By M. Elena Lopez
The annual back-to-school ritual is in full swing. Businesses are busy marketing clothes, school supplies, and easy-to-pack lunches. Media are increasing coverage about the topic. Websites are offering tips to families about the transition of preschoolers to school, what to ask teachers, and how to help children thrive in school. While all these mark a welcome return to formal education, learning does not begin and end with the school calendar.
Learning happens throughout the year, in many places and at many times. This reality forces us to reimagine how we approach family engagement. An NBC News Education Nation poll found that that 60% of Hispanic parents, 52 % of Black parents, and 40% of White parents wish they could be more involved in their children’s education. Although parents have many opportunities to interact with their children’s learning through routine home activities, after school and summer programs, playground and soccer games, and the like, they may not be aware of their powerful educational roles in these settings if engagement continues to be identified only with formal schooling.
As educators we need to do a better job about working together with families, especially Hispanic and black families, to enrich children’s learning beyond the classroom. Schools and communities should make anywhere, anytime learning opportunities accessible to all families. To promote continuous family engagement, especially among older youth, we also need to facilitate youth voice and leadership to strengthen family relationships and support for youth development. We at Harvard Family Research Project (www. hfrp.org), as part of our support for families, work to meet the growing demand for information on effective ways — including state and local partnerships — to support family involvement in children’s learning and development in and out of school. Here are some resources:
- The Massachusetts Department of Early Care and Education created strategic partnerships to promote family engagement through the public transportation system, public television, museums and libraries, and community field workers. http://bit.ly/1U8q8Hr
- The Public Library Association conducts an early literacy library program for parents, caregivers, and librarians. http://everychildreadytoread.org/
- In Watsonville, California Technology-Education-Community partners with the school district to carry out an afterschool program that encourages predominantly Latino students in grades 5-12 to pursue higher education and careers in technology. An IT parent workshop series, including a hands-on technology night, removes parent fears of technology and builds support for higher education and career pathways in technology. http://www.etr.org/youthandit/watsonvilletec.html
- At Makeshop, a permanent exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, children and families tinker and create projects using materials the museum provides. Museum educators encourage parents to make projects with their children. http://bit.ly/1MXnoZq
- The Create Lab at Carnegie Mellon University promotes youth voices to inform policy and practices through project Hear Me. One of its efforts involved training youth with incarcerated parents to interview their peers about having a parent in jail. The youth stories are part of a transition program for parents being released soon, with parents creating responses to the stories as part of an educational and healing process. http://www.hear-me.net/
With the school year beginning, let us make sure that we get the message across to parents and families: their engagement in children’s learning and development matters in school and out of school.