When you hear the words family involvement, you may think of planning events for families to attend or establishing a family committee.  It turns out that family involvement is much deeper than that.  An important voice in the drive for strong family school partnerships is researcher Joyce Epstein.  Epstein’s work provides us with a number of important points to consider as we deepen our understanding of family engagement and involvement.

First, let’s consider the terms school-like homes and home-like schools. According to Epstein, the outcome of positive family engagement initiatives results in home environments that incorporate elements of the school environment and vice versa:

School-like homes:

  • Family members have an understanding of child development and how to apply that knowledge
  • Educational activities and opportunities are provided and valued
  • Family members observe their children and adjust their approach to interactions

Home-like schools:

  • Nurturing and love provided to children
  • Individualized care and education is provided
  • Comfortable environment created for learners

Early childhood learning environments are typically most likely to be home-like, compared to elementary, middle, and high schools.  However, it is still important to consider ways that you can reflect children’s home lives in your learning environment.

Epstein also identified 6 different types of family involvement.  Does your program incorporate all 6 of these elements?

  1. Supporting Parenting: Programs share resources and strategies that support parents in their efforts to raise their children. This is done in a supportive and strengths-based manner that builds relationships.
  2. Communicating: Programs ensure ongoing communication with families about children’s needs and progress.  Methods of communication are reflective of families’ ability to access information through various means.  Technology is used as a tool for communication in creative and appropriate ways.
  3. Volunteering: Programs create multiple opportunities for family members to participate with the program as volunteers.  These opportunities should reflect the unique skills and strengths of family members.  Programs recognize that volunteering will look different for each person who participates.
  4. Learning at Home: Programs provide resources and activity ideas that families can use to incorporate more educational opportunities into home life.  The programs share information about developmentally appropriate practices and help parents gain an understanding of learning through play and open-ended activities.
  5. Decision Making: Programs create opportunities for families to contribute to the decisions made by the program. Typically, this is accomplished through the use of family committees or creating spots on the program’s advisory board for family members.
  6. Collaborating with Community:  Programs act as a central hub for family resources. Programs create strong collaborations with community resources and plan events that encourage families to connect with these community service agencies as necessary.

As you start a new school year, reflect on your current program practices relating to family involvement.  Are you able to identify any opportunities to enhance your current practices?  Discover more specific examples and strategies relating to the 6 types of family involvement in this document:  https://www.sps186.org/downloads/table/13040/6TypesJ.Epstien.pdf