Creating Welcoming Environments for Families

August 12, 2020 3:18PM

I love to go shopping.  Not only do I enjoy the satisfaction of finding exactly what I am looking for, but I also value the shopping experience.  Part of that experience is the environment that stores create for myself, the shopper. 

The families in your programs are like shoppers.  Not only are families looking for a high-quality program with staff that care for and teach their children, but they are also looking for a program environment that is clean, safe, and inviting.  Before families learn about the details of your program, they look to your environment to gather basic information.  Therefore, the environment that you create, both indoors and outdoors, should be a reflection of who you and what you value as a professional.    

This month, we will be discussing the importance of creating a welcoming environment for the families that you serve.  Although families might not currently be entering your program regularly, the parts of your environment that they do interact with (such as your outside space, your sign-in table, and your waiting area outside or in the front of your house) can serve as opportunities to engage and communicate with your families. 

Why are Welcoming Environments Important?

Now more than ever, your early learning environment plays an important role in your daily operations.  Consider the following:

Your environment is a family’s first interaction with your program.

  • Your learning environment is a reflection of you, what you value, how you teach, and the energy that you infuse into your work with young children. Every day, whether you realize it or not, families are making observations of the space that you have created for their child.  They are looking to see how clean it is, how safe it is, how inviting it is, and what materials are available for their child to play with and learn from. 

Your environment serves as a means of communication.

  • Because face-to-face interactions are currently limited, using your environment creatively provides the opportunity for you to continue to communicate with your families directly and consistently. Using your outside space to share reminders, resources, and other pieces of relevant information can support your social distancing efforts while continuing to engage with families and show them a glimpse of what is happening inside.

Your environment is an indicator of an equitable, inclusive program.

  • Your early learning environment should be a reflection of the children in your program. The pictures, wall art, toys, and books in your program should represent the demographics of the children and families that you currently serve.  When your environment mirrors the families currently enrolled in your program, it demonstrates your commitment to creating an equitable and inclusive program that is responsive to the families in your care.    

Aspects of a Welcoming Environment

There are three specific aspects of a welcoming environment that programs should consider when working to engage families:

  • A welcoming physical environment
  • Positive interactions between the staff at your program and the families that you serve
  • Ways to welcome new families into your program.

This month, we will be focusing on strategies for creating welcoming physical environments, both in-person and virtually.  In the upcoming months, we will explore the other two facets of creating welcoming environments. 

Strategies for Creating Welcoming Environments:

As you create welcoming virtual spaces for families, consider the following:

The use of virtual backgrounds

Using virtual backgrounds takes the pressure off of having to show others a very personal part of your life, your home.  When you meet with families virtually, let them know that they are welcome to use a virtual background and provide instructions to do so if they choose.  Virtual backgrounds:

  • Allow families to be present without worrying what is going on behind them
  • Minimize the worry of having to clean up or keep others out of their video frame
  • Serve as a way of starting conversations, wherein families share with you why they chose that background

A provider at Gonzales Family Daycare shares a video with a child in her program. Adding a colorful visual to an interaction also helps create a welcoming virtual environment.

The name that you display on your screen

The names that people share at the bottom corner of their video serve as a way of learning who one another is and how they would like to be referred.  When displaying your name:

  • Using your first name, rather than your formal title, sets a relaxed tone and can help families feel more comfortable engaging virtually
  • For new families, you might want to suggest that they include the name of their child in parentheses next to their name, so you can start to connect the families and their children.
  • Encourage everyone to add their preferred pronouns after their name

To learn more about pronouns, click here

Establishing norms from the beginning

Norms, or group agreements, help create a supportive and respectful virtual environment.  When creating norms:

  • Have the families think about what behaviors and attitudes help them feel comfortable enough to engage with the group
  • Consider what you can do as a facilitator to support a respectful and supportive environment (for example: muting everyone upon entry, showing people how to use the chat feature, asking participants to mute themselves if they are not speaking)
  • Write these behaviors, attitudes, and other considerations down and share them with the group (or the individual family) every time you meet virtually
  • Revisit them regularly to make sure that are working and continue to support participation and high levels of comfort

To learn more about establishing norms for meeting with families and with staff, read Has Your Remote Team Defined Ground Rules Yet? Here’s How (Forbes Magazine)

As you create welcoming physical spaces for families that adhere to current social distancing guidelines, consider the following:

Move your information board outside.

  • Bringing your parent board(s) and other materials for families outside supports ongoing communication with families while still respecting the need to be socially distant.
  • Your information boards can serve as a space to provide program updates, community or program resources, and other information that is important to families.
  • Moving your board outside will also send the message to families that you want to keep the lines of communication open and that you are doing everything in your power to stay safe and support families simultaneously.

Wear a picture badge (and have all of your staff wear one too).

  • A big part of interacting with families every day is smiling and providing reassurance through facial expressions. Unfortunately, the current health and safety requirements of wearing masks and shields does not always allow for that.  Wearing a picture of yourself with your name on it can serve to bridge that gap.
  • If you have new families in your program, or returning families that have not seen you in months, having a smiling picture of yourself as a badge will help families remember who you are, what your smile looks like, and support families’ feelings of comfort during these unexpected times. 

Post plenty of clear signage

  • Posting plenty of colorful, informational signs will help families follow the health and safety policies and procedures that you have set in place. As always, make sure any signage uses strengths-based language. Signs can help families:
    • Know what to bring (and what not to bring) with them for the day
    • Locate the place to wash hands or leave children’s belongings
    • Know where to stand if dropping off or picking up
    • Learn the schedule for their children during the day
    • Better understand how you keep children safe and socially distanced during the days
    • Know how to connect with you if they have a question, need to talk, or have an update to share
    • Know how much you appreciate their support in adhering to the policies and procedures set forth

At Gonzales Family Daycare, families are greeted with clear signs and social distancing markers. This provider has also moved her family information board outside where families will be able to see it.

Move some of the children’s projects outside

  • Since families are no longer allowed to come into the program, it limits their ability to see what their child is working on each day and have conversations with their children about their work when they are at home.
  • Posting children’s work personalizes your outdoor environment, while adding color and creativity to that part of your program. Consider the following:
    • Create spaces outside where you can post some of the artwork done by the kids and invite families to visit those areas as they wait in the mornings or afternoons.
    • Decorate any drop-off and pick-up areas with artwork and other daily projects.
    • Attach pictures of individual children throughout the day to the sign-in sheets for families to view and take home if they choose.

Taking the time to create welcoming virtual and in-person environments will only serve to strengthen the relationships that you have with the families in your program.  These unprecedented times call for thinking outside of the box and creating new ways of connecting with families.  Although these times of social distancing are not forever, being intentional with creating welcoming environments is something that will always be of importance. 

Wendolly A. Escobar, Ed.D.

Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Wendolly’s professional career began over 10 years ago as a lead teacher for a classroom of energetic preschoolers. In her current role, Wendolly is proud to support Quality Start Los Angeles by being an advocate for building authentic and supportive relationships with families of young children. She believes that by creating family-focused systems, early learning programs have the capacity to uplift and empower families and ensure the best outcomes for LA’s youngest learners.


Preparing to Engage Families in the Era of COVID-19

July 17, 2020 2:37PM

Lee este artículo en español

Traditionally, relationships with families have been built through consistent face-to-face interactions.  The more you saw the family and spent time engaging with them in both formal and informal conversations, the more you learned about the child and the stronger the relationship with the family was.  This upcoming school year, however, the way program staff builds relationships with families will look very different.  With social distancing measures still in place for the foreseeable future, early learning programs will be challenged to develop creative ways to stay connected with families. 

This month, we will be exploring strategies for navigating new ways to build relationships with families.  Although face-to-face interactions will be extremely limited for the time being, you can still develop strong relationships with families that are critical to the success and well-being of the children in your care.        

“Discuss [the families’] concerns as well as the plans you have put in place for the children’s safety.  They may have valuable input that will make your program run smoothly.”

Judith Terrell, Terrell Family Child Care Owner

How will family engagement change in the upcoming school year?

The start of a new school year typically provides programs the opportunity to connect with and learn from the families.  This year, however, orientations, school tours, and parent meetings will look very different.  Some changes that families may notice are:

  • Families will no longer be able to come into your center to drop off or pick up their children.
  • Families will be encouraged to participate in curbside drop off and pickup, wherein a staff member will receive the child and do the necessary health and wellness checks before walking them into the classroom.
  • Children might be limited as to what they can bring into the classroom with them.
  • Communication will continue to be digital as that is the safest way to distribute information to large groups of families.
  • Administrative staff might be working remotely.

Why take the time when there are so many regulations to follow?

Although the way we interact with families will change, family engagement remains an important component of early learning programs. 

Family engagement is a key component of quality

Research indicates that one of the core components of a high quality educational program is building and maintaining strong relationships with families.  No matter the circumstances, families should always inform your plans and communications.  Now, more than ever, families will need increased engagement opportunities to support social connections, ensure that their concerns about their children’s safety, and their own, are being addressed and met.

Family engagement is an issue of equity

Family engagement is not a one-size-fits-all practice.  High quality family engagement practices allow you to get to know each family more personally so that you can create spaces for them to learn, share, and connect in ways that best serve their unique needs and interests.  When done authentically, the end result is a learning environment that promotes cultural sensitivity and inclusion, provides families increased access to information, and supports developing a deeper understanding of the families that you serve.

Planning for the year ahead

With the beginning of another school year around the corner, it is important to plan and prepare while keeping the families you serve in mind.  Here are a few strategies, supported by feedback from QSLA providers, on what to consider as you begin your preparations:  

Demonstrate empathy and understanding as you begin planning to re-engage families

These past few months have been challenging for many families.  Keep in mind:

  • Reintroducing their children to a social environment, such as an early learning program, can be cause for concern, particularly if the family has no other options for keeping their children at home.
  • Many families are confused and unsure as to whether their children will be safe throughout the day.

“Families are having a difficult time, where things are very unstable, and where every day they must adapt to the increasing changes they are facing. Programs need to be flexible with families. Some families have work. Some do not, which means that some families do not have enough funds for the program co-pays. Sometimes, they do not have enough money for gas, or to fix their car when it breaks down, which undoubtedly affects their participation.”

Janet Linares, Family Child Care Owner

They will have many questions regarding the use of masks and what social distancing looks like in an early learning classroom.

Allow the families to inform your plans

This summer provides a great opportunity to learn more about the families that you serve so that you can use that knowledge in intentional and thoughtful ways.  Consider the following:

  • When it comes to sharing information, every family has a unique preference based on their access to the internet, personal feelings and experiences, ability to learning new digital skills, and level of comfort with technology.
  • As face-to-face interactions are limited, it is important to learn more about how each family prefers to communicate with you. Consistent communication is important to building strong relationships.  Taking the time to ask families how they prefer to connect individually with you will support the development of healthy, reciprocal relationships. 
  • During enrollment and/or orientation, add digital communications to your list of things to review and learn more about during the enrollment and orientation process.
  • Ask families, through a survey or over the phone, about the digital platforms that you currently use, including their comfort with those platforms. This feedback can inform how you use technology to better engage families.

Remember, every family’s situation is different.  Be sure to gather information in different ways to ensure that a diverse set of voices are represented.  Listening to the families you serve and finding ways to meet their needs, that are equitable and cost-effective, will be essential to keeping families engaged.

Communication is of utmost importance

Clear, direct, and open communication during this time of uncertainty will serve to quell anxieties as well as build trust with the families in your program.  As you begin reconnecting with families:

  • Provide information regarding new health, safety, and communication policies verbally and in writing for clarity and consistency.
    • Have written information for distribution to supplement conversations that you have with families about these new procedures.
    • Create a space for families to ask you questions about the written information that you send out in advance regarding these new health, safety, and communication procedures.   
  • Ensure all staff are trained on the new policies and procedures so that they can answer questions about them using consistent language.
  • Check in with your families individually to ensure that the plans you have put in place for on-going communications meet their needs.
    • Be flexible with your communication plans as families adapt to the new systems and provide feedback through the process.
  • Encourage families to engage with you across communication platforms by sharing at-home learning activities for families to do together, as well as other resources for support (i.e. rental assistance, food banks, etc.). Families will appreciate regular communication and will be more likely to respond positively. 

 

Remember that, when it comes to navigating uncharted waters, less is more.  Be patient as families adjust to these new norms.  Be empathetic to the many changes they are experiencing, both in your program an at home.  The time that you invest in planning have a big impact on how effectively your program runs for the rest of the year and how capable you are of tackling any challenges that may come your way. 

*  *  *  *

A special thank you to the following QSLA providers for their input and feedback based on their experiences with families during this time:

  • Judith Terrell, FCC owner
  • Janet Linares, FCC owner

Watch the Lunch & Learn Webinar on this Family Engagement Tip!

Preparing to Engage Families in the Age of Covid-19

July 21, 2020

This Lunch & Learn webinar will explore how to engage with families during this time of continued social distancing.

Wendolly A. Escobar, Ed.D.

Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Wendolly’s professional career began over 10 years ago as a lead teacher for a classroom of energetic preschoolers. In her current role, Wendolly is proud to support Quality Start Los Angeles by being an advocate for building authentic and supportive relationships with families of young children. She believes that by creating family-focused systems, early learning programs have the capacity to uplift and empower families and ensure the best outcomes for LA’s youngest learners.


Virtual Storytime

In these uncertain times, we know how important it is to provide access for your students and families to resources at the library, such as to Storytime.  QSLA and our LA Public Library (LAPL) and Pasadena Public Library partners are excited to announce our new collaboration: Virtual Storytime, hosted just for YOU by your local libraries!

*There may be options to host storytime in a variety of languages, please check with your library contact below for more details.

 

To coordinate  a Virtual Storytime through LAPL, email: Joanna Fabicon at childrens-services@lapl.org and find your closest LAPL library here.

To coordinate  a Virtual Storytime through Pasadena Public Library, email: Jennifer Driscoll at  jdriscoll@cityofpasadena.net and find your closest Pasadena Public Library here.

 

For more great early literacy resources, check out our current Read from the Start booklist or previous booklists.


Tips for Attending Our Webinars

Tips for Attending Our Webinars

Follow these tips to ensure you have a successful webinar and receive Professional Development credit!

1. Register on the ECE Registry

If this is your first time registering for a training on the ECE Registry, please read these instructions.

2. Add QualityStartLosAngeles@gmail.com to your safe senders list

This will ensure that critical updates about your training will make it to your inbox. Here are some instructions on how to do that for various email services.

3. Make sure you can access the email associated with your ECE Registry Account

We will use this email to send you the Zoom registration link for the webinar.  If you would like it sent to a different e-mail, please e-mail Wendolly Escobar at Wendolly.Escobar@ccala.net when you register on the ECE Registry with the specific e-mail you would prefer to use.

4. Register through Zoom

Three business days before the webinar, you should receive an email from QualityStartLosAngeles@gmail.com with a link to register for the webinar on Zoom. In order to receive the Zoom link to join the webinar, you must first register by providing your name and an email address.  Registering on Zoom ensures that we will be able to identify you at the webinar and give you PD credit for attending. If you have not received the email by the day before the webinar, do the following:

Check your spam/junk folder

Email spam is unwanted junk mail for your inbox. Most email services automatically filter out spam emails into a folder known as the spam folder or junk folder, but sometimes, important emails like ours can end up in the spam folder by mistake. Here’s how to check your junk mail in Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo!, and AOL mail. NOTE: if you have an @hotmail.com email address, follow the instructions for Outlook.

If you still cannot find the email, reach out to Wendolly Escobar (Wendolly.Escobar@ccala.net) or Carter Vitacco (Carter.Vitacco@ccala.net).

Please note that if you reach out to us on the same day as the training, there is a chance we might not be able to help in time for you to access the webinar.

5. Log on TEN MINUTES EARLY

We will keep the webinar open for ten minutes after the indicated start time. If you attempt to log on more than 10 minutes late, you will not be let in.

6. Check that your audio and camera are working

If you run into any issues, you can check this troubleshooting guide from Zoom.

7. Enjoy the webinar!

Sharing your video is encouraged, but not required. Backgrounds are always welcome.


Hosting Virtual Events for Families

June 3, 2020 2:25pm

Lee este artículo en español

As we close out an uncharted program year, there is a lot of uncertainty about what the upcoming year will bring.  This month, we will be exploring best practices for hosting virtual events for the families in your program. As families continue to navigate through the different challenges brought on by this pandemic, we want to continue to offer opportunities to connect socially, receive information and resources, and build their capacity to support their children’s growth and development.   With a number of new guidelines to follow that continue to limit the ways in which we interact with families and gather in groups, it is important to begin developing our capacities to engage with families in diverse way that support connection and respect the rules of social distancing. 

Types of Virtual Events

How tos or tutorials to teach a specific skill and provide strategies for families

Trainings & Webinars to provide content to groups

Behind-the-Scenes tours provide virtual tours to new families that are interested in your program

Interviews tap into the internal knowledge of your staff, or connect with a community partner to share their knowledge with families

Conferences have one-on-one conversations with families

Group Socializations for families to come together with their children and engage in interactive experiences together

What is a Virtual Event?

Virtual events are any on-line activities (via Zoom, Google Hangouts, Class Dojo, or other on-line platform) that provide early learning programs with the opportunity to have conversations, share images and information, and share information with families in an interactive way.  These events can be live or e pre-recorded and distributed digitally for viewing at a family’s convenience.  There are many types of virtual events, all of which have different end goals.  These events are held when being in the same physical space is not an option and provide families with alternative method engaging during program events when their schedule does not allow them to attend personally. 

Why Virtual Events

In addition to their immediate importance due to current social distancing guidelines, virtual events can be used to support family engagement efforts year round.  Engagement events offered virtually serve to:

  • Promote equity
    • Live conferences, meetings, and other events held virtually allow families the flexibility to join from their own home and at a time that best fits into their varying schedules and supports those who may have limited access to transportation
    • Events that are recorded and later distributed to families (either via e-mail, social media, or posted on the program’s website) allow families to view the event at a time that is most convenient for them, providing them with the same opportunity to obtain the information provided to those who were able to attend in-person or live on-line.
  • Stretch a limited budget
    • Hosting virtual events can support programs with limited budgets, as many of the considerations that are a part of in-person trainings are not factors to consider for virtual events, such as printing handouts, paying staff overtime to provide care for kids, and snacks.
    • Combining virtual events with in-person offerings, post COVID-19, can support ECE programs in stretching the available budget for family engagement opportunities.   
  • Continue the work of family engagement when distance is a factor
    • This current situation has demonstrated the value of keeping in contact when distance is necessary. Even when life returns to normal, there will be situations that arise that will cause extended absences for families (such as illness, death in the family, etc.).  Through virtual meetings and/or events, ECE providers can continue to serve as a source of support and resources for children and families even when far apart.

How are QSLA Programs going virtual?

As you begin to think about planning your own virtual events, here are some ways that early learning programs are currently hosting virtual events for the families in their programs.

Sandra Flores, Director of Alma Family Services

Checking in With Families and Using Parent Cafes to Stay Focused

“In April, I spoke to all 48 families [in my program].  We discussed income and food insecurity, stimulus checks, emotions and feelings.  After [their] feedback, I decided to conduct a parent cafe.  I conducted my first Zoom virtual parent cafe [at the beginning of May].  It wasn’t mandatory.  [Out of] 48 families, I had 28 families join in [during] different times. I broke it down to into 2 sessions for Spanish-speaking parents (AM/PM) and then two sessions for English-speaking parents (AM/PM) on the same day. 

[Before the parent café], I used the Remind app with the families.  I posted the flyer in Remind and in our monthly calendar.  [During] the parent café, we spoke about anything they wanted to as it had been a while since we met as adults.  I have learned that it is important to be open to hearing from [the families] while acknowledging, validating, motivating and turn-taking.  Those are a must for these events to be successful.  I also used humor and reflection with [the families].  Reflection was integrated by the use of asking them, ‘How much have you learned since we started the school year?’  The parents were able to see the positivity of the year versus focusing on Covid-19.”

Elements of a Virtual Event

Outreach

How will we communicate about this event to families?

Registration:

Will families have to register? How will they do that?

Audio/Video

How will you ensure that the audio of the meeting is clear? Will attendees be asked to turn on their cameras? Will you have your camera on? What background will you use?

Presentation Content

  • Recording the content:  Are we going to record the content? Does our platform allow for recording? Do we need to notify those on the virtual event that we’ll be recording? Where will we store the recording? (on program website, etc.)
  • Practice: When are we going to practice the content before the event? Who will be presenting?
  • Interactive opportunities: How will we get people to participate? (Examples include: Question & Answer sessions, Live Polling, and using the chat box)

Feedback and evaluation surveys

How will you evaluate your virtual event (i.e. online survey, mailed survey etc.)

Mirabelle Guevarra, Owner of Tita Mira Family Day Care

Hosting Daily Zoom Meetings and Supporting Families

“We have Zoom meetings daily Monday to Friday for 45 minutes each meet up.  I also have the afternoon open from 1pm to 5:30pm.  We created this time because some parents are not available during the morning and sometimes some of the children want to say hi or see what I am doing.  It’s like a little chat, like a family member or a friend calling.  These chats happen via personal cellphone, Viber, or Google Duo

You may ask why [do I provide] a lot of ways to reach me.  We are trying to meet each parent’s request.  Before starting the virtual meet ups, we asked the approval of each parent because we are entering their personal space and time.  We have to consider their availability and the internet access of each family. 

We have an app, ClassDojo, where all parents are logged on since Day 1 in our daycare community.  On this app, parents receive updates and pictures of the child’s day to day activities and nutrition.  Each parent is used to checking the app on a daily basis.  Having this app, we are able to prepare families daily as to what to expect during the Zoom meeting.  We post daily what will be discussed so the parent and the child can prepare, especially during show and tell.  They love showing what they have or what they have found. 

During the first week of Zoom meetings, parents were frustrated asking the child to go on the screen.  We discussed (privately) that it is okay for them to run around because we know that they are listening.  Why and how?  When they hear something that interests them, they will approach the screen and tell you what they feel like and show you what they are doing.  This is also a time for the parents to convene and share daily experiences not only with me but with other parents.  We also try to accommodate all of them by simply mentioning their names and asking them from time to time what they are doing or what they think we will do on our next meet up. 

The success of the Zoom meets vary from household to household.  Expect less and it will be successful.  Do not assume 100% participation on a daily basis because it happens at the least expected time.  Most importantly, we have to be ready with all our tools as a teacher and a friend.”

Stacey Smith-Clark, Director of LBCC Child Development Center

Using Virtual Meet Ups and Learning Some Lessons Along the Way

“Our site has 5 classrooms and each classroom has 1-2 live virtual meet ups per week, which include circle time, class meetings, read aloud, sing-a-longs, flannel board stories, cooking demos, science experiments, etc. These are held via Facebook Live and via Zoom. These are recorded and posted in private Facebook Groups that we created for children to rewatch and/or watch later, according to when it best fits their schedule. There are also 3-4 evening group times held each week, as we quickly realized that some families cannot connect during the days, as parents/caregivers may be essential workers, working remotely and/or homeschooling older children. The evening meet ups are very well attended.

“All of us are figuring this out for the first time and there is no book on teaching preschool during a pandemic (but we can maybe write one once this is over!) Do your best.”​

Approximately every other week we host an “all center” special event with a guest reader, a family picnic or a dance party. The Center Manager hosts an evening parent meet up weekly from 8-9 PM, which is after bedtime so that parents/caregivers can ask questions and connect w/ other adults. We also started a YouTube channel, posting video content that we created so families can view them when it best suits their schedule. (Search LBCC PCC if you want to check it out). 

There are some weeks when it feels like it’s too much, but we keep in mind that there is no one size fits all. Our goal is connection and we know that what works for one family may not work for another. We have at least 1 live meet up happening daily and all are listed on a calendar for children and families to follow along and choose what works best for their schedule.

Initially, we dove in head first and quickly learned how to set up private Facebook groups, do live videos via social media, master Zoom, develop a Google Classroom, etc. In hindsight, we wish we had surveyed families before jumping in to see what they wanted, but there was no time and we were all in a bit of a panic.  (We closed on 3/16 and had remote content up and running by 3/18. The team of educators I work with is phenomenal!)  We already had the apps for Learning Genie and ReadyRosie up and running and accessible to all families, but have relied on and promoted them more as an additional resource for families and connection. 

The Center Manager sends out a weekly email with information and resources, along with a Center calendar that lists virtual events that are happening and how to access. We keep a log of who has participated and if we have not seen a child/family for a week, we call them on the phone to connect and gather information on how we can best support them.  We have some families with no WiFi at home and/or limited data plans and have sent letters, cards and some materials shipped directly to their home. 

The biggest best practice is to meet families where they are. It is unrealistic to assume that 10 AM on a Tuesday works for them, because it works best for you. Be flexible, be available and continue to reassess the situation and ASK what works for them and adjust accordingly. We have modified times, days, etc. based on feedback from children and families.

We have also had to STRESS to families what remote participation actually looks like and assure them that their child sitting with a blanket over their face, laying under the table, with their back to the camera are all normal and typical behaviors. It is unrealistic to expect children to sit quietly facing the screen and we have assured them that at no time EVER are all children in a classroom sitting and facing the teacher during a group time. We have also stressed that all of this is optional and if they want to take a day off, a week off, etc., that’s fine. They should follow their child’s lead and support them the best they can. Holding the evening parent/family meet up has been helpful to connect them to one another and they can hear that many children are doing this, not just theirs.”

Strategies for Success

Based on these experiences, here are three key strategies to keep in mind as you begin brainstorming and planning a virtual event for your families:

  • Do your research
    • A key element to success is taking the time to ask your families what they would like to see/learn from the virtual events that you will be hosting and in what format.
    • You can send out a survey, call your families and ask them personally, or reach out to some of the parent leaders that serve on your Parent Advisory Council. Ask the families in your program what content most interests them, when they would be available to attend, and what platform they would most prefer to use. 
    • While you might not be able to meet every family’s needs through one event, you will be able to create a plan that you know aligns with the needs, interests, and specific desires of the families you serve.
  • Leverage your existing resources
    • As we have mentioned previously, virtual events should be an extension of what you already do. Consider the resources that you already have available to you as you begin planning any virtual events. 
    • Think about the curriculum you use, the books you already have, the content that you have already taught the kids in your program, and the supplemental materials that you might already have or have access to. Also, consider the different platforms (i.e. websites, Zoom, social media, etc.) that you already use in your program. 
    • Remember that it takes longer to create something from scratch then it does to create an extension to resources that already exist.
  • Be Flexible
    • Hosting virtual events is very new to many programs, children, and families. Remember to be flexible as you are starting off. Things might not go as planned the first couple of times around. 
    • The children might not be interested in being on camera. The families might get frustrated because their kids won’t sit still and “learn”.  Your internet or device might not be cooperating that day.  That is all okay.  Those opportunities serve as learning experiences and lessons learned for future virtual events.

Watch the Lunch & Learn Webinar on this Family Engagement Tip!

Hosting Virtual Events for Families

June 23, 2020

This webinar will focus on supporting early learning programs in hosting virtual events for their families.

Wendolly A. Escobar, Ed.D.

Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Wendolly’s professional career began over 10 years ago as a lead teacher for a classroom of energetic preschoolers. In her current role, Wendolly is proud to support Quality Start Los Angeles by being an advocate for building authentic and supportive relationships with families of young children. She believes that by creating family-focused systems, early learning programs have the capacity to uplift and empower families and ensure the best outcomes for LA’s youngest learners.


QSLA Lunch & Learn Webinars

QSLA Lunch & Learn Webinars

At these 1-hour webinars, providers discuss and share ideas around our monthly Family Engagement Tip articles. Recordings posted on this page are for educational purpose only, and viewing these videos does not constitute Professional Development hours for QSLA.

Preparing to Engage Families in the Age of Covid-19

July 21, 2020

This Lunch & Learn webinar will explore how to engage with families during this time of continued social distancing. Read the FE Tip Article

Hosting Virtual Events for Families

June 23, 2020

This webinar will focus on supporting early learning programs in hosting virtual events for their families. Read the FE Tip Article

Strengthening Families During Times of Crisis

May 26, 2020

This webinar will explore how to use the Strengthening Families framework and the 5 Protective Factors to support families during times of crisis. Read the FE Tip Article

Building Relationships With Families in the Digital Age

May 12, 2020

This 1-hour “Lunch & Learn” session will focus on exploring the use of digital communication in building relationships with families. Read the FE Tip Article


May Family Engagement Tip: Strengthening Families During Times of Crisis

Strengthening Families During Times of Crisis

May 13, 2020

Lee este artículo en español

Working with children and families means that, at any given time, at least one, usually more, are experiencing a crisis situation. Whether families experience the unexpected loss of employment, a sudden sickness in the family, or have to shift into quarantine during an international pandemic, they are constantly needing to adapt to and navigate these life challenges. During these difficult times, some families might openly talk about their experience while others might be less than willing to let others know that they are in need due to fear of judgement, concern for their safety, or other factors that we may never know about.

Reminder:

Because the families that you serve might be hesitant to let you know that they are experiencing challenges in life, it is important to be proactive rather than reactive.  Have strength-based supports available at all times, not only when a crisis arises.

While you might not know what families are living through, we, as early learning professionals, have a responsibility to support families in our efforts to teach and nurture their children.  This month, our FE Tip focuses on the Strengthening Families Framework and the 5 Protective Factors, a way of providing support and empowerment to the families that you serve.  By developing a deeper understanding of the research-informed strategies that are a part of this framework, we can move towards a well-rounded and strength-based approach to supporting families through times of crisis.

Strengthening Families and the 5 Protective Factors

Strengthening Families is a framework, informed by research, which focuses on the development of 5 Protective Factors that are critical to:    

  • A family’s ability to cope with stressful situations
  • A family’s knowledge of how to support their child’s development
  • Protecting young children from child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment

Traditional support services focus on finding and fixing the problems that families face.  The Strengthening Families Framework does the opposite.  It supports the development of a strength-based approach. Rather than asking families what they need or what they are missing, Strengthening Families provides a framework for programs and educators to begin interactions by asking for and highlighting a family’s areas of strength.  Such areas can include having a strong support system, knowledge of their community, access to educational opportunities, or a desire to identify the best educational opportunities available for their child.  It is through the identification of those strengths that educators and families can work hand in hand to determine ways to use those existing strengths to address areas of need

What is a strength-based approach?

A strength-based approach is a way of interacting with families that is grounded in understanding and developing the strengths and capabilities of the families you serve.

It is a belief that “the problem is the problem; the person is not the problem”

Strengthening Families is not a curriculum that tells programs what to do and how to do it.  Instead, it provides a foundation and approach to working with families that programs can build upon based on the unique families and communities that they serve

The Five Protective Factors

At the core of the Strengthening Families Framework are the 5 Protective Factors, which are “characteristics or strengths of individuals, families, communities or societies that act to mitigate risks and promote positive well-being and healthy development” (Center for the Study of Social Policy).  These factors are the attributes, as identified in research, that help families successfully navigate challenging situations.

The 5 Protective Factors are:

  • Concrete support in times of need
  • Social connections
  • Knowledge of parenting and child development
  • Parental Resilience
  • Social and emotional competence of children

These Protective Factors provide a structure for professionals and programs as they seek to identify ways to support and empower families.  They also offer a framework for public policy and systems development at the local, state and national level.

Strategies for Strengthening Families during Times of Crisis

To support families in having access to concrete support in times of need, programs can:

  • Create and distribute a virtual newsletter (using, e-mail, Mail Chimp or Google Docs, etc.) with general information about local resource organizations that support families of young children
  • Invite a community resource organization (monthly or quarterly) to a virtual family meeting to share information so families can learn more about the services offered through that organization. If possible, record these meetings and send the recording out to all families so those who could not attend live, still have access to the information.
  • Post relevant resources and support information on your program’s website or social media pages so families can access them as needed.

To support families in building social connections, programs can:

  • Host virtual “Coffee Connect” sessions (weekly, biweekly, or monthly) via an e-communications platform (like Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype) where families can log in and have conversations with one another, check in, discuss a pressing topic, etc. (over a cup of coffee)
  • Ask some of your parent leaders to connect virtually (through calling, Facetime, text message, or email) with families in your program to serve as a source of social support and connection

During times of stress, strong families:

  • Are able to be resourceful
  • Understand their rights in accessing eligible sources
  • Continue to be nurturing and emotionally available to their child
  • Continue to maintain a positive attitude
  • Maintain a sense of connectedness that promotes security and confidence

To learn more, visit:

https://cssp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Core-Meanings-of-the-SF-Protective-Factors-2015.pdf

To help families develop their knowledge of parenting and child development, programs can:

  • Create a virtual list of activities and on-line resources, aligned to the different ages and developmental milestones of the children in your care,that families can do with their children at home. You can also share resources via social media, text, or other communication platform directly with families.
  • Offer virtual family workshops on different topics that discuss the developmental milestones (physical, social, emotional, cognitive) of the children currently enrolled in the program

To build parental resilience among families, programs can:

  • Partner with a local mental health organization that can provide support to families (through workshops, individual counseling, resource sharing, etc.)
  • Provide (or host) virtual professional development opportunities for staff that focus on strength-based language, Strengthening Families, Trauma Informed Care, and supporting positive interactions with families
  • Send words of encouragement and positivity to families (through social media posts, via text messages, through email, etc.)

To support families in developing the social and emotional competence of children, programs can:

  • Host virtual social events for children and their families to provide an opportunity to engage in play together (ex: on-line play dates, literacy night, STEM night, Family Zumba)
  • Provide families with on-line information, resources, and activities related to social/emotional development and building healthy familial relationships

There are a variety of different ways to support the families in your program during challenging times.  Having a strong relationship with families is key to knowing what they need, what resources and opportunities would help them meet those needs, and how to support and empower them to successfully navigate future challenges.     

Watch the Lunch & Learn Webinar on this Family Engagement Tip!

Strengthening Families During Times of Crisis

May 26, 2020

This 1-hour “lunch & learn” session will explore how to use the Strengthening Families framework and the 5 Protective Factors to support families during times of crisis,

Wendolly A. Escobar, Ed.D.

Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Wendolly’s professional career began over 10 years ago as a lead teacher for a classroom of energetic preschoolers. In her current role, Wendolly is proud to support Quality Start Los Angeles by being an advocate for building authentic and supportive relationships with families of young children. She believes that by creating family-focused systems, early learning programs have the capacity to uplift and empower families and ensure the best outcomes for LA’s youngest learners.


Family Engagement Monthly Tip January 2020

 

Defining and Understanding Equity

January 2, 2020

The start of a new decade is the perfect time to reflect upon our regular work with families through a renewed equity lens.  Equity is a concept that is integral to the work of early learning professionals and programs.  Not only does equity impact the work that early learning professionals do daily with young children in the classroom, but it also plays a key role in the relationships that we build with families.  Decades of research highlight the important role that family engagement plays in supporting the immediate and long-term outcomes of young children.  These outcomes, however, do not come without an intentional focus on equity within early learning programs[1].  To support the development and implementation of equitable systems for engaging with families, the following monthly tip will explore:

  • The concepts of equality, equity, and justice
  • The connection between equity and family engagement
  • The role that early learning programs play in supporting equity in the first years of life

By developing a deeper understanding of equity and its practices, early learning programs and professionals can work towards the development of policies, procedures, and systems that support all families in intentional ways, that meet their needs and that respect their diverse experiences and perspectives.

Understanding equality

 

Equality is defined as the state of being equal, particularly as it relates to having the same rights, status, and opportunities[2].  As depicted in the image above, this concept assumes that everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, ability, or sexual orientation, has the same needs and, therefore, benefits from the same supports.  Systems that are built on the concept of equality hold the core belief that everyone can succeed by receiving equal treatment.

When it comes to working with families equality is the assumption that all families should be treated a certain way, should receive and understand information a certain way, and should be involved in their child’s education in a certain way.  Equality is at the core of opportunities for family involvement wherein every family is offered the same opportunities to get involved in their child’s education regardless of specific needs, abilities, or capacities. Here are some examples of family involvement practices centered on equality:

  • Programs only offer family members the opportunity to volunteer by working in the classroom.
  • Parent/Teacher conferences are only held in-person, during the work day.
  • Family events are determined and planned only by program administrators and are the same each year.

As you reflect on your own professional and programmatic practices, consider the following question: How is the concept of equality reflected in the way that I build relationships with families?

Understanding equity

 

Equity is a state of being free from bias or favoritism[3].  While both equity and equality are often used interchangeably, they are, in fact, distinctly different.  While equality assumes that providing the same types of resources will lead everyone to “succeed”, equity acknowledges that people across demographic groups embody diverse needs that cannot be met through a uniform solution.  As depicted in the image above, equity focuses on providing the support that each person needs to be successful.  Some might not need any support to achieve success, while others might need additional support and resources to be successful.  Systems that are built on the concept of equity value diversity and seek to include everyone in achieving the same level of positive outcomes[4].

When it comes to working with families, an equitable system for family engagement is one that is created in partnership with families and recognizes that everyone has unique beliefs, values, and experiences that impact the way in which they parent at home and support their child in school.  Examples of equitable practices that support family engagement are exemplified when[5]:

  • Translation is provided for all activities involving families who do not speak English. This includes program policies, handouts, event flyers, resource information, and meeting/workshop information.  When the majority of families in attendance do not speak English, the event is held in the language spoken by those in attendance and translation is offered in English.
  • Families are regularly provided opportunities to share about themselves in a variety of different ways (in person, through anonymous comment cards, or through online surveys). Families are asked about their needs, interests, skills, beliefs, and values.  Activities and events vary based on the information gathered and are planned based on the information directly provided by the families.
  • Program administration and staff work collaboratively with families to create a shared vision for equitable family engagement that guides the way in which families and staff work in partnership.

As you reflect on your own professional and programmatic practices, consider the following question: Are the family engagement practices at my program equal or are they equitable?

 

Equitable practices in family engagement is a social justice issue

 

Developing equitable family engagement practices in your early learning program is a matter of social justice.  As is depicted below, justice is achieved when everyone can participate without supports or accommodations because the barrier to participation has been eliminated.

There are many barriers that currently exist that keep families from being able to fully engage in their child’s education and build meaningful relationships with the staff that care for their child.  Barriers such as financial security, immigration status, language, stable employment, and physical disabilities are very real concerns that family wrestle with daily.  When families are unable to meet their basic needs, whether they be physical, mental, or emotional, it is almost impossible for them to have the capacity to be full partners in their child’s education.

While those barriers might never go away, there are ways that you can move towards equity and social justice as you establish supportive relationships with families.  Consider the following[6]:

  • Be curious by making time to learn about each of the families of the children you serve.
  • Maintain an openness to the multiple and varied forms of family engagement.
  • Ask families what they need from your program and use that information to inform policies and processes.

Remember that your early learning program is a child’s first formal community, beyond that which their immediate and extended family offers.  Therefore, it is important that your environment frame every learning experience that children encounter within the context of equity, wherein children learn that they are valued by others, how to treat others with fairness and respect, and how to embrace, rather than fear or ignore, differences.

 

Check out our other family engagement tips

 

References:

[1] https://cssp.org/resource/equity-in-early-childhood-system/

[2] https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/equality

[3] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/equity

[4] https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/OECD/Documents/Early%20Learning%20Council%20Executive%20Committee%20Racial%20Equity%20Definition.pdf

[5] https://statesupportnetwork.ed.gov/system/files/equitable_family_engag_508.pdf

[6] https://www.naeyc.org/resources/position-statements/equity


Family Engagement Monthly Tip February 2020

 

Funds of Knowledge: Learning to Recognize and

Value the Expertise of all Families

February 1, 2020

Last month, we discussed family engagement as an issue of equity and social justice.  Family engagement is not a practice of one-size-fits-all “Back to School” nights and literacy events. This month, we focus on understanding the importance of accessing the funds of knowledge that each family carries with them.  Moving towards a more equitable approach to engaging families involves shifting one’s perspective and commonly held beliefs about the ways in which families can contribute to a program. Tapping into each family’s lived experiences and expertise (their funds of knowledge) allows you to do just that.

What are funds of knowledge?

The research defines funds of knowledge are the “historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992).  Put into practice, it consists of the everyday knowledge and skills that contribute to the overall success of the family, which are passed down from generation to generation.  It is knowledge that does not reside in a textbook, nor is it information that families typically acquire through their years in school.

To tap into a family’s funds of knowledge is to bring to light the story of that child and their family.  It is a method of gathering information that creates a space for learning more about your families in some of the following areas:

  • Language
  • Family Values and Traditions
  • Educational Activities and Values
  • Family Occupations
  • Culture and Religion
  • Caregiving (i.e. taking care of children/others, cooking, housekeeping, etc.)
  • Health and safety practices

It is important to note that tapping into a family’s funds of knowledge goes beyond a “getting to know you” questionnaire or implementing a “culturally sensitive or informed curriculum”.  It is a method of gathering information that seeks to challenges the deficit perspective, which “tends to blame the person or group of people from a specific culture for their perceived failure” (Sebolt, 2018) and instead recognizes families as capable, willing and strong. Seeking out families’ funds of knowledge challenges professionals to learn all about a family’s capacities and how those strengths can be interwoven into the educational program or curriculum.

Why tap into a family’s funds of knowledge?

Part of the role of an educator is to develop an understanding of the children in one’s classroom to be able to best support their needs.  Learning about a child’s home life, particularly from the perspective of the families that spend the majority of time with the child, is the key to doing just that.

By adopting this perspective of family as true expert, we:

  • Recognize that building a relationship with, and learning from, families is an honor rather than a chore.
  • Appreciate that families have insights and information about their children that we’ll probably never have a chance to access simply by conducting observations or assessments in the classroom.
  • Recognize “households as containing ample cultural and cognitive resources with great, potential utility for classroom instruction” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992, p. 134). In order to truly serve “the whole child”, you need the knowledge and expertise of the families in your program.
  • Take a strength-based approach to collaborating with families.

The connection between funds of knowledge and family engagement

Traditionally, family engagement has been defined by the on-site opportunities afforded to families by a school, such as activities, workshops, and events that require a family to be physically present in a school setting as one of the only means of engagement.  Those families that can’t attend have often been classified as “unwilling to engage” or “not caring about their child”.

The funds of knowledge approach focuses on going beyond this limited definition of engagement and seeks to identify the ways in which individual families understand their role in their child’s education and recognizes them as the experts of their own lives and their children’s lives.  The saying “the parent is a child’s first teacher, and the home is a child’s first school” comes from this concept of funds of knowledge.

According to the research:

  • “Drawing from a family’s funds of knowledge is important for nurturing relationships between the school and the family” (Sebolt, 2018)
  • “This practice serves to build stronger home-school connections, which in turn can foster increased parental and family engagement” (Sebolt, 2018)
  • “The approach creates a platform for co-creating knowledge from school to home and home to school” (Global Family Research Project, 2019)
  • “Teachers assume the role of the learner, and in doing so, help establish a fundamentally new, more symmetrical relationship with the parents of the students” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992, p. 139)

Using funds of knowledge to enhance practice

As you reflect on this information and make connections to your current work with families, consider the following:

Funds of Knowledge Video

  • You have your own fund of knowledge that influence the way you live your life outside of the workplace. The way in which you connect with your family, give and receive advice, cook, shop, view education, etc. all contribute to who you are and how you see the world.  To get to know all about you, just like the families you serve, someone has to take the time to learn about the intricacies of your way of life.
  • This might make you uncomfortable. Tapping into a family’s funds of knowledge means that you might learn things about families that are sensitive, emotional, and vulnerable.  Being comfortable with this level of sharing and being able to validate and learn from each person’s experience, without judgement, takes some getting used to.
  • Tapping into funds of knowledge takes time and intentionality. Building relationships that lead to strong and lasting partnerships takes time and requires that you specifically seek to create opportunities where this exchange of information can occur.  Such opportunities might include:
    • Family Cafes-listen to families as they share about their experiences to learn more about the skills they utilize in their daily lives to support themselves and their families.
    • Family-Teacher Conferences-make sure to listen as much as your share about the child you are discussing. Take the opportunity to ask questions about the child’s experiences at home, such as favorite activities, foods, family members, and find out how the family engages in educational activities outside of the early learning program.
    • Family Survey Follow Up-if you do a “getting to know you survey” at the beginning of the year, don’t put it in a drawer. Follow up on some of the responses to build relationships and learn more about the families in your program.
    • Recognize Strengths: Tell a parent/caregiver when you see them doing something really well and figure out ways to integrate it into your program. For example:  If one parent packs amazing lunches, ask him/her to share her tips with other parents.  If another parent is always on time, recognize and applaud that. Ask more about their morning routines that might be useful to share.
    • Home Visits-there is no better way to learn about a family than by seeing them in their own home. Just a 30 minute visit will help you build a relationship and learn more about the children and families you serve, their experiences and their expertise.

 

Remember, it is the quality of time that you spend while creating trusting relationships and sharing of information that is most important.  Taking the time to identify the funds of knowledge in the families you serve will go a long way to improving the relationships and engagement in your program as well as helping you to fully supporting the children in your class. 

 

Interested in putting this concept into practice?  Here is an activity that you can do with teaching staff or with families:  http://modules.nceln.fpg.unc.edu/sites/modules.nceln.fpg.unc.edu/files/foundations/handouts/Mod%204%20Funds%20of%20knowledge.pdf

 

Check out our other family engagement tips

 

Additional resources:

https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/video/funds-knowledge-video

 

References

Global Family Research Project. (2019, April 01). Funds of knowledge. Retrieved January 31, 2020, from https://medium.com/familyengagementplaybook/gfrp-funds-of-knowledge-4d193579c60f

Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132-141. doi:10.1080/00405849209543534

Sebolt, S. (2018). Capitalizing on funds of knowledge to support family engagement. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 54(3), 130-134. doi:10.1080/00228958.2018.1481660


Monthly Family Engagement Tips

August 12, 2020 3:18PM

I love to go shopping.  Not only do I enjoy the satisfaction of finding exactly what I am looking for, but I also value the shopping experience.  Part of that experience is the environment that stores create for myself, the shopper. 

The families in your programs are like shoppers.  Not only are families looking for a high-quality program with staff that care for and teach their children, but they are also looking for a program environment that is clean, safe, and inviting… Read More

July 17, 2020 2:37PM

Traditionally, relationships with families have been built through consistent face-to-face interactions.  The more you saw the family and spent time engaging with them in both formal and informal conversations, the more you learned about the child and the stronger the relationship with the family was.  This upcoming school year, however, the way program staff builds relationships with families will look very different… Read More

June 3, 2020 2:25PM

As we close out an uncharted program year, there is a lot of uncertainty about what the upcoming year will bring.  This month, we will be exploring best practices for hosting virtual events for the families in your program. As families continue to navigate through the different challenges brought on by this pandemic, we want to continue to offer opportunities to connect socially, receive information and resources, and build their capacity to support their children’s growth and development… Read More

May 13, 2020 11:58AM

Working with children and families means that, at any given time, at least one, usually more, are experiencing a crisis situation.  Whether families experience the unexpected loss of employment, a sudden sickness in the family, or have to shift into quarantine during an international pandemic, they are constantly needing to adapt to and navigate these life challengesRead More

April 10, 2020 8:13AM

The past month has put everyone’s tech skills to the test.  Within a matter of weeks, many of us have gone from seeing families at drop off and pick up daily to having minimal, if any, interactions with the families that we serve.  We have gone from planning in-person conferences, cafés, and other events, to trying to figure out how to best connect with families during this time of being socially distanced… Read More

March 3, 2020 11:32AM

A couple of years ago, I attended a 2-day Strengthening Families Training of Trainers Institute.  This training was designed to build an understanding of the 5 Protective Factors, as well as get us, as trainers, to develop a sense of understanding and empathy for the diverse lives of the families that we work with.  Through a variety of interactive activities, videos, and group discussions, we developed a deeper understanding of “what it means to be a parent” and how critical our role is in supporting the journey of parenthood for those we worked with… Read More

February 1, 2020

Last month, we discussed family engagement as an issue of equity and social justice.  Family engagement is not a practice of one-size-fits-all “Back to School” nights and literacy events. This month, we focus on understanding the importance of accessing the funds of knowledge that each family carries with them… Read More

January 2, 2020

The start of a new decade is the perfect time to reflect upon our regular work with families through a renewed equity lens.  Equity is a concept that is integral to the work of early learning professionals and programs.  Not only does equity impact the work that early learning professionals do daily with young children in the classroom, but it also plays a key role in the relationships that we build with families… Read More