10X: Using Technology to Engage Families
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I worked with migrant families of preschool children in a home-based family engagement program called Comienza en Casa/lt Starts at Home, which ran in Milbridge, Maine. Parents learned to use a variety of tech tools, including tablets provided by the program and smartphones they owned, to support their young children's early learning and strengthen home-school relationships.
Here are 10 tips on using technology to engage families.
- Gather Information
No need to make assumptions about how families use technlogy at home—a quick survey or conversatin can help you find out what they use, how they use it, and whether they have Internet access.
- Document and share.
Invite family members to document early learning activities at home using technology—for example, a family can make a video of their child explaining the story behind her drawing or take a series of photos of the family garden over time the child can talk about. When children share digital documentation of home experiences with their classmates and teachers, teachers gain a better understanding of each child and family.
- Share favorite apps.
Finding high-quality, age-appropriate educational apps is a challenge. Share quality apps with families via a classroom blog, a weekly newsletter, or an online tool like Symbaloo (www.symbaloo.com), which allows users to visually share links to favorite apps and websites. Provide tips on how to evaluate apps and ask families to share their favorites!
- Open many communication pathways.
People like to receive information in diffrent ways. Group texting services like Remind can make everyone's life easier by sending reminders about parent-teacher conferences or field trips directly to parents' mobile phones. Messaging services with voice and photo (for families who have smartphones) can help reach families. There are many ways to share information digitally, such as classroom blogs, Facebook, and Google Drive. Families don't have to worry about losing track of papers when you provide them with digital copies.
- Meet families where they are.
Tech literacy and experience will vary, so plan on providing different levels of support. Look for community partners—like the local library or adult education centers—that can help faclitate a family night where parents can sign up for a texting service or email account, get help finding local Internet access sites, and learn about other services that can help them take advantage of tech-related school services.
- Model and discuss appropriate tech use.
During family nights, open houses, or registration time, have simple, hands-on activities that model appropriate tech use for young children. Many families purchase apps or devices because they believe they have educational value but are unsure how to use them to help their child learn. Demonstrate activities families can do at home, such as digital storytelling, using one of several free apps that allow children to draw, import photos, and record audio or video to create stories. Share information about media diet—appropriate and balanced use of technology, Internet safety, and other topics related to tech use.
- Emphasize the importance of conversations with children.
Research shows that children learn best when engaged in meaningful conversations with adults. Make sure to share and model this at school events and in the materials you hand out.
- Invest in people, not just devices.
Invest in developing relationships and building the technical capacity of users. One tablet used in an intentional way can have a greater impact than many tablets in a classroom where teachers have not received the approprtate training.
- Promote a community of learners.
Facilitate a learning community in which families learn with and from other families and community members. Together, identify issues such as device management and media diet, and search for solutions, tutorials, and ways to share information so all families feel comfortable using technology to help their children learn.
- Use videos to model.
Create your own videos with a smartphone or use a service like Ready Rosie (https://readyrosie.com) that has a large library of high-quality videos in English and Spanish. Families can repeatedly view the videos and revisit any new vocabulary they are exposed to while watching.
For more information, read Uncharted Territory: 10 Technology Tips for Preschool Parents.
*Patricia Garcia, Adriana Paniagua, and Juana Vazquez contributed to this article by providing valuable feedback on their experience in the Comienza en Casa program.
Photo © iStock
Ana Blagojevic is an educator at Lonsdale Elementary School in Knoxville, Tennessee.