Goldilocks Family Engagement

By Curran Mahowald, Partner Success

This back-to-school season, many educators are managing a tricky tension with their family engagement strategy. They want to provide as much support as possible to families without overwhelming them. And parents are getting lots of digital resources for at-home learning. As a result, many of our partners here at Ready4K are wondering: How much is too much?

Because we survey parents every few months, we’ve been hearing directly from parents who tell us exactly what they’re looking for. And with these insights you can calibrate your program to make sure it’s a Goldilocks family engagement solution: not too much, not too little. Just the right support to meet their needs.

“[The messages remind me] to stay connected, do activities and just remember we’re not alone.”

– Ready4K parent

1. Parents prefer screen-free ideas for helping kids learn

There’s only so much time a parent or a child can spend staring at a screen before their eyes glaze over. Of course, screen time is inevitable when school is virtual (and screen time can be thoughtfully managed). But your family engagement program is a great place to catalyze offline, screen-free learning in the home. 

Several survey respondents told us that the hands-on ideas are really important to them. “I love ideas for incorporating learning into my kid’s everyday life in an interactive, connected way (without using screens or having to spend effort on learning how to use some app!)”

Though your family engagement plan may be delivered or implemented digitally, it can foster quality off-screen moments. One respondent told us that for them, it’s all about snuggling. “My favorite activity during COVID-19 has been snuggling with my kids at bedtime. We talk about things we do during the day and try to stay close and bond. Even at difficult times like the pandemic.”

And you can use your family engagement strategy to encourage more outdoor time, which research shows is crucial to healthy development. “We used the describing things tip quite often as we explore new things outside. He’s been asking where things come from and how they are made. It’s encouraging to see his mind at work!”

Encouraging social emotional learning activities, like making feeling faces, can help bridge the face-time gap. “Cada momento que compartimos ella expresa su carita de felicidad se siente segura querida y protegida por mama me dice que soy su mejor amiga esto me encanta (Every moment we share, she expresses her happy face, she feels safe, loved and protected by her mother, she tells me that I am her best friend.)”

2. Parents need a strengths-based approach

It’s natural to want to constantly provide parents with all of the information that might possibly be helpful to them. But parents can only process so much new information at a time, especially in times of stress! And they are already going into overdrive to try to recreate the school experience for their children at home.

Consider a family engagement strategy that includes reminders, reinforcement, and affirmation for what parents are already doing. For example, Ready4K’s family engagement text messages are designed to be strengths-based. To empower parents, we focus on existing family routines to leverage existing teachable moments. Many families cited simplicity as the most important quality of Ready4K in our most recent survey.

  • “I’m a full time working mom and a lot of times I’m exhausted after work. But these are simple ways to still get that quality time with them, even after a long day.”
  • “I appreciate the texts with specific tips and actions that are easy to do no matter how busy you are.”

Parents feel seen and supported when you use a strengths-based approach. You’re also encouraging families to keep up the good work! Multiple parents responded that knowing they’re on the right path helped them feel great about their parenting. “The texts are also a pat on the back for when I do things right, like reading a story. It’s positive reinforcement.”

3. Community really matters right now

The shelter-in-place and social distancing mandates of the COVID-19 pandemic have made many parents feel isolated. But sometimes all it takes is a few helpful messages to give parents the sense that they’re not alone, and someone is looking out for them. “The thing I love the most is that you are thinking of us all. It is so great to hear from you and know that you are working hard to be there for us!”

While you want to be careful that you’re sending the right content, families want to know you’ve got their back. “[The messages remind me] to stay connected, do activities and just remember we’re not alone.”

If you’re looking for specific ideas, we’ve curated these messages you can share with your families today.

Still not sure? Ask!

Let’s say you are concerned that families are getting overwhelmed. As an evidence-based company, we always recommend testing your hypothesis. In other words, you can ask!

Whether you use a Google form, a phone survey, or Ready4K’s simple built-in survey tool, you can glean important insights. These will help you work smarter not harder and give families what they truly want. (For more ideas on getting family feedback, check out Ready4K’s webinar about Family Feedback from Afar.)

And you may just get some honest and nuanced feedback that lets you know how your program is being received, like this feedback from one of our parents:

“Occasional reminders and suggestions are great!! I take some and leave some. They are easy to read and digest quickly. And I’m not inundated with too much.”


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Header photo by Anna Samoylova on Unsplash

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