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April 9, 2018

Promoting Family Engagement and the Week of the Young Child

By Sandra Carrillo
Grades PreK–K

    It takes a village to raise a child.” —African proverb

    It is no secret that the key to a child’s success begins with building strong partnerships between communities, families, and schools. In recent years, schools have placed a great deal of importance on the family engagement piece, re-evaluating their programs to make sure families are feeling supported.

    In 2015, the 84th Texas Legislature passed a House Bill (HB4) that established additional state support for high quality pre-kindergarten programs. This included authorization for a grant program and expansion of early childhood education reporting requirements for all Texas public schools. The grant program listed required criteria including a family engagement plan. The state provided direction on what to include and guidance on how to implement everything to ensure we were doing what was best for our students and families.

    Criteria for an effective family engagement plan:

    The Texas Education Agency has established guiding principles for quality family engagement and at the core of these principles are six components. The family engagement plan shall:

    • facilitate family-to-family support 
    • establish a network of community resources
    • increase family participation in decision making
    • equip families with tools to enhance and extend learning
    • develop staff skills in evidence-based practices that support families in meeting their children's learning benchmarks
    • evaluate family engagement efforts and use evaluations for continuous improvement

    In my school district we thought deeply about what we were doing to engage our families. Sure, all of our schools hosted traditional events such Open House, Parent-Teacher Conferences, Literacy Nights, Math & Science Nights, etc. We had to ask ourselves how effective were these events in targeting a specific population, and were parents really coming away with strategies that they could implement at home? Without coming up with a resounding YES to these questions, we decided to try something a bit different.

    As teachers, we are provided with opportunities to learn from experts through our participation in conferences. Why not provide a similar opportunity for our parents? We began with the idea that our family engagement plan needed to support the whole child, be fully integrated into the child’s educational experience, and that it be culturally and linguistically responsive and continuous through a child’s life. We put our plan into action and held our First Annual Family Engagement Conference for our pre-kindergarten families.

    Planning a Family Engagement Conference:

    1. Hold an initial meeting to include teachers and district staff (curriculum coordinators, directors, parent liaisons). 

    2. Set your expectations — what do you hope to accomplish?

    3. Decide on a date, time, and location for your event.

    4. Choose who will give your welcome and create a list of important guests so that invitations go out in time.

    5. Make a list of community partners and invite them to participate.   

    6. Send out a call to teachers and other staff for proposals of sessions.

    7. Evaluate the proposals ensuring a variety of options for parents including sessions on:

    • Social Emotional Development
    • Science
    • Math
    • Literacy (including how to read aloud to children, phonemic awareness, writing, etc.)
    • Special Education
    • Oral Language Development
    • Physical Health and Development
    • Art/Music

    If it is relevant in your district, be sure that at least some sessions are bilingual to meet the needs of your student population.

    8.  Sessions should be interactive, and parents should leave each session with the tools (including materials) to continue with the learning at home.   

    9.  Don't forget to create your sign-in sheets and evaluations.

    Here is what family engagement looked like at our conference last year:

    This year we are holding our second conference! We have scheduled it to coincide with the Week of the Young Child (April 16–20). Since 1971, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has set aside a week in April to highlight early learning. The purpose is to focus on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. NAEYC designates the Week of the Young Child dates and themes, but it is up to communities on how events are planned and implemented.

    For our event, we have come up with a week's worth of activities based on daily themes. Teachers will share with parents what was taught at school to facilitate extending the learning at home. This is all towards building the home-to-school connection.

    Our themes and dates are as follows: 

    April 16: Music Monday! (Sing, dance, celebrate, and learn)

    April 17: Tasty Tuesday (Healthy eating and fitness at home and school)

    April 18: Work Together Wednesday (Work together, build together, learn together)

    April 19: Artsy Thursday (Think, problem solve, create)

    April 20: Family Friday (Sharing family stories)

    April 21: PreK & K Family Engagement Conference

    Ideas and activities can be found on the NAEYC website.

    Important tips and suggestions:

    As we began planning our conference this year, we reflected on the successes of last year and what changes we needed to make. I hope these tips will help you as well.

    1.  Review your agenda closely. Among the participants were vendors who volunteered to provide important information to parents, answer questions, etc. At our last conference, we noticed that parents needed more time to visit freely with these community partners. So this year, we will have our vendors set up after our parents have made their way to their first session. Our conference is only a half day and we would like to give families ample time to attend three sessions and be able to visit with, and get important information, from our community partners.  

    2.  Tap into your resources. If you are having difficulty coming up with session topics or gathering materials to support your sessions, I have some recommendations. Last year our pre-kindergarten teachers, district staff, and community partners did an amazing job facilitating a variety of interactive sessions for parents. This year we don't have all of the same participants, so I researched a variety of sources to see how we could enhance our conference sessions.

    Scholastic FACE (Family and Community Engagement) is a treasure trove of resources including one of my favorites: Engaging Families in Children's Literacy Development: A Complete Workshop Series is a five-session workshop designed to help families learn how literacy knowledge and skills develop in young children. For the purposes of our conference, I have chosen to use components of the first session, with the intention of facilitating the other four sessions at other times. This workshop includes everything you need.

    What I really love about it is that embedded in each session is time for parents to engage with children during activity time, which is exactly what the goal is of our conference. It comes with both a DVD with ready to show videos, step-by-step plans and schedules, and a CD with forms and reproducibles for all sessions.  

    Additional resources that can be used throughout the year:

    Read and Rise

    This resource provides families with hands-on strategies for building literacy at home. The kit includes full day professional development, facilitator guides, take-home resources and workshop kits.  

    The Byron V. Garrett Social and Emotional Learning Collection

    This collection is available for grades PreK through fifth grade and not only focuses on transforming the classroom environment but also engages families with techniques and strategies to support emotional learning development at home.  

    Learn more about additional resources to share with your administrative team to enhance early literacy instruction in your school!

    3. Be creative in the ways you advertise and market your event. We really wanted to make sure that everyone in our community was aware of our conference, so in addition to sending out flyers at every elementary school, we also sent them out at our middle schools and high schools. We placed flyers at all local businesses. We held a meeting with our childcare providers so that they could also notify their parents. In addition to posting our event on social media, we did a district call out to parents and placed posters at every campus, as well as put the information on every campus marquee.

    4. Create consistency. Since this is our second year, we wanted to make sure to tie it in with last year's event to establish it as something ongoing. This meant consistency was important. Although we made some changes, we ensured that this year our event will be held at the same place and used the same title, simply updating the tag line.

     

    Last year's title (LEGO theme): The Future is Now, Building the Foundation for our Children to be Tomorrow's Leaders

    This year's title (planting theme): The Future is Now, Planting the Seeds of Success in Tomorrow's Leaders

    I hope that in whatever ways you plan to engage families and young children this year, you do what works best for your school, district, and community.

    At the end of the month, I look forward to sharing with you how our 2018 event went.  If you have any questions or would like more information, I would be more than happy to elaborate. Please leave comments below. You can also follow me on Twitter: @loves2teachpk2 on Instagram: sandytcarrillo or on Facebook:  Sandy Torres Carrillo

    Happy planning and enjoy celebrating our youngest learners next week!

    Warmly,

    Sandy 

    It takes a village to raise a child.” —African proverb

    It is no secret that the key to a child’s success begins with building strong partnerships between communities, families, and schools. In recent years, schools have placed a great deal of importance on the family engagement piece, re-evaluating their programs to make sure families are feeling supported.

    In 2015, the 84th Texas Legislature passed a House Bill (HB4) that established additional state support for high quality pre-kindergarten programs. This included authorization for a grant program and expansion of early childhood education reporting requirements for all Texas public schools. The grant program listed required criteria including a family engagement plan. The state provided direction on what to include and guidance on how to implement everything to ensure we were doing what was best for our students and families.

    Criteria for an effective family engagement plan:

    The Texas Education Agency has established guiding principles for quality family engagement and at the core of these principles are six components. The family engagement plan shall:

    • facilitate family-to-family support 
    • establish a network of community resources
    • increase family participation in decision making
    • equip families with tools to enhance and extend learning
    • develop staff skills in evidence-based practices that support families in meeting their children's learning benchmarks
    • evaluate family engagement efforts and use evaluations for continuous improvement

    In my school district we thought deeply about what we were doing to engage our families. Sure, all of our schools hosted traditional events such Open House, Parent-Teacher Conferences, Literacy Nights, Math & Science Nights, etc. We had to ask ourselves how effective were these events in targeting a specific population, and were parents really coming away with strategies that they could implement at home? Without coming up with a resounding YES to these questions, we decided to try something a bit different.

    As teachers, we are provided with opportunities to learn from experts through our participation in conferences. Why not provide a similar opportunity for our parents? We began with the idea that our family engagement plan needed to support the whole child, be fully integrated into the child’s educational experience, and that it be culturally and linguistically responsive and continuous through a child’s life. We put our plan into action and held our First Annual Family Engagement Conference for our pre-kindergarten families.

    Planning a Family Engagement Conference:

    1. Hold an initial meeting to include teachers and district staff (curriculum coordinators, directors, parent liaisons). 

    2. Set your expectations — what do you hope to accomplish?

    3. Decide on a date, time, and location for your event.

    4. Choose who will give your welcome and create a list of important guests so that invitations go out in time.

    5. Make a list of community partners and invite them to participate.   

    6. Send out a call to teachers and other staff for proposals of sessions.

    7. Evaluate the proposals ensuring a variety of options for parents including sessions on:

    • Social Emotional Development
    • Science
    • Math
    • Literacy (including how to read aloud to children, phonemic awareness, writing, etc.)
    • Special Education
    • Oral Language Development
    • Physical Health and Development
    • Art/Music

    If it is relevant in your district, be sure that at least some sessions are bilingual to meet the needs of your student population.

    8.  Sessions should be interactive, and parents should leave each session with the tools (including materials) to continue with the learning at home.   

    9.  Don't forget to create your sign-in sheets and evaluations.

    Here is what family engagement looked like at our conference last year:

    This year we are holding our second conference! We have scheduled it to coincide with the Week of the Young Child (April 16–20). Since 1971, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has set aside a week in April to highlight early learning. The purpose is to focus on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. NAEYC designates the Week of the Young Child dates and themes, but it is up to communities on how events are planned and implemented.

    For our event, we have come up with a week's worth of activities based on daily themes. Teachers will share with parents what was taught at school to facilitate extending the learning at home. This is all towards building the home-to-school connection.

    Our themes and dates are as follows: 

    April 16: Music Monday! (Sing, dance, celebrate, and learn)

    April 17: Tasty Tuesday (Healthy eating and fitness at home and school)

    April 18: Work Together Wednesday (Work together, build together, learn together)

    April 19: Artsy Thursday (Think, problem solve, create)

    April 20: Family Friday (Sharing family stories)

    April 21: PreK & K Family Engagement Conference

    Ideas and activities can be found on the NAEYC website.

    Important tips and suggestions:

    As we began planning our conference this year, we reflected on the successes of last year and what changes we needed to make. I hope these tips will help you as well.

    1.  Review your agenda closely. Among the participants were vendors who volunteered to provide important information to parents, answer questions, etc. At our last conference, we noticed that parents needed more time to visit freely with these community partners. So this year, we will have our vendors set up after our parents have made their way to their first session. Our conference is only a half day and we would like to give families ample time to attend three sessions and be able to visit with, and get important information, from our community partners.  

    2.  Tap into your resources. If you are having difficulty coming up with session topics or gathering materials to support your sessions, I have some recommendations. Last year our pre-kindergarten teachers, district staff, and community partners did an amazing job facilitating a variety of interactive sessions for parents. This year we don't have all of the same participants, so I researched a variety of sources to see how we could enhance our conference sessions.

    Scholastic FACE (Family and Community Engagement) is a treasure trove of resources including one of my favorites: Engaging Families in Children's Literacy Development: A Complete Workshop Series is a five-session workshop designed to help families learn how literacy knowledge and skills develop in young children. For the purposes of our conference, I have chosen to use components of the first session, with the intention of facilitating the other four sessions at other times. This workshop includes everything you need.

    What I really love about it is that embedded in each session is time for parents to engage with children during activity time, which is exactly what the goal is of our conference. It comes with both a DVD with ready to show videos, step-by-step plans and schedules, and a CD with forms and reproducibles for all sessions.  

    Additional resources that can be used throughout the year:

    Read and Rise

    This resource provides families with hands-on strategies for building literacy at home. The kit includes full day professional development, facilitator guides, take-home resources and workshop kits.  

    The Byron V. Garrett Social and Emotional Learning Collection

    This collection is available for grades PreK through fifth grade and not only focuses on transforming the classroom environment but also engages families with techniques and strategies to support emotional learning development at home.  

    Learn more about additional resources to share with your administrative team to enhance early literacy instruction in your school!

    3. Be creative in the ways you advertise and market your event. We really wanted to make sure that everyone in our community was aware of our conference, so in addition to sending out flyers at every elementary school, we also sent them out at our middle schools and high schools. We placed flyers at all local businesses. We held a meeting with our childcare providers so that they could also notify their parents. In addition to posting our event on social media, we did a district call out to parents and placed posters at every campus, as well as put the information on every campus marquee.

    4. Create consistency. Since this is our second year, we wanted to make sure to tie it in with last year's event to establish it as something ongoing. This meant consistency was important. Although we made some changes, we ensured that this year our event will be held at the same place and used the same title, simply updating the tag line.

     

    Last year's title (LEGO theme): The Future is Now, Building the Foundation for our Children to be Tomorrow's Leaders

    This year's title (planting theme): The Future is Now, Planting the Seeds of Success in Tomorrow's Leaders

    I hope that in whatever ways you plan to engage families and young children this year, you do what works best for your school, district, and community.

    At the end of the month, I look forward to sharing with you how our 2018 event went.  If you have any questions or would like more information, I would be more than happy to elaborate. Please leave comments below. You can also follow me on Twitter: @loves2teachpk2 on Instagram: sandytcarrillo or on Facebook:  Sandy Torres Carrillo

    Happy planning and enjoy celebrating our youngest learners next week!

    Warmly,

    Sandy 

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