Strategies for Family Engagement
The phrase “it takes a village” may be a cliché, but the fact is that your program is part of a network of people who have the goal of helping youth and their community. It would be just plain foolish not to use all of those people and relationships to help your program succeed. In fact, all too often, parents and relatives—the most important people in the children’s lives—are left out of the equation.
One of the most wonderful things to see is when a child says, “Mommy, my name is on the job sheet!” Or, “Look Daddy! Look what I made!” It can change the whole pattern of interaction in a positive way when a parent says, “Come on, we have to go,” but the child then says, “Mommy, wait! I want to show you my picture.” The kids are really saying that they have a role in their community that they are proud of.
Here are some ideas for involving families and community members in your program:
- When planning meeting times and classes for your center, involve families in the scheduling process.
- When parents or family members come to pick up their children, use the opportunity it presents. As the parent is looking at a child’s work, take a picture of the interaction and hang it on the wall. Give them a copy of the photograph to take home. Put up pictures of other people as well, such as program personnel and community members.
- Create a newsletter for the center or for each of your classes, and let the kids do the work. Use it to communicate what you’re doing, but incorporate elements about families or community members as well. Put it online, make it available through email, or create a print version for youth to take home and pass out to people in the neighborhood.
- Set up regular, reliable ways to get feedback from parents, other staff personnel and community members. Suppose you get a comment that the younger kids are having a tough time getting into the building. Fixing the problem might become a new activity you can work on: Go ask the security guard about it, with youth as a delegation.
- Introduce youth to people and places that are part of their community. Ask them about the places they go and the people they know there. Encourage youth to talk and make connections with neighbors, store owners and other community members.
- Invite guest speakers into your class or program to talk about topics related to your projects or activities. Ask for permission to contact them in the future so you can continue your conversation and send them updates on your progress.
- Out-of-school programs often complement traditional K-12 classes. The more you can make the connection between your students’ school and out-of-school learning, the more successful you will be.
- Try an interviewing or survey project that gets youth talking to and learning from people inside and outside your program.
- Leverage technology, such as email and social media, to create a way for parents, family members, center staff, teachers, and anyone else who’s interested, can stay connected.