Through my years at LENA, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with our partners about engaging families in programs. While there is not a single solution that fits every community, we’ve discovered that there are several consistent tips and tricks that can help to increase family engagement. The back-to-school season also has many organizations thinking about new ways to engage families. We’ve pulled together 10 strategies to think about when connecting with families in your community:
Aim for breadth and depth.
Family engagement doesn’t just mean parent engagement. Families also include siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins. Reaching out to multiple generations and extended family members will help build stronger, deeper community connections.
Reach out routinely.
Setting up a regular pattern of two-way communication with families opens the door for honest dialogue. Reaching out may look different in various communities. Some families engage through social media, some prefer texts, and others prefer in person communication. No matter the method, just keep it going!
In our parent-group program, LENA Start, parents earn stars when there’s an improvement in their data over the previous week. I am the first to admit that I was initially very nervous about how parents would respond to the stars. Boy was I wrong; parents love the stars. It wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I truly realized why. In a world where new parents are often told only what they’re doing wrong, or what they should do differently, receiving positive attention for your hard work as a parent feels good, not to mention it helps keep you motivated! Affirming the good can help to create positive behavior change.
Help your parents set goals for themselves. It might be a goal targeting one small moment or task, but saying it out loud to someone can be powerful. It’s okay if they don’t meet the goals each week — life happens! Just reset the next time and keep moving forward. If you work with families in a group setting, don’t hesitate to set goals for the group. Not only will it help with motivation, but it will also bond your group as they work toward a mutual goal.
When families do accomplish common goals, celebrate! It doesn’t always have to be with cake (although cake is delicious), but finding ways to celebrate success is almost a guaranteed way to maintain engagement.
Get families together as a group.
Being a parent can be lonely. Having a group to meet with each week provides support to families as they navigate the crazy ride of raising a child. As a parent, there is something amazing about having a network of families where you feel safe to talk about the rough patches and are together to celebrate the good.
Encourage group reflection.
Sharing time is an integral piece of any parent program. When you find a way to bring parents together, make sure you build in time for sharing. Sharing time can take on a life of its own depending on the topic. Through the years, we’ve found that successful discussion requires a bit of planning. Encourage the group leader to prepare conversation questions beforehand which center on each family member’s thoughts or recent obstacles.
Create space for peer-to-peer mentorship.
We often say at LENA that “parents are the secret sauce.” Families are the experts, and understand their children and their communities the best. Create time and space to allow families to connect directly with each other and share their knowledge.
Extend learning to home and community spaces.
Family engagement doesn’t always have to happen face-to-face. Digital tools like social media or email can be effective two-way communication tools. Using a digital meeting space like a Facebook group or a Google Hangout gives parents an opportunity to connect with each other “after hours.”
Make it fun!
Don’t forget that at the end of the day, engaging with families in your community should be fun!