The research clearly indicates that meaningful engagement of families in their children's early learning supports school readiness and later academic success. For an increasing number of families, engagement in early learning is linked to their children's participation in early childhood programs.
Because of their unique position in the lives of families and children, it is imperative that early childhood programs examine and improve strategies for developing partnerships with families. Yet, early childhood programs have been struggling to engage families, especially diverse families. Janet Gonzalez-Mena (2008) describes our cultural frameworks as influenced by:
- Ethnicity and national origin
- Religion and/or spiritual practice
- Abilities and disabilities
- Social class, status, and economic level
- Sexual orientation
Engaging Diverse Families (EDF) is helping early childhood education programs effectively engage diverse families. Our goal is to learn how excellent early childhood education programs are effectively engaging diverse families and to share what we learn with other programs struggling to start and sustain family engagement practices. As part of this project, NAEYC identified 10 programs that engage diverse families by:
- Encouraging and validating family participation in decision making related to their children's education. Families should act as advocates for their children and early childhood education program by actively taking part in decision making opportunities.
- Facilitating consistent, two-way communication through multiple forms that is responsive to the linguistic preference of the family. Communication should be both school and family initiated and should be timely and continuous, inviting conversations about both the child's educational experience as well as the larger program.
- Exchanging knowledge with families. Family members share their unique knowledge and skills through actively volunteering and participating in events and activities at school. Teachers seek out information about their students' lives, families, and communities, and integrate this information into their curriculum and instructional practices.
- Placing an emphasis on creating and sustaining learning activities at home and in the community that extend the teachings of the program so as to enhance each child's early learning.
- Supporting families' efforts to create a home environment that values learning and supports programs.
- Creating an ongoing and comprehensive system for promoting family engagement by ensuring that program leadership and teachers are dedicated, trained, and receive the supports they need to fully engage families.
In a year-long process, NAEYC investigated the family engagement practices of early childhood education programs. To take part, programs submitted a written application and program materials and participated in a phone interview; 15 finalists received an on-site visit by NAEYC staff. Through the evidence provided, NAYEC uncovered examples of exemplary program practices and learned how programs are successfully engaging the diverse populations they serve. In April 2010, NAEYC recognized the following ten programs as being exemplary in their family engagement practices:
- Children's Village Child Care Center in Philadelphia, PA
- CRT Locust Early Care & Education Program in Hartford, CT
- Iowa State University Child Development Laboratory School in Ames, IA
- Montgomery County Community College Children's Center in Blue Bell, PA
- Rainbow School in Stanford, CA
- School for Friends in Washington, DC
- Sheltering Arms Early Education & Family Center - International Village in Atlanta, GA
- Sunnyside Child Care Center at Smith in Northampton, MA
- The Family Schools, Inc. in Brewster, MA
- YWCA of Minneapolis Downtown Children's Center in Minneapolis, MN
NAEYC also recognized these five programs for their noteworthy family engagement accomplishments:
- BlueSkies for Children in Oakland, CA
- Kidango Little Washington Township in Fremont, CA
- Temple Beth Sholom Foundation School in Miami Beach, FL
- Egenolf Early Childhood Center in Elizabeth, NJ
- Pocono Services for Children and Families in East Stroudsburg, PA
Resources available now include a Resource List and a literature review. The literature review provides a definition of family engagement, presents a conceptual framework, and identifies examples of evidence-based program practices. NAEYC will develop and publish program profiles and additional materials to help other programs implement sustainable family engagement strategies. We will announce new materials as they become available.
An advisory committee, jointly convened with Pre-K Now, provided initial guidance for this work.
Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Funding for Engaging Diverse Families is provided by The Picower Foundation.
Reference: Gonzalez-Mena, J. (2008) Diversity in Early Care and Education: Honoring Differences. New York: NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies