Research indicates children have better chances of achieving positive developmental and life outcomes when their families are constructively involved in their learning across settings – ranging from home and early years services to schools. Here are a few strategies for engaging families in early childhood education.
One of the best ways to start active engagement with families is to make them feel comfortable and welcomed in the service setting. This is especially important in the case of families from multi-lingual and multi-cultural backgrounds who might approach the service setting with wariness or previous difficult experiences. A few ways that diverse families can be made to feel welcome is to include signage in their languages and keep easily accessible translated copies of service philosophy and policies. The service should explore formal and informal opportunities for families to spend time in their setting such as playgroups in schools, social events and ‘open door’ classrooms.
Consistent and respectful communication is crucial if families are to be actively engaged in their children’s learning lives. Newsletters and regular social media updates can be used to keep all parents informed about different aspects of the service, ranging from curricula goals and practices to policy reviews and upcoming events. Services can also foster open communication by sharing information about the learning programs with families and encouraging and greeting parents/carers by name. Such steps would go a long way in nurturing more affable and spontaneous interactions between services and families, thus ensuring that parents remain actively engaged in their children’s wellbeing. Feedback and review are essential aspects of effective communication channels. Services should undertake a continuous review process so that they are able to gather inputs from families across topics such as service education programs, preferred communication methods, opportunities for participation and family friendliness of environments. To do this, services can invite families to be part of policy review or development processes, participate in surveys or attend parent-teacher meetings. Being regularly consulted will reassure families that their opinions are valued and they in turn will be more actively engaged in children’s learning decisions.
Continuous professional development will offer educators the understanding and resources to expand their collaborative network with families. As educators and other staff widen their professional knowledge, they will be able to better plan strategies for more effective engagement by families. Such strategies however will be most effective if they reflect the unique context of the service – for example, in a multicultural setting, the service might benefit more by engaging culturally and linguistically diverse families. For another service in a semi-rural setting, it may make more sense to reach out to socially isolated and vulnerable families.
- Centre for Community Child Health. (2006). Rethinking The Transition To School: Linking Schools and early years services. The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne