Do parents at your service rush in the door in the morning, handing over a child with tangled hair, a full nappy and a quick goodbye? When it comes to pick up time, are you chasing them down the hallway with an accident report which needs to be signed?
For many educators, it can feel as though parents don’t have time for the “musts” of being involved in an early childhood education and care (ECEC) service, let alone any of the things you would like, such as input on new policies, or a contribution to the quality improvement plan.
With life being so busy for families and educators alike, how can services encourage parents to be more involved and engaged?
Before any of the more practical ideas are put forward, it’s essential for educators and leaders to be empathetic with parents, and try to understand their stress levels, strengths, weaknesses and overall capacity.
2020 has been a tough year for many, financially and in terms of mental health. Parents are no doubt doing the best they can, and no matter how hard you try, not every parent will want to engage with the service, or be involved.
One size does not fit all, and so remaining open to new ideas, and being receptive to the feelings of the families in your care is key to getting families on board.
The personal touch
Greeting each parent, being sure to say hello, smiling when they drop their child off, and greeting their child/ren can set the tone for engaging them more deeply in the service. It’s a simple gesture, but one which makes parents feel welcome, which can lead to more willingness to engage later on.
Over time, get to know the parents a little more, perhaps by asking what they did over the weekend, talking about pets, hobbies, passions etc. This leads to more in-depth conversations and deepens the rapport. Asking about things they have talked about previously will solidify the bond.
Use social media
Many parents are active on a variety of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc. Some services shy away from engaging on social media because of privacy concerns, but there are a number of ways to use these platforms without compromising children’s right to privacy.
Perhaps favourite recipes could be shared, photos of learning environments, recordings (sound only) of children singing, or providing links and suggestions to activities taking place in the local area.
By adding an interactive element, such as a poll, an “ask me anything” question box, or by offering contests and giveaways, parents are more likely to interact with the social media presence, and increase engagement.
Many ECEC providers use CCS management software to streamline their processes. Kidsoft joins with integration partners like Kindyhub, Storypark and many others to allow services and families to seamlessly communicate, sharing video, pictures, learning and much more, all in real time.
Using platforms such as these helps parents to feel connected to the service, and also to feed information back.
The old fashioned touch
Reaching out to families with a “sunshine call” sharing a moment of good news or delight can really lift their spirits and make a long day feel bright. Calling at least one parent a week to relay some good news about their child/ren will leave a smile on your face, and theirs.
Make “Sunshine” Calls – Reach out with a quick phone call when you see that parents need some cheering up. Or make a practice of calling at least one parent a week to relay good news.
(Tip: Keep track of these sunshine calls and make sure each family receives the same amount of calls throughout the year.)
Invite them in
When restrictions allow, invite families into the service at various times – before, during and after a standard working day. Setting up activities for the children and families to work through together can be a great way to showcase the important work which happens in your service each day.
For families who cannot attend the service, perhaps they can work together to make a family poster, filled with photographs, drawings, notes or handprints, to bring something of their family in.
Families, communities and services all around Australia, and indeed the world, are unique and special places. While some of the advice above may not work for each service, trying many different ideas, and continuing to try and connect, should eventually yield a return.
Department of Education, Skills and Employment – Connecting with families? Bringing the EYLF to life in your community.
Emerging Minds – Engaging with Families and Children
Community Early Learning Australia – Connecting with Families