Family engagement “in action” can take many forms, and occur in a variety of settings such as child care facilities, schools or libraries. It can also include parents, teachers or librarians. One thing, however, is certain: family engagement requires preparation and intention.
Sometimes, it means having a little faith, training the trainers and sharing three little pigs stick puppets.
A Little Faith
Niesha Franklin believes all parents and families want their children to succeed. As a Howard County Judy Center Family Service Coordinator, she is responsible for providing access to high- quality early childhood programs as well as comprehensive family support services. This includes family wellbeing and an adult education component, which meet the 12 Component Standards, and Goal One and Goal Four of the Maryland Early Childhood Family Engagement Framework.
“I am constantly advocating for parents to better utilize our community partners,” said Franklin.
Franklin has regularly implemented several family engagement strategies, including parenting skills and health screenings. However, she had experienced a barrier to family engagement after she established a relationship with the local library to create a continued education and workforce development program.
“Unfortunately, some of my parents didn’t feel comfortable or ‘qualified’ to walk into a library,” said Franklin. “I later learned that they thought it [the library] was just for reading and checking out books.”
By keeping an open mind and gaining a better understanding of the parents Franklin serves, she was able to better support them. As an added benefit, she had help from Ready At Five.
Train the Trainers (Facilitators)
Franklin recognized that her parents would benefit greatly from leadership skills. Still, the question remained: how do you encourage parents to take advantage of much-needed community resources? Ready At Five offered a solution: the Parent Leadership Learning Party (PLLP) Train the Trainers training session.
“Many of the [PLLP] trainers or facilitators are from programs, like the Judy Centers, that are very aware of the importance of engaging families, but know that parents have competing priorities for their time and energy,” said Natalie Dean, Communications Director for Ready At Five.
Dean further explained that the PLLP increases parental capacity to engage in their children’s school experience, and to build their own leadership abilities. These leadership skills lend value to parents both in the context of the school community and for their own personal growth. Developed in collaboration with Every Person Influences Children (EPIC), the PLLP curriculum also meets Goal Seven of the Maryland Early Childhood Family Engagement Framework: Family engagement initiatives should support the development of families as leaders and child advocates. Since September 2017, Ready At Five has trained more than 60 facilitators statewide.
The Three Little Pigs Stick Puppets
Through the PLLP, Franklin learned how to offer greater support of parents and families as they take more active roles in their children’s education, early learning programs, schools, and communities. She also discovered how visuals as simple as three little pigs stick puppets can be an effective tool to overcome barriers and engage families.
“The puppets are a tool for the children and their parents to use as discussion starters that help to build trust and lessen opportunities for conflict,” said Tara N. Burgess, Director of Operations and Family Engagement for EPIC. “Role playing with puppets or toys builds vocabulary, literacy skills, and creative thinking in addition to the focus on conflict resolution.”
Burgess, who also trained facilitators in states such as New York and Pennsylvania with her partner Susanna Schenk, says families often do not know how to engage in their children’s education.
“By sharing information with [families] on trust and conflict resolution, communication skills and advocacy information, and putting it all together to complete a project, families learn the value of family engagement and how to engage in meaningful ways to support their children’s success and that of other children as well,” said Burgess.