personal about yourself (e.g., “My mom tells me I struggled falling asleep for nap, just like Carlos. She said I never wanted to stop playing!”).
- Offer multiple ways to communicate daily with families (e.g., note home, share a photo of children playing, communication sheet with information about routines, phone call, newsletter).
- Create rituals around hellos and goodbyes.
- Invite families to share what they see and hear their children doing at home or in the community.
In addition to encouraging family involvement, it is also important to spend time acknowledging families in your daily routine. Review the attached resources Strategies to Promote Family Involvement in Your Program and Ways to Support Family Engagement for ideas on how you can establish personal connections with families and how you can acknowledge families in your daily routine.
Strategies to Promote Family Involvement in Your Program
Think about a relationship that you value and list the characteristics that make that relationship successful. Which of those characteristics would be important in family-professional partnerships? Read and review the Relationship Characteristics activity. Record your thoughts about this activity. Then, share and discuss your responses with your family child care administrator.
If you are a CDA candidate, use the CDA Competency Statement IV handout to reflect on how you establish positive and productive relationships with families. This is a required item for the CDA Professional Portfolio.
This section includes resources you can use to promote family engagement in your home and to ensure that your family child care materials are inclusive of all families.
In the Welcoming Families to your Classroom and Program activity, share how you are currently involving families and think of ideas for future participation opportunities. Share your responses with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator.
The second resource includes ideas for fun ways to help families become part of your family child care community. Read and review Fun Ways to Involve Families in Their Child's Learning and use it as a resource. Finally, to enrich your work in your program, look through the Acknowledging Families In Your Program activity to review websites that provide resources about acknowledging families in your family child care program.
Welcoming Families to Your Program
Fun Ways to Involve Families in their Child’s Learning
Child Care Aware. (2018). Family Engagement in QRIS Resources. https://www.childcareaware.org/child-care-resource-and-referral/consumer-education-engagement/family-engagement-in-qris/
Global Family Research Project (2019). Family Involvement. https://globalfrp.org/content/search?search-text=family+involvement
Hadden, S.D. (2004). Entering Preschool: Supporting family involvement in the age three transition. In E. Horn, M. Ostrosky, & H. Jones (Eds.). Young Exceptional Children Monograph Series No. 5: Family-Based Practices (pp. 77-87). Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
Halgunseth, L., Peterson, A., Stark, D., & Moodie, S. (2009). Family Engagement, Diverse Families and Early Childhood Education Programs: An integrated review of the literature. Young Children 64(5). 56-58.
Hanson, M. J., & Lynch, E. W. (2004). Understanding Families: Approaches to diversity, disability, and risk. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Henderson, Anne T. and Mapp, Karen L. (2002). A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement. Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, National Center for Family & Community Connections with Schools: Austin, Texas. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED536946.pdf
Lynch, E. W., & Hanson, M. J. (2004). Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: A guide for working with young children and their families, 3rd ed. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Mitchell, S., Foulger, T. S., & Wetzel, K. (2009). Ten Tips for Involving Families through Internet-Based Communication. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. Family Engagement.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2011). NAEYC Position Statement: Code of ethical conduct and statement of commitment. http://www.naeyc.org/positionstatements/ethical_conduct
National Association for the Education of Young Children (2009). NAEYC Where We Stand Summary: Professional preparation standard. http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/programStandards.pdf
Turnbull, A., Turnbull, R., Erwin, E. J., & Soodak, L. C. (2006). Families, Professionals, and Exceptionality: Positive outcomes through partnerships and trust, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
Turnbull, A., Winton, P., Rous, B., & Buysse, V. (2010). CONNECT Module 4: Family-Professional Partnerships. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute, CONNECT: The Center to Mobilize Early Childhood Knowledge. https://fpg.unc.edu/node/4016