Principles of Effective Family Engagement
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How do early childhood education programs meet the challenge of engaging families in their child’s early learning and development?
NAEYC’s Engaging Diverse Families (EDF) project sought answers to this question. The project's goals were to develop a research-based definition of family engagement, identify exemplary family engagement practices in early childhood programs, and share what was learned with the field of early care and education by assembling a tool kit of materials to help programs more effectively engage families in children’s early learning.
Principles of Effective Practice
During an extensive review of the research on family engagement, NAEYC and Pre-K Now found that programs’ successful family engagement practices encompass the following six principles:
- Programs invite families to participate in decision making and goal setting for their child. Programs invite families to actively take part in making decisions concerning their children’s education. Teachers and families jointly set goals for children’s education and learning both at home and at school.
- Teachers and programs engage families in two-way communication. Strategies allow for both school- and family-initiated communication that is timely and continuous. Conversations focus on a child’s educational experience as well as the larger program. Communication takes multiple forms and reflects each family’s language preference.
- Programs and teachers engage families in ways that are truly reciprocal. Programs and families benefit from shared resources and information. Programs invite families to share their unique knowledge and skills and encourage active participation in the life of the school. Teachers seek information about children’s lives, families, and communities and integrate this information into their curriculum and teaching practices.
- Programs provide learning activities for the home and in the community. Programs use learning activities at home and in the community to enhance each child’s early learning and encourage and support families’ efforts to create a learning environment beyond the program.
- Programs invite families to participate in program-level decisions and wider advocacy efforts. Programs invite families to actively participate in making decisions about the program itself. Programs also invite families to advocate for early childhood education in the wider community.
- Programs implement a comprehensive program-level system of family engagement. Programs institutionalize family engagement policies and practices and ensure that teachers, administrators, and other staff receive the supports they need to fully engage families.
Note: As we’ve developed the content related to this project, the six principles of family engagement have evolved to highlight important elements, take out redundancy, and clarify meaning.
Using these six principles as the foundation, NAEYC set out to identify programs that effectively engage the families they serve.
In early 2009, NAEYC invited early childhood education programs across the county to submit a written application. To ensure a high-quality baseline, eligible programs had to be NAEYC-Accredited and/or rated in the highest or second highest levels of a recognized statewide or pilot quality rating and improvement system (QRIS).
Of the 24 programs that submitted complete applications, 17 were selected to participate in phone interviews during June 2009, and 15 finalists moved on to receive a site visit by NAEYC staff. Site visits, which took place from October 2009 to January 2010, were guided by a standard written protocol. The site visit was intended to validate what the program had reported and to gather evidence of its family engagement practices. Each site visit included
- a tour of the facility;
- a review of program documents;
- interviews with program staff, including the director/administrator, teachers, and other staff (such as family workers); and
- informal meetings with families over a simple breakfast, lunch, or afternoon snack.
The 15 programs NAEYC visited represent a range of program and funding types. Among these were Head Start programs, a lab school, two parent co-ops, a faith-based program, subsidized and private pay programs, one very large program (with 368 children), and a one-room schoolhouse (with 22 children). Each program serves families representing a variety of races, ethnicities and national origins, languages, religions, socioeconomic statuses, and family constellations (for example, single-parent, same-sex parent, blended, adoptive, grandparent-headed, and others). All 15 are NAEYC-Accredited; several also participate in their state’s QRIS.
Not surprisingly, the rubric NAEYC developed to evaluate these programs revealed that all 15 programs are of very high quality with a strong commitment to supporting and honoring family engagement. Overall, NAEYC found that these programs have a vision shared by staff and families.
In April 2010, after a careful review of the wealth of materials from each program, NAEYC identified the following 10 programs as exemplary in their family engagement practices:
- Children’s Village Child Care Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Community Renewal Team’s (CRT) Locust Street Early Care and Education Program in Hartford, Connecticut
- Iowa State University Child Development Laboratory School in Ames, Iowa
- Montgomery County Community College Children’s Center in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania
- Rainbow School in Stanford, California
- School for Friends in Washington, DC
- Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Center–International Village in Atlanta, Georgia
- Sunnyside Child Care Center at Smith in Northampton, Massachusetts
- The Family Schools, Inc. in Brewster, Massachusetts
- YWCA of Minneapolis Downtown Children’s Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota
In addition, five programs were recognized for noteworthy family engagement accomplishments:
- BlueSkies for Children in Oakland, California
- Egenolf Early Childhood Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey
- Kidango Little Washington Township in Fremont, California
- Pocono Services for Families and Children in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
- Temple Beth Sholom Foundation School in Miami Beach, Florida
NAEYC’s 2008–10 efforts were supported by a generous grant from the Picower Foundation. Pre-K Now engaged in a sister project that explored state-level policies to encourage and enhance family engagement as a critical component of high-quality pre-K. An advisory committee jointly convened with Pre-K Now in February 2009 provided initial guidance for the project.
Developed for NAEYC's Engaging Diverse Families Project through a generous grant from the Picower Foundation.
© National Association for the Education of Young Children.