Family Engagement Monthly Tip-March 2020


Building Strong Relationships Through  Family Cafés

(Funds of Knowledge-Part 2)


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.

Somewhere in the middle of that training, the facilitator took out a basket full of white face towels.  As the group was wrapping up an activity, the facilitator began placing a few towels in the middle of each table.  Without skipping a beat, the facilitator challenged us to, as a group, fold the towel.  I will admit, I thought that request was a bit ridiculous.  How hard can it be to fold a small face towel?  Much to my surprise, however, what ensued was an extremely lively conversation about the infinite number of ways each group could fold that towel!  As each towel made its way from person to person, a story was told about why the towel should be folded as such.  All around the room, phrases like “growing up…”, “my mom always said…”, and “I remember one time when…” could be heard.  As each participant shared their story, the concept of funds of knowledge came to life.

The families that we serve carry with them the different ways in which they have learned to live life.  These are behaviors, attitudes, values, and patterns that inform every decision they make.  They can be as small as how to fold and store a towel, or as large as how to discipline and punish their children.  As we mentioned in last month’s FE Tip, in order to build authentic and transparent relationships with the families that we serve, it is vital to create opportunities to not only learn about the funds of knowledge that each family carries with them, but to allow for these funds of knowledge to be shared with others.  This month, we will be exploring a best practice for tapping into families’ funds of knowledge: the family café.


What is a Family Café?

A Family Café is an opportunity for caregivers to gather together in a comfortable and welcoming environment to learn from one another about many critical issues related to raising young children (Global Family Research Project, 2019).  During a café, participants come together in a room that is inviting, informal and coffee and snacks are made available to those in attendance, much like an actual cafe.  The seating is arranged in groups so that several participants are at each table.  Considered a best practice for engaging families, cafés are a budget-friendly way of providing families with a space to learn from one another, develop social connections, and become more engaged with your program.

There are many variations of the café model that agencies use nationally and internationally.  Across the different types of cafés, however, there are several guiding principles that set the foundation for a successful café (Global Family Research Project, 2019).

1. Creating a welcoming environment

Successful cafés provide participants with an inviting café environment that supports comfort, vulnerability, trust, and sharing among participants.  To create this warm feeling, cafés often provide snacks and drinks as well as decorations (i.e. table cloths, flowers, positive quotes, etc.)

2. Exploring topics through questions

Café conversations are driven by reflective questions about a given topic, rather than statements.  Asking the right questions in café conversations invites sharing across diverse groups of participants and encourages a variety of responses.

3. Honoring everyone’s contribution

Cafés support participation regardless of what it looks like.  It is a safe environment where those that love to talk and engage with others can do so, while those that enjoy listening and observing can also feel comfortable. Cafés should be judgement-free zones to encourage the sharing of multiple perspectives and ideas.

4.   Connecting diverse perspectives

Cafés bring together participants across races, ethnicities, genders, and languages of origin, making it an inclusive environment that is representative of everyone in attendance and encourages a variety of experiences and perspectives to be shared.

How Do Cafés Support Family Engagement?

Cafés provide an opportunity for families to work collaboratively with program staff to plan and execute this offering for their peers.  Cafés can create the ideal space for families to share their funds of knowledge with one another and provide support on a given topic.  When your early childhood education program chooses to plan and implement family cafés as a means of engaging families, you:

Build family leadership within your program by providing a space for families to facilitate conversations with their peers, learn from other families’ experiences and expertise, and support one other through the successes and challenges of caregiving (Jor’dan, Wolf, & Douglass, 2012).

Promote diversity and inclusion (Jor’dan, Wolf, & Douglass, 2012).  Cafés are not gender, race, ethnicity, culture, or lifestyle specific.  Anyone from any background with any number of experiences can benefit from a family café.  In a café, everyone has a seat at the table and there is an infinite amount of room for anyone that is interested in joining (Jor’dan, Wolf, & Douglass, 2012).

Provides a space for those who are uninterested in “traditional involvement opportunities” such as workshops and one-on-one conferences (Medvedev, 2013).

Help families learn from each other and build stronger, more trusting social connections among one another.  Strong and trusting relationships are the cornerstone of family engagement.  This deeper level of connection and relationship-building supports repeated and sustained participation in your program.

Build connections between staff and families.  Cafés create a space where families and program staff can come together outside of the formal teacher/parent relationship to learn from and support one another.

Strategies for Planning and Implementing Cafés

  • Intentional planning is essential
    Click to Enlarge
    • It is important to allot an appropriate amount of time, resources, and staff to the planning of a café.
    • Attend an upcoming QSLA Parent Cafe training on April 24, 2020 to learn more about the café model or check with your local Resource and Referral Agency about their next Parent Cafes.
    • Begin outreach well in advance (at least 4-6 weeks).
    • Develop a plan for gathering feedback after the café to inform the planning of future cafés (i.e. short paper or on-line evaluation about café experience for attendees)
  • Use family feedback to guide planning
    • Take the time to learn about the needs and interests of the families in your program. There are many ways to gather information to inform the planning of a café.  You can ask families to take:
      • A family needs assessment
      • An electronic survey about topics of interest
      • A poll during drop off and pick up
      • Use data from the DRDP Parent Survey

The goal is to have the topics of conversation informed by what families actually want to discuss, not what we think they want to discuss.

  • Connect through families
    • Your families can be your biggest champions. When families are part of the planning process for a café, they will be your best help to recruit other families to participate in your cafés.  Once they attend one café, we’re sure you’ll get request for future cafés!


*Images provided by Los Angeles Mission College’s Child Development Center from their Family Cafés



Global Family Research Project. (2019, April 01). Funds of knowledge. Retrieved January 31, 2020, from

Jor’dan, J. R., Wolf, K. G., & Douglass, A. (2012). Strengthening families in Illinois: Increasing family engagement in early childhood programs. Young Children, 18-23.

Medvedev, A. (2013). Germany’s school-based parent cafés: A new hype or a sustainable way to update home-school policies? International Journal about Parents in Education, 7(2), 59-68.


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.

Wendolly A. Escobar, M.S., M.Ed.
Family Education Coordinator
Quality Start Los Angeles