March-April Posts

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From the Office of Early Learning: “Parent Involvement” vs “Parent Engagement”

Research has shown that parents are critical to children both for their survival and to realize their greatest potential.

“Parents who actively promote learning in the home, have direct and regular contact with school, and experience fewer barriers to involvement have children who demonstrate positive engagement with their peers, adults, and learning.”1

Early childhood programs and schools talk a lot about parent involvement but what that means is often not clear. Head Start, the country’s laboratory for early childhood education, has long known that parent involvement is critical to its success and the success of the children they serve. They have recently developed a framework for local programs that helps them develop environments and services that actively engage parents. The Parent, Family and Community Engagement Framework has become a valuable guide for programs in their work with parents.

First, one needs to understand the difference between “Parent Involvement” and “Parent Engagement”.

Parent Involvement refers to parent participation in systems and activities that support them as they fulfill their duties as the child’s first teacher, nurturer and advocate for their family. It also involves participation in program activities that support their child’s and their own development and help in the program decision making.2

Parent Engagement goes a little deeper into parent relationships. Engagement refers to the ongoing, goal-directed relationship between staff and families that are mutual, culturally responsive and support what is best for children and families both individually and collectively.2

When families are truly engaged, both the program and the families are responsible for progress toward positive outcomes for children and the program as a whole. It is relationship and it is part of the larger concept of parent involvement.

Head Start’s Parent, Family and Community Framework gives detailed guidance for how to build a program that promotes genuine family engagement. Programs are encouraged to embed parent engagement in all aspects of their environment, their interactions and their policies and procedures.

• Leadership plays a critical role in setting the tone for welcoming, respecting and appreciating what parents bring to their program. As they guide the continuous improvement of their program, parents figure prominently. Professional development for staff includes ways to encourage, support and partner with the families they serve.

• The physical environment of a school or program is often the first impression for families. If it looks and “feels” like a place where they can be comfortable, families can relax and begin to trust. Families are greeted warmly and invited to participate in the classroom.

• Teachers and other staff connect regularly with families to ask about the family and the progress toward their family goals. When needed, staff will share information about community resources or make referrals to needed services.

• Teachers and parents share information about the child’s development and what he/she is learning in the classroom and in the home. Assessment data is shared with parents and learning goals are set together.

• Opportunities are provided for families to have experience with community resources such as museums and libraries and have the chance to meet other families to begin to build their own ongoing support network.

Head Start programs are having great success in using the “Framework”. They start by assessing their program environment and practices and then develop a plan for ensuring that families are truly engaged both in their home and in the school setting.

When parents are engaged, children are enjoyed and celebrated, children see that their family values learning and are able to relax and learn knowing that their grown-ups will support them.

Parents learn about their own strengths as parents, their power to influence their child’s school and advocate for their child, are more informed about community resources, and have more strategies for meeting their family’s needs including a peer support network and knowledge of community resources.

The PFCE Framework is available to anyone interested in building a program that supports and promotes family engagement. You can find it at:

1 McWayne, C., Hampton, V., Fantuzzo, J., Cohen, H. L., & Sekino, Y. (2004). A multivariate examination of parent involvement and the social and academic competencies of urban kindergarten children. Psychology in the Schools, 41(3), 363-377.

2 Family Engagement as Parent Involvement 2.0. HHS/ACF/OHS/NCPFCE. 2012. English.