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Family Engagement, Diverse Families, and Early Childhood Education Programs: An Integrated Review of the Literature

Family Engagement, Diverse Families, and
Early Childhood Education Programs:
An Integrated Review of the Literature
Linda C. Halgunseth and Amy Peterson
National Association for the Education of Young Children
Deborah R. Stark and Shannon Moodie
Pre-K Now
Acknowledgements: The National Association for the Education of Young Children and Pre-K
Now would like to extend their gratitude to all who reviewed and provided feedback on an
earlier draft of this paper, especially the Advisory Committee on Family Engagement in Early
Learning (Nikki Aikens, Rose Anello, Samtra Devard, Rosemary Fennell, Sue Ferguson, Amie
Lapp Payne, Barbara Littledave, Beverly Raimondo, Holly Robinson, Wilma Robles de
Melendez, Lori Roggman, Marta Rosa, Fran Simon, Heather Weiss, and Jane Zamudio). This
project was funded by the generous support of The Picower Foundation.
© 2009 National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Pew Charitable Trusts.
All Rights Reserved.
Table of Contents
Section A:
Integrated Literature Review………………………………………….…….……………pps. 3-15
Figure A…………………………………………………………..………………....p. 8
Section B:
Conclusion and Draft Recommendations……………………...………………………..pps. 16-17
Section C:
References……………………………………………………………………….………pps. 18-22
© 2009 National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Pew Charitable Trusts.
All Rights Reserved.
Integrated Literature Review
A growing body of research suggests that meaningful engagement of families in their
children’s early learning supports school readiness and later academic success (Henrich &
Gadaire, 2008; Weiss, Caspe, & Lopez, 2006). Family engagement is often considered in union
with children’s participation in early childhood education programs. High rates of program
enrollment among young children across several ethnic groups may be a possible reason for this
trend. In 2005, 60 percent of children under age 6 spent some time in nonparental care
arrangements: 62 percent of white children, 69 percent of black children, and 49 percent of
Hispanic children were in such programs (Iruka & Carver, 2006).
As a means to supporting family engagement and children’s learning, it is crucial that
programs implement strategies for developing partnerships with families (Henderson & Mapp,
2002). These strategies should be appropriate for the diverse population programs serve and
reflect a commitment to outreach (Colombo, 2006; Crawford & Zygouris-Coe, 2006). To address
these issues, we will review the literature on family engagement that pertains to all young
children across ethnic backgrounds and early childhood education programs.
Definition of Family Engagement
This review conceptualizes family engagement as essential for enhancing children’s
learning and family well being. Family engagement occurs when there is an on-going, reciprocal,
strengths-based partnership between families and their children’s early childhood education
programs. From the literature and a synthesis of three definitions of family engagement,
Henderson and Berla (1994), Epstein (2001), and Weiss et al. (2006), we have created a
comprehensive definition of family engagement that features six factors:
1. Early childhood education programs encourage and validate family participation in
decision making related to their children’s education. Families should act as
advocates for their children and early childhood education program by actively taking
part in decision making opportunities.
2. Consistent, two-way communication is facilitated through multiple forms and is
responsive to the linguistic preference of the family. Communication should be both
school and family initiated and should be timely and continuous, inviting
conversations about both the child’s educational experience as well as the larger
3. Families and early childhood education programs collaborate and exchange
knowledge. Family members share their unique knowledge and skills through
volunteering and actively engaging in events and activities at schools. Teachers seek
out information about their students’ lives, families, and communities and integrate
this information into their curriculum and instructional practices.
4. Early childhood education programs and families place an emphasis on creating and
sustaining learning activities at home and in the community that extend the teachings
of the program so as to enhance each child’s early learning.
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5. Families create a home environment that values learning and supports programs.
Programs and families collaborate in establishing goals for children both at home and
at school.
6. Early childhood education programs create an ongoing and comprehensive system for
promoting family engagement by ensuring that program leadership and teachers are
dedicated, trained and receive the supports they need to fully engage families.
While the above definition is composed of six factors, to promote a comprehensive and
continuous approach to family engagement it is necessary to recognize how the factors interact
and work together. It is not sufficient to focus engagement efforts on one of the components and
neglect the others. Simply attending a workshop or meeting does not necessarily result in an
educator or family member changing their beliefs or actions (Ferguson, Ramos, Rudo, & Wood,
2008). Achieving a strong family-program partnership requires a culture that supports and
honors reciprocal relationships, commitment from program leadership, a vision shared by staff
and families, opportunities to develop the skills needed to engage in reciprocal relationships, and
practices and policies that support meaningful family engagement.
Past Models
In constructing the above definition, we reviewed several past models that have
conceptualized and measured family engagement. In this section, we will present these models
and will discuss the need to broaden current perspectives on family engagement to one that
focuses on strengthening the relationship between families and early childhood education
programs as a means to improving child well-being.
Past family engagement research has focused primarily on parent-initiated behavior and
on measuring tasks that parents perform either at the program setting or with their children in the
home. These tasks are often referred to as “Parent Involvement” and can include (1) discussing
the school day with child, (2) direct and regular contact with teachers, (3) volunteering in the
classroom, (4) planning or attending school activities or events, (5) actively promoting learning
in the home, (7) chaperoning field trips, (8) developing fundraising activities, and (10) working
in parent-teacher organizations (Carlisle, Stanley, & Kemple, 2005; Mantzicopoulos, 2003;
McWayne, Hampton, Fantuzzo, Cohen, & Sekino 2004; Rous, Hallam, Grove, Robinson and
Machara, 2003).
While research has found positive relations between parent participation in school
activities and outcomes for pre-kindergarteners and kindergartners (Mantzicopoulos, 2003;
McWayne et al., 2004), some concerns have been raised regarding the traditional parent
involvement paradigm, especially in regards to cultural-sensitivity. Souto-Manning and Swick
(2006) and Crawford and Zygouris-Coe (2006) suggest that the traditional paradigm for parent
involvement focuses on the deficiencies of parents and strives to adapt parents to the methods
applied by the schools. According to this definition, the responsibility for involvement is placed
on the parent and suggests that to be involved parents need to participate in school defined
practices such as volunteering in the classroom.
© 2009 National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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In addition, programs that implement a traditional parent involvement model may also be
perceived as insensitive to family members’ time, financial, or educational limitations. In the
case of culturally-diverse families, other practices implemented at home that support children’s
education may be overlooked and underappreciated. These misperceptions of early childhood
education programs may lead to a disconnect in the partnership between families and programs
(Quiocho & Daoud, 2006; Wong & Hughes, 2006, Valdes, 1999).
Lastly, in some cultures, multi-generational households are common, and extended
family members and fictive kin have important roles in caring for and raising children (McAdoo,
2000; Valdes, 1999). Henderson and Mapp (2002, p. 10) highlight the importance of family by
recognizing that “all family members -- siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and fictive kin --
who may be friends or neighbors, often contribute in significant ways to children’s education and
development.” Traditional parental involvement models, however, do not incorporate other
important family members that are active participants in the child’s development and learning.
Not all models of family engagement have focused primarily on parent-initiated
practices, however. There are some models that have recognized the school’s role in promoting
family engagement. For example, Epstein (2001) presents a comprehensive approach of
involvement for family and professional partnerships. The model identifies practices that schools
can implement to facilitate parent involvement. It recognizes that diverse needs and expectations
exist across families and educators and that what may work in the life of one child may not work
for another. In these instances, the model calls for families and educators to work together, to
develop goals, and to establish the best possible practices that are meaningful and appropriate for
both parties. The six elements to Epstein’s model are:
1. Parenting = Help all families establish home environments to support children
as students
2. Communicating = Design effective forms of school-to-home and home-to
school communications about school programs and their children’s progress
3. Volunteering = Recruit and organize parent help and support
4. Learning at Home = Provide information and ideas to families about how to
help students at home with homework and other curriculum-related activities,
decisions, and planning
5. Decision Making = Include parents in school decisions, developing parent
leaders and representatives
6. Collaborating with Community = Identify and integrate resources and services
from the community to strengthen school programs, family practices, and
student learning and development.
Weiss et al. (2006) also provide an integrative model of family involvement that is
evidence-based or clearly linked to positive child outcomes. Their model encompasses three
important categories: Parenting, Home-School Relationships, and Responsibility for Learning
Outcomes. Parenting includes the attitudes, values, and practices that parents use in raising
young children. This category would include nurturing parent-child relationships and child-
centered practices. Home-School Relationships pertain to both formal and informal connections
between families and young children’s early childhood education programs. It may include
regular communication with teachers and efforts by the early childhood education programs to
© 2009 National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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increase nontraditional contact between families and teachers such as home-visits or parent-
discussion groups. Responsibility for Learning Outcomes speaks to how parents can support the
language and literacy development of their children through direct parent-teaching activities such
as reading aloud and engaging in linguistically rich conversations with their children.
While our conceptualization of family engagement draws from past models in some
ways, there are also substantial differences. First, the paradigm proposed in this paper
emphasizes UengagementU rather than Uinvolvement.U In so doing, it takes a strengths-based
perspective that all families are involved in their children’s learning and well-being. The issue,
however, often lies in the ability of programs to engage families so that they can effectively work
together on behalf of children. High levels of engagement often result from strong program-
family partnerships that are co-constructed and characterized by trust, shared values, ongoing
bidirectional communication, mutual respect, and attention to each party’s needs (Lopez,
Kreider, & Caspe, 2004). Henderson and Mapp (2002) highlight research by Swap (1993) and
others that confirmed that the partnership approach to family involvement had the greatest
impact as it allows parents to be involved in all areas of school life. Constantino (2008) states
that family-school relationships are the foundation for real or meaningful family engagement.
Furthermore, the concept of family engagement (versus parent involvement) recognizes all
members of a child’s family (not just parents) and emphasizes the importance of the reciprocal
relationship between families and schools. Program staff must be aware that family participation
in both the program and the home can take on many forms and depends on the unique
characteristics of each family.
Review of Family Engagement Literature
Ecological and Social Exchange Frameworks
The family engagement literature clearly supports the importance of strong partnerships
between families and early childhood education programs. Positive family-program connections
have been linked to greater academic motivation, grade promotion, and socio-emotional skills
across all young children, including those from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds
(Christenson, 2000; Mantzicopoulos, 2003; McWayne et al., 2004).
A developmental-ecological perspective explains the dynamic between family-program
partnerships and children’s developmental outcomes. According to this theory, children’s
development and learning occurs within a series of embedded and interactive contexts or
systems. Systems range from distal (e.g., culture and society) to proximal (e.g., school and
family), and their effect on child development may be direct or indirect. All systems influence
and are influenced by the cultural and socio-economic context; however, two of the most
influential systems for young children are their homes and their early childhood education
programs. Both systems serve as critical learning environments for children. Harmonious
interactions between systems promote family engagement and children’s development
(Bronfenbrenner, 2004, Xu & Filler, 2008). While the ecological perspective may explain the
importance of family-program partnerships for children’s development, it does not explain the
motivation for parents and schools to work together. This information is especially crucial for
early childhood education programs who are concerned with a perceived lack of involvement
with families from diverse backgrounds (Marschall, 2006).
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Social exchange theory may shed light on how social partnerships develop and maintain.
According to this theory, social relationships develop depending on the exchange of resources
between parties and the weighing of costs and benefits. Perceived resources or benefits can be
tangible (e.g., adult education courses) or intangible (e.g., warm and welcoming environment).
For example, if a family member was asked to volunteer in the early childhood education
program, the social exchange theory predicts that the family member would begin to weigh the
cost of volunteering in the program against the benefits the family receives from the program. If
the family member feels that the benefit (tangible or intangible) he/she receives from the
program outweighs the costs of volunteering, he/she may decide to volunteer at the program.
However, if the cost of volunteering outweighs the benefits, then he/she may decide not to
volunteer. The concept of trust is also at the essence of social exchange theory. As mutual trust
evolves between the family and the program so will the extent and commitment to the
partnership. If trust is lost, however, the commitment to the relationship will begin to diminish,
as will feelings of engagement (Early, 1992; Lopez, et al., 2004; Nakonezny & Denton, 2008).
Structure of Review
The following review of the literature on family engagement is organized according to
social exchange and ecological theories. According to the social exchange theory, the literature
will be divided into two sections: (1) evidence-based resources that early childhood education
programs can offer to the program-family partnership, and (2) evidence-based resources that
families can offer to the program-family partnership. Culture is an important influence on child
development and will be considered across all program and family resources, as indicated by the
ecological framework (see Figure A).
Figure A
Figure A depicts family engagement as intricately linked to a strong program-family
relationship. A strong program-family relationship is defined as one in which both programs and
families contribute resources and work together on behalf of children’s well-being. When there is
a strong program-family relationship in place, family engagement will increase, which ultimately
benefits the development of children.
It is important to mention three issues in regards to Figure A. First, cultural sensitivity is
(and should be) considered across all program and family resources. Also, it is important to note
that this model may modify according to child age, readiness-level of family member, and
readiness-level of the program. Lastly, this model is cyclical. As child and family outcomes
improve, the strength of the EC program-family partnership and the level of family engagement
may also increase.
© 2009 National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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Figure A: Social Exchange Model of Family Engagement*
Early Childhood Education Program Resources
To foster family engagement, programs must focus on offering resources that have been
found to promote children’s learning and that are perceived by families as beneficial. These
resources can be either tangible or intangible and can include (a) creating a welcoming
environment; (b) interacting with the community; (c) conducting home visits; (d) promoting
respectful two-way communication with all families; (e) incorporating families within the
decision making process, (f) providing opportunities for adult education and parenting classes;
(g) offering resources such as child care and transportation supports; and (h) providing resources
for extending learning experiences at home. Together, these resources offered by programs to
families aid in creating the reciprocal partnership discussed earlier in this paper. Further, they
help parents develop new skills, create social networks, and decrease obstacles for family
(a) Environment that Welcomes Families. To encourage families’ participation in the
program-family relationship, programs must provide a welcoming environment to families.
Constantino (2008) suggests that “a welcoming environment implies that a program has focused
efforts on maintaining an atmosphere that is inviting to families and honors their presence
© 2009 National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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In a review of why families become involved, Hoover-Dempsey et al. (2005) found that
“how welcoming the program is” was one of the most influential indicators of family
engagement. Programs can strive to become more welcoming in a number of ways ranging from
having staff greet families at the door, to hanging signs so that families can navigate the building
more easily, to establishing a “parent room” where parents can mingle, find information on child
development or the educational program. To ensure that all families feel welcomed, programs
can incorporate role-models from diverse backgrounds and celebrate the cultures of all members
of the program community. Intangible benefits that result from a welcoming environment such as
feelings of acceptance and appreciation are also important for promoting partnerships with
families (Constantino, 2008).
(b) Interaction with the Community. Cultural differences and language barriers may lead
to misconceptions about families’ participation in their children’s education. Programs can limit
these barriers by being involved in the community and striving to learn about the different
cultural backgrounds of the children they serve and by hiring staff with similar cultural and
language backgrounds as the children in the program. Biases, even unconscious biases, by
teachers and administrators can harm the partnerships between programs and families and
discourage families from participating (Ferguson et al., 2008; Sanders, 2008).
By encouraging teachers to interact with families in their own communities and to think
about their inherent biases, programs can limit these ill effects. Recent research has found
changes in teachers’ negative beliefs about Latino and other immigrant families after having
direct contact and experiences with these families in their communities (De la Piedra, Munter,
Giron, 2006; Ferguson et al., 2008). In addition to changing existing biases, holding family-
program meetings in neutral or unthreatening locations in the community allows families to feel
more comfortable and increases their attendance due to transportation and convenience (Quiocho
and Daoud, 2006). Community meetings may also demonstrate to families the value early
childhood education programs place on their participation (Constantino, 2008; Rous et al., 2003).
(c) Home Visits. Home visits provide opportunities for teachers and families to connect
in an informal setting, to prevent and resolve problems in a more succinct and efficient manner,
and to expand the teacher’s knowledge of students’ home life and cultural backgrounds
(Delgado-Gaitan, 2004; Ginsberg, 2007; National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and
Second Language Learning, 1994; Sanders 2008). Logan and Feiler (2006) also found home
visits to be beneficial to parents of young children. In their study, home visits were associated
with greater confidence in parents’ interactions with children’s educational programs.
Research on home visits have found positive short- and long-term effects for children,
families, and teachers. Compared to control groups, home visits have been associated with higher
scores for children in math, reading and classroom adaptation (Baker, Piotrkowski, and Brooks-
Gunn, 1998; Kagitcibasi, Sunar, & Bekman, 2001). Children who receive home-visits are also
found to have greater engagement in literacy activities and are more likely to choose and
participate in group activities (Logan & Feiler, 2006). Furthermore, kindergarten through second
grade teachers who participated in home visits believed that they resulted in more positive
relationships with both children and families. They also reported that home visits led to
improved communication with parents, enhanced understanding of the child, and a greater
insight on how the home environment influences school performance (Meyer, & Mann, 2006).
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Home visits are a hallmark of Head Start, Early Head Start and many other early
childhood and family literacy programs. Most Head Start programs require at least 2 visits a year
and consist of several objectives such as (1) informing parents about Head Start and services
offered, (2) assisting with basic needs, (3) providing information about their children’s progress,
(4) offering counseling to address personal issues or family health issues, and (5) providing
educational experiences for Head Start children in their home. Among families surveyed in 1998
for the Head Start FACES study, parents most frequently reported participating in home visits
(82.9 percent) as an example of their involvement in their child's program. The survey also
revealed that most parents surveyed were satisfied with their child's Head Start program and felt
that the home visits helped to aid their child's development and learning (O’Brien et al., 2002).
(d) Two-Way Communication. Communication is the basis for any strong relationship
and especially important with respect to family engagement in early childhood education
programs (Baker & Manfredi-Petitt, 2004). Marcon (1999) stated that communicating with
families is often the program’s first step toward increasing engagement. Teachers and
administrators can communicate with parents through a variety of different means including
newsletters, e-mails, translated materials, web postings, telephone calls, home visits, videos or
photo albums that depict a day in the class, and face-to-face communication (Carlisle et al.,
It is critical, however, that programs use communication practices that are sensitive to the
diverse language and cultural backgrounds of the families they serve. Sohn and Wang (2006)
found that Korean born mothers, even those who spoke English well, had difficulty
communicating with teachers face-to-face. Due to their strong reading and English grammar
skills, their preference was to communicate with teachers through email or program letters. Rous
et al. (2003) also found that families who do not speak English well may have difficulty
understanding phone conversations as they are unable to rely on non-verbal cues. Lastly,
DuPraw and Axner (1997) and Rous et al. (2003) found vast cultural differences in
communication styles and nonverbal behavior across families in their studies.
To strengthen two-way communication with families, there are several evidence-based
practices that early childhood programs can implement. First, programs should ensure that all
written communication is translated into the native languages of the families they serve and that
there are translators regularly available for face-to-face or phone communication. Second,
programs should utilize the best forms of communication by asking parents’ preferences at the
beginning of the program year. Lastly, early childhood education programs must not only focus
on providing information to parents, but should pay equal attention to listening to families and
gathering their feedback. Programs can encourage feedback by creating a help desk, holding
meetings with administrators that have open agendas, and providing a place to ask questions on
the schools website. These techniques help to encourage continuous communication, resolve
misunderstandings, and provide more accurate information in a timely manner. (Constantino,
2008; Engagement: From parent chats to asking question, 2008; Rous et al., 2003; Souto-
Manning & Swick, 2006).
(e) Shared Decision Making. A very important but often over-looked form of family
engagement is the concept of shared decision making between families and programs. Early
childhood education programs need to provide families with an opportunity to voice their
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opinions and share in the decision making of program practices and policies that affect their
As an integral part of its two-generational approach to early intervention, the Head Start
model allows families to participate in leadership and decision-making roles. The Policy
Councils help to make decisions about the kinds of teachers that should be hired and help to
design early childhood curriculum and program practices. By including families within the
decision making process Head Start demonstrates that families’ opinions are valued and
generates a sense of parent “ownership” and pride in the program. Similarly at the Vaughn
Family Center, a combination charter program and service provider, parents make up half of the
centers governing board which is responsible for hiring staff and selecting the services that the
center provides. One parent said “Parents have found that they can have a lot of power and say
about what goes on at Vaughn and that the administration listens and respects their concerns”
(Cochran, 2007 p. 165).
While some programs may offer forms of parent leadership, Flaugher (2006) suggests
that their opportunities to actually engage in decision making in their children’s programs are
usually quite limited. Research on culturally-diverse families also indicates feelings of
reservation and alienation on the part of family members from participating in school leadership
councils (Sohn and Wang 2006; Schaller, Rocha, and Barshinger 2007). In order to support a
true family-program partnership programs must work to balance the power structure and find
ways to incorporate the voices of all families across race, cultural background and
socioeconomic status.
(f) Parenting Classes/Adult Education. Early childhood education programs can offer a
variety of different resources to families through parenting and adult education classes. Both
types of courses provide parents with valuable knowledge, skills, and enhanced social
networking opportunities that directly and indirectly affect children’s well-being. In particular,
decreased levels of parental stress and high levels of parental warmth and nurturance have
proven to be highly influential in the social and academic success of young children (Cochran,
2007; Connell & Prinz, 2002; Dilworth-Bart, Khurshid, & Vandell, 2007; Weiss et al. 2006).
In parenting classes, parents learn ways to enhance their relationship with their children
and use techniques that promote learning. Past research has found numerous benefits for children
whose family members participated in parenting classes. For example, Caspe and Lopez (2006)
conducted a review of family workshops and parenting classes that showed positive family and
child outcomes through rigorous evaluations, including randomized control trials and
longitudinal studies. Some examples of the programs that were reviewed include “Dare to Be
You” (Miller-Heyl, MacPhee & Fritz, 1998), Early Risers (August, Realmuto, Mathy, & Lee,
2003) and “Incredible Years” (Reid, Webster-Stratton, & Hammond, 2007). In addition,
Chrispeels and Rivero (2000) conducted a study that examined the impact of Parent Institute for
Quality Education (PIQE) on a group of Latino immigrant parents in California. All of the
families surveyed for the study reported shifts in their parenting styles as a result of involvement
with PIQE. They noted changes in their discipline methods, improved communication within the
family and with teachers, and increased awareness of how to build the child’s self-esteem.
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Many schools and programs, including Head Start and Early Head Start, provide a variety
of adult education classes to families including job training, GED courses, English as a Second
Language courses, stress management courses, first aid, money management, substance abuse
classes and more. The offering of adult education classes may directly and indirectly effect
children’s well-being. Classes may provide family members with skills needed to help their
children with homework. However, the enhanced social networks or increased self-esteem that
family members may experience from participating in classes may also help improve their
childrearing abilities, indirectly (Cochran, 2007). Findings from Head Start indicate that
participants in adult education classes reduce their reliance on public assistance, find
employment, earn college credit or degrees, and own homes after their experience with the
program (Oyemade, Washington, & Gallo, 1989).
(g) Child Care/Transportation Services. To encourage the participation of families in
school events and meetings, early childhood education programs must decrease the number of
barriers and cost perceived by family members. This may explain why when programs provide
on-site childcare, transportation, and refreshments at events, families are more likely to
participate. To decrease the financial burden on programs, high school students may serve as a
valuable resource that can provide childcare and tutor children while their families participate in
program related events and activities. In addition, programs can work with local transportation
companies to provide vouchers to parents for transportation to certain school events
(Constantino, 2008). By providing families with incentives to attend events and resources to
overcome transportation and child-care barriers, programs are able to ensure that families are
able to take advantage of the resources that they provide and to be involved in program activities.
(h) Home Educational Resources. Not only can schools provide children with instruction
and learning opportunities during the school day, but by understanding their role in the family-
program partnership, they can also help families enhance children’s early learning at home.
Bouffard and Weiss (2008) explain that complementary learning, a systematic approach that
intentionally integrates school and nonschool supports to promote educational and life success, is
one of the most effective means to enhancing the learning and developmental experiences of
There are several ways in which early childhood programs can support the learning of
children at home and strengthen the family-program partnership. For example, programs can
provide families with activities and materials to use at home or in the community. They can also
support the emerging literacy skills of young children by offering family members tips on
reading aloud and provide literacy learning kits (Crawford and Zygouris-Coe, 2006). Bracken
and Fischel (2008) found that parent-child interaction and access to literacy materials was
significantly related to children’s emergent literacy including child’s receptive vocabulary, story
and print concepts and general emergent literacy skills for low-income preschoolers in Head
Other effective examples of how programs can facilitate home learning include
videotaping the classroom to show what is being taught and demonstrate instructional techniques
that parents could use at home, conducting photo projects, encouraging journaling and cooking
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activities at home, and incorporating interactive homework assignments (Bailey, 2006; Feiler,
Greenhough, Winter, Salway, & Scanlan 2006; Hughes & Greenhough, 2006; Crawford &
Zygouris-Coe, 2006). By providing families with resources and activities that further the work
that is being addressed within the classroom, teachers help families feel more connected to their
child as well as to the program.
Family Resources
Just as the early childhood education program can provide resources to families in an
effort to improve children’s learning, families have equally important resources that they can
contribute to the partnership. The link between families and programs is further developed when
family members (a) communicate knowledge with teachers or caregivers, (b) create an
environment at home that reinforces and complements classroom experiences, (c) volunteer or
participate at the early childhood education program, (d) act as a parent liaison, and (e)
participate on program boards or councils.
(a) Communicate Knowledge with Teachers/Caregivers. Across all cultural and socio-
economic backgrounds, family members are important sources of knowledge on their children’s
development and learning styles. It is imperative that families regularly communicate this
information to teachers/caregivers in the early childhood program. Research has found strong
relationship between parent-teacher communication and children’s outcomes. In a sample of
low-income, ethnic minority kindergartners and their primary caregivers, McWayne et al. (2004)
found that direct and regular contact between parents and school was related to children’s ratings
of positive engagement with their peers, adults, and learning. Similarly, in a sample of low-
income 4 year-olds attending public pre-k, Marcon (1999) found a relationship between parent-
teacher communication and preschoolers’ language, self-help, social, motor, and adaptive
development skills.
(b) Reinforce Learning/Create a Learning Environment at Home. Creating a rich home
learning environment for children is another important feature to family engagement. Families
who reinforce educational concepts introduced in programs at home increase their children’s
chances for academic success (Bouffard & Weiss, 2008). For example, McWayne et al. (2004)
found that families who (a) promoted learning at home, (b) structured the home environment to
support children’s learning, and (c) spent time talking with children about their school-based
activities were more likely to have children with higher academic functioning, greater academic
achievement, and higher academic motivation.
In addition, Bradley, Corwyn, Burchinal, McAdoo, and Garcia Coll (2001) found that
home-learning stimulation and parental responsiveness were significantly related to motor and
social development, language competence, and achievement test scores across poverty levels and
different ethnic groups for children birth to age 13. Research has also found that parent
engagement in child learning at home predicted greater academic achievement in children than
any other form of parent involvement (Harris & Goodall, 2008; Downey, 2002; Izzo, Weissberg,
Kasprow, & Fendich, 1999).
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The varied activities that families engage in at home have an impact on the success of
their children at school and on the over all family-school partnership. The beliefs family
members share with their children at home regarding education, their children’s educational
program, and their children’s abilities are other areas in which families can influence their
children’s academic success. Research has found that family expectations for their children and
their beliefs about school are strongly related to children’s academic outcomes (Fan & Chen,
2001; Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, 1997; Mantzicopolus, 2003; Clark, 1993). Parents who do
not believe in their child’s academic success may negatively influence their child’s outcomes
(Jeynes, 2005).
(c) Volunteer/Participate. Research has found a strong, positive relationship between
parents’ volunteering and attending program activities and preschooler’s language, self-help,
social, motor, adaptive development, and mastery of early basic school skills [these findings
were especially stronger for boys than girls] (Marcon, 1999). Mantizcopoulos (2003) found that
parent’s attendance at school events significantly predicted whether the child was promoted from
kindergarten to first grade.
There are numerous ways in which families can volunteer and participate in the early
childhood education program. Family members can plan and attend school events, chaperone
field trips, attend fundraising activities, work in parent-teacher organizations, or meet with
school personnel to forge relationships with school leaders (Rous et al., 2003; Carlisle, et al.,
2005). Parents can also provide support for schools through donating their time and resources,
such as by painting, fixing playgrounds, cleaning, or fundraising. Resources may also include
donating toys, supplies to use in art projects, furniture and more (Cochran, 2007). Lastly,
families can volunteer to assist in classroom activities or come in and share their expertise and
interests (ex. cultural, musical, culinary, gardening, and storytelling talents) as a guest speaker
(Carlisle et al. 2005; Delgado-Gaitan, 2004).
Parent participation not only helps to influence their child’s academic achievement and
social development, but it can also help to dispel teacher biases and help make families feel more
comfortable within the program (Quiocho and Daoud, 2006). McWayne et al. (2004) caution
family feelings of disconnectedness and little contact with the educational program may lead to
higher rates of externalizing and internalizing behaviors. However, it should be recognized that
many families want to participate but are constrained by work schedules, child care needs,
transportation, or language barriers (Pena, 2000; Cochran, 2007; Sohn & Wang, 2006; Quiocho
& Daoud, 2006).
(d) Act as a Family Liaison. Serving as a liaison between early childhood education
programs and families has the potential to greatly influence family engagement. Since family
liaisons often observe classroom routines and speak regularly to teachers, the ability for a family
member to serve as a liaison creates ample opportunities for him/her to learn about their own
child’s program and have direct access to program officials. Family liaisons not only increase
their own opportunities for engagement at their children’s educational program, but they also
increase the likelihood of engagement for many other families attending the same program
(Muscott et al., 2008).
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All Rights Reserved.
Family liaisons are often members of their local community and share similar beliefs,
languages, and socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds as other families participating in the
program (Sanders, 2008). These similarities allow for increased communication between
programs and families. Since liaisons are aware of classroom routines, expectations, and
academic demands, they are able to share this information with other families. In programs that
serve linguistically and culturally diverse families, liaisons can especially help teachers by
contacting families and translating during meetings. They support families by gathering their
feedback and relaying information to the educational program. Colombo (2006) found that
involvement in a parent liaison program was linked to increased family and community
participation and significant progress in children’s reading, verbal communication, and behavior.
(e) Serve as a Board Member. The voices of families are valuable resources that are
often overlooked and underappreciated by early childhood programs (Flaugher, 2006). By
serving on the program’s board, family members can contribute to decision making in
educational programs, advocate for their communities, and become actively engaged in their
children’s educational experiences (Muscott et al., 2008). In addition, Moore (1998) found that
elementary schools that experienced improvements in reading achievement from 1990-1997
were more likely to have had active parenting boards. He also found that cooperation between
the parents, teachers, administrators, and community members were related to trends in academic
© 2009 National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Pew Charitable Trusts.
All Rights Reserved.
Conclusion and Draft Recommendations
This paper provided an extensive review of the research on family engagement. With
high enrollment in early childhood programs across several ethnic groups, particular attention
was paid to including practices associated with young children from a wide range of cultural and
socioeconomic backgrounds. The literature clearly indicates that in order to promote optimal
development for all children, early childhood education programs and policy decisions must be
respectful of the cultural and ethnic ideals of the families they serve, not just those that fit within
the preconceived beliefs of teachers, administrators, and policymakers.
Using ecological and social exchange theories as frameworks, several practices that
support strong family engagement and that have been linked to positive outcomes for all young
children were presented in this paper. Based on our review of the literature, we will close by
providing final recommendations for enhancing family engagement in early childhood education
Practice Recommendations
Integrate Culture and Community. Promote acceptance of all families by incorporating
role models of different cultural, ethnic, and economic backgrounds and by celebrating
the cultures of all families. Translate all materials into native languages of families and
have an interpreter available for face-to-face and phone communication. Encourage
program staff to interact with families and/or teach children outside of the school context
and within their communities. Hold program focused meetings within the community.
Provide a Welcoming Environment. Make navigating the school easy by having staff
greet families near the entrance and ensuring that signs are posted and clear. Ensure there
are clear continuous channels of communication. Encourage families to provide feedback
through a variety of venues.
Strive for Program-Family Partnerships. Include families in decisions related to both
their own child’s education and the early childhood education program as a whole. This
includes on-going, collaborative goal-setting of children’s outcomes between teachers
and families. Facilitate complementary learning by providing families with information
and resources to connect activities being conducted during the program with the home.
Make a Commitment to Outreach. Conduct home visits, if families are comfortable,
where teachers can learn from families about children’s home environments and best
learning styles. Model educational activities that families can do at home to support
children’s learning. Ask families for their communication preferences at the beginning of
the school year.
Provide Family Resources and Referrals. Provide resources and/or referrals to families
in areas of preventative health and family services. Resources may also include offering
child-care, transportation, and refreshments to help overcome barriers, and encourage
participation in school activities and events. Create a two-generational model that
© 2009 National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Pew Charitable Trusts.
All Rights Reserved.
provides opportunities for families to participate in both parenting and adult education
Set and Reinforce Program Standards. Set clear program standards and provide on-
going professional development opportunities on culturally-sensitive, evidence-based
family engagement practices. Standards must be comprehensive and emphasize on-going
© 2009 National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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... A szülői elkötelezettség és bevonódás témakörét tárgyaló nemzetközi szakirodalom elsősorban az iskolai tanítási-tanulási folyamatra fókuszál (Bempechat, Shernoff 2012;Fredricks et al. 2004;Christenson et al. 2012), más kutatások szerint azonban ez kérdéskör a koragyermekkori nevelés keretei között is relevánsnak tekinthető (Halgunseth 2009; Fantuzzo et al. 2013). Kutatásunk célja az volt, hogy feltárja a hátrányos helyzetű térségekben működő óvodák vezetőinek nézeteit, attitűdjét a szülői bevonódás intenzitásáról, formáiról, a szülő és az óvoda közötti kapcsolatrendszer jellegzetességeiről. ...
... The international literature on parental engagement and involvement focuses primarily on the teaching-learning process in schools (Bempechat, Shernoff 2012;Fredricks et al. 2004;Christenson et al. 2012), but other research suggests that it is also relevant in the context of early childhood education (Halgunseth 2009; Fantuzzo et al. 2013). The aim of our research was to explore the views and attitudes of leaders of kindergartens in disadvantaged areas on the intensity and forms of parental involvement and the characteristics of the parent-kindergarten relationship. ...
... A szülői elkötelezettség és bevonódás témakörében fellelhető nemzetközi szakirodalom elsősorban az iskolai nevelési-oktatási folyamatra fókuszál (Bempechat, Shernoff 2012;Fredricks et al. 2004;Christenson et al. 2012), ugyanakkor a koragyerekkori nevelés keretei között is relevánsnak tekinthetők a szülők bevonásának lehetőségei, és az óvoda és a szülő közötti kapcsolatrendszer jellegzetességeinek vizsgálata (Halgunseth 2009;Fantuzzo et al. 2013). Ebben a tanulmányban nem a tanulói elkötelezettséget, a tanuló iskolai sikerességét helyezzük középpontba, hanem a családok, szülők elkötelezettségét, bevonódását a gyermek fejlődése, jól-léte érdekében. ...
Full-text available
Absztrakt A szülői elkötelezettség és bevonódás témakörét tárgyaló nemzetközi szakirodalom elsősorban az iskolai tanítási-tanulási folyamatra fókuszál (Bempechat, Shernoff 2012; Fredricks et al. 2004; Christenson et al. 2012), más kutatások szerint azonban ez kérdéskör a koragyermekkori nevelés keretei között is relevánsnak tekinthető (Halgunseth 2009; Fantuzzo et al. 2013). Kutatásunk célja az volt, hogy feltárja a hátrányos helyzetű térségekben működő óvodák vezetőinek nézeteit, attitűdjét a szülői bevonódás intenzitásáról, formáiról, a szülő és az óvoda közötti kapcsolatrendszer jellegzetességeiről. A kvalitatív vizsgálat során óvodavezetőkkel készítettünk fókuszcsoportos interjúkat (n=19), melynek keretében rákérdeztünk a család és az óvoda közötti kapcsolattartás nehézségeire, az intézményi jó gyakorlatokra. Elemzésünk alapját az epstein-i partnerkapcsolati modell-a koragyerekkori nevelés és gondozásra-adaptált változata jelentette (Arrabal 2013). Eredményeink szerint az óvodavezetők a gyermekek szocializációjának elősegítését elsősorban a szülők elkötelezettségének növelésén keresztül látják igazán megvalósíthatónak. Ennek eléréséhez pedig már léteznek olyan jó gyakorlatok, melyek támogatják a szülő-óvoda közti együttműködést. Kulcsszavak: koragyermekkor, szülői bevonódás, család és az óvoda kapcsolatrendszere Abstract The international literature on parental engagement and involvement focuses primarily on the teaching-learning process in schools (Bempechat, Shernoff 2012; Fredricks et al. 2004; Christenson et al. 2012), but other research suggests that it is also relevant in the context of early childhood education (Halgunseth 2009; Fantuzzo et al. 2013). The aim of our research was to explore the views and attitudes of leaders of kindergartens in disadvantaged areas on the intensity and forms of parental involvement and the characteristics of the parent-kindergarten relationship. During the qualitative study, we conducted focus group interviews with kindergarten heads (n=19), asking about the difficulties of maintaining contact between family and kindergarten, and about good practices in the institution. Our analysis was based on an adapted version of the Epstein partnership model for early childhood education and care (Arrabal 2013). Our results show that preschool leaders perceive the promotion of children's socialisation as being truly feasible primarily through increasing parental engagement. To achieve this, good practices already exist to support parent-kindergarten collaboration.
... The research is informed by a developmental-ecological perspective, an integrated theory from the ecological (Bronfenbrenner 2005) and social exchange framework (Halgunseth et al. 2009). According to the developmental-ecological perspective, children's development occurs within interactive social-cultural contexts and is affected by proximal (e.g., school and family) and distal (e.g., culture and society) factors (Halgunseth et al. 2009). ...
... The research is informed by a developmental-ecological perspective, an integrated theory from the ecological (Bronfenbrenner 2005) and social exchange framework (Halgunseth et al. 2009). According to the developmental-ecological perspective, children's development occurs within interactive social-cultural contexts and is affected by proximal (e.g., school and family) and distal (e.g., culture and society) factors (Halgunseth et al. 2009). In this study, virtual home visits reflect a proximal setting that may promote children's development and family engagement through preschool-home collaboration. ...
... Parents, teachers, educators, and children learn together with new technological artifacts, including utilizing new technologies, navigating complex multimodal languages, and exploring multimodal digital play pedagogies (Arnott 2016;Arnott and Yelland 2020). This study is informed by Halgunseth et al.'s (2009) developmental-ecological perspective that draws on the interconnectivity between the interactive contexts and children's multimodal lifeworlds (Arnott and Yelland 2020). ...
... Furthermore, while many innovations aim to involve parents, few have measured and reported parent engagement [10]. Prior studies have measured parent engagement as either program enrollment or attendance [13,14], failing to capture the dynamic, multi-faceted process between ECE providers and parents that truly defines parent engagement [15]. Healthy Me, Healthy We (HMHW) is one example of an innovation designed to promote parent engagement with efforts to support healthier eating and physical activity for 3-4-year-old children attending ECE centers [16][17][18]. ...
... The small increase in parent engagement observed among parents who received an enhanced implementation approach, despite ECE providers' relatively low fidelity to this approach, shows promise for the capacity to increase parent involvement with health promotion efforts through ECE and may suggest that the quality and quantity of strategies or interactions between ECE providers and parents is important [38]. Engaging parents during the early childhood period is critical but challenging [15], and there is a need for continued investigation to identify effective strategies and to better characterize these strategies [39]. ...
... Previous efforts to measure parent engagement have been limited [13,14] and lack the assessment of dynamic processes between ECE providers and parents [15]. This study employed multiple measures of parent engagement that included input from both ECE providers and parents. ...
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Previous efforts to involve parents in implementation of childcare-based health promotion interventions have yielded limited success, suggesting a need for different implementation strategies. This study evaluated the efficacy of an enhanced implementation strategy to increase parent engagement with Healthy Me, Healthy We. This quasi-experimental study included childcare centers from the second of two waves of a cluster-randomized trial. The standard approach (giving parents intervention materials, prompting participation at home, inviting participation with classroom events) was delivered in 2016–2017 (29 centers, 116 providers, and 199 parents). The enhanced approach (standard plus seeking feedback, identifying and addressing barriers to parent participation) was delivered in 2017–2018 (13 centers, 57 providers, and 114 parents). Parent engagement was evaluated at two levels. For the center-level, structured interview questions with providers throughout the intervention were systematically scored. For the parent-level, parents completed surveys following the intervention. Differences in parent engagement were evaluated using linear regression (center-level) and mixed effects (parent-level) models. Statistical significance was set at p < 0.025 for two primary outcomes. There was no difference in parent engagement between approaches at the center-level, β = −1.45 (95% confidence interval, −4.76 to 1.87), p = 0.38l. However, the enhanced approach had higher parent-level scores, β = 3.60, (95% confidence interval, 1.49 to 5.75), p < 0.001. In the enhanced approach group, providers consistently reported greater satisfaction with the intervention than parents (p < 0.001), yet their fidelity of implementing the enhanced approach was low (less than 20%). Results show promise that parent engagement with childcare-based health promotion innovations can positively respond to appropriately designed and executed implementation strategies, but strategies need to be feasible and acceptable for all stakeholders.
... These authentic partnerships are based on a shared commitment to the child, equity, inclusiveness, and cultural and linguistic responsiveness (Office of Head Start, 2018). In addition, family engagement is firmly grounded in bioecological theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1986), which frames the importance of strong program-family relationships within the context of child development, as well as social exchange theory, which helps us understand the motivations of both the family and program (Halgunseth, 2009). ...
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Head Start center closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic required providers to innovate to continue engaging families and building relationships. Family Engagement has long been a pillar of Head Start’s holistic approach to working with children and families in poverty. The present study provides a unique qualitative, longitudinal perspective from 20 Illinois-based Head Start/Early Head Start center directors regarding their engagement and communication strategies with families prior to, during, and after state-mandated center closures. Findings indicate that staff developed novel approaches to working with families within the context of COVID-19, some of which may have an important place in a post-pandemic world.
... Yapılan araştırmalar, ebeveyn katılımının çocuğun gelişiminde, okul yaşamını desteklemede önemli bir faktör olduğunu ortaya koymaktadır (Desforges ve Abouchaar 2003;Epstein ve Sanders, 2006;Harvard Family Research Project, 2006;Kocabaş, 2006;Titiz ve Tokel, 2015). Özellikle erken çocukluk literatürü incelendiğinde ebeveynlerin evde öğrenme etkinliklerine katılımlarının öğrencilerin öğrenmelerinde olumlu katkılar sağladığı görülmektedir (Halgunseth, Peterson, Stark ve Moodie, 2009;Harris ve Goodall, 2008;McWayne, Hampton, Fantuzzo, Cohen ve Sekino, 2004). Ayrıca ebeveynlerin ev ortamında eğitici tutum ve davranışlarının gençlerin gelişiminde, akademik başarılarında, öğrenci motivasyonunda olumlu etkilerinin olduğu eğitim psikolojisi literatüründe de ortaya konmuştur (Gonzalez-DeHass, Willems ve Holbein, 2005;Spera, 2005;Hill ve Tyson, 2009). ...
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The purpose of this study is to examine the instructive parenting skills of families for the e-learning process. The Instructive Parenting Skills Scale was used as a quantitative data collection tool in the study, which was carried out using the mixed research method. And a semi-structured interview form applied to parents and teachers was used as a qualitative data collection tool in the study. For the data analysis of the study, parametric tests were used for quantitative data analysis and content analysis was used for qualitative data analysis. According to the research findings, as a result of the quantitative data analysis, it was determined that the perceptions of the parents towards the instructive parenting skills were at the "mostly" level. In the study, according to the t-Test and ANOVA results, it was determined that there was a significant difference in favor of female parents, working parents, younger parents, and parents whose children are at primary school level for the subscale of supporting learning at home under instructive parenting skills scale. As a result of the tests performed based on the variables of graduation and income status, it was found that there was no significant difference. As a result of the qualitative analyzes, it was determined that the parents involved in the learning at home process as much as possible, but the teachers did not consider the level and quality of this involvement sufficient. In the study, it was concluded that the families considered their instructive parenting skills at a sufficient level, and they involved as instructive parents in the e-learning process, while the teachers were not satisfied with the involvement of parents in learning at home.
... Professionals must establish trust and respect with families and their children. Halgunseth (2009) recommended the following strategies to build rapport with families using culturally competent communication: (a) incorporate culture and community, (b) show parents they are wanted and welcome, (c) aim to bring families into a partnership with the program, (d) reach out to families, (e) give families resources and supports, and (f) commit to setting standards within the program. ...
Many early childhood assessment practices involve table top testing that requires young children to behave like an adult (e.g., follow adult directives, attend to task, and answer questions). Research and professional policy standards have identified and mandated alternatives. Authentic assessment is the alternative to conventional testing practices for young children and is based on an old and venerable idea which, instead, emphasizes observing young children's behavior during routines and everyday settings as they engage in real-life tasks and activities and display crucial learning competencies. This article shares professional strategies for implementing a 21st-century approach to assessment by facilitating an optimal authentic assessment experience for young children and their families.
... Specifically, it reveals factors with strong or moderate levels of evidence with respect to the microsystem (child and family), the mesosystem (parent-practitioner interactions), and the exosystem (organizational decisions and actions). This ecological vision is in fact recommended by several researchers for dealing with parental participation (Avis et al., 2007;Coe et al., 2008;Halgunseth et al., 2009;Houle et al., 2018). Nonetheless, this approach would merit further development in future studies as this would allow all known factors to be examined together and new avenues to be explored, such as the contribution of social policies and of inter-institution consultation and networking. ...
The objective of this study is to identify the factors that influence the recruitment of parents of at-risk families into prevention programs targeting behavior problems in early childhood. A mixed studies systematic review was performed and the level of evidence for each influencing factor was determined according to the quality of the studies and to the consistency of the results across research. All evidence from the quantitative-, qualitative-, and mixed-design studies were identified (n = 28) using a convergent qualitative synthesis design. The factors that influence parent recruitment were grouped into five broad dimensions, namely, the child, the parent, parent-practitioner interactions, organizational decisions and actions, and policies, which confirms the ecological vision of recruitment. The review highlights the shared responsibility for the recruitment process, some factors being specific not only to the family, but also to the actors involved in the practice. The study demonstrates that certain influencing factors should be further promoted to increase the chances of reaching at-risk families during the early childhood period.
Family in the Borderlands/la Frontera: Transnational Narratives of Mexican Migrant Parents and Their Young Children This bi-national narrative inquiry explores the transnational family life of four migrant families raising young children in both the United States and Mexico. Member checks were conducted with seven additional families recruited at the same New York- based early childhood program. The thematic and dialogical narrative analyses of the families’ stories revealed their experiences of transnational family life, including the cooperative transnational care of children, and the strategies the families established to cope with ambiguous losses associated with family separation and undocumented migration. This study’s findings highlight the paradoxical nature of the Mexican transnational family experience or the borderlands/la frontera (Anzaldúa, 1987) in which it exists. In order to acknowledge the complex nature of this collective life experience, practitioners should consider the role national boundaries play in defining “family” and take a family resiliency approach that invites exploration of the risk and protective factors that comprise the family’s separate and together existence on both sides of the border. Interdisciplinary studies of life narratives need to take a dialogical lens to recognize the synthesis-making work of narratives and the inherent tensions that this process entails, especially in the case of transitional life narratives. Ultimately, recommendations for researchers and practitioners are made that build upon emerging best practices for transnational social work, including a transnational family narrative framework.
On behalf of the University Settlement Society of New York Early Childhood Division, I led our section’s contribution. I organized and contributed research data for this report. I collaborated with Michael Hunter and the author Maggie Ryan.
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The advantages to a family-centered approach to services have been emphasized in education literature for several decades. Active family involvement and support have been identified as key elements to the success of inclusive early childhood education programs. The purpose of this article is twofold: to review literature on family involvement in inclusive early childhood programs from the perspective of developmental ecological systems theory, and to describe family-focused programs for developing embedded learning opportunities across multiple inclusive settings. In so doing, we discuss how the four components of the ecological system (the microsystem, parents and siblings; the mesosystem, peers and school; the exosystem, community connections; and the macrosystem, cultural identity) influence the education of the child.
To meet the increasing demand for indirect social work services in schools, a model for school social work consultation is presented that integrates concepts of social exchange theory with the ecological perspective. Clinical observations in three settings suggest that the positive outcome of consultation was associated with the social worker’s acceptance and integration into the ecological unit of a working group of teachers. The model incorporates a collegial and reciprocal relationship between social worker consultant and teacher consultee. The three-phase process is cyclical rather than linear. First, the social worker is integrated into the work group, then problems are identified and solved, and finally the social worker facilitates refocus on subsequent problems rather than on terminating the contact.