Scaffolding Parental Engagement

By Rebecca Honig, Director of Content & Curriculum

Parenting has a distinct lack of scaffolding. 

I remember the shock I felt three days after giving birth to my first child when the nurse came in and happily announced, “You get to go home today.” 

I was like, “Wait… what…. you’re just going to let me walk out of here with this child? You DO know I’ve never done this before, right?”  I asked if there was some sort of training video or abbreviated course I could take before I left. A manual maybe, like the ones they give you at Ikea when you purchase a new table? 

I felt sweaty and desperate. “I know you need to free up this room so other babies can get delivered in here but how about I just move into that closet down the hall where they keep the johnnies? I’ll just set myself up in there. Just in case I have a quick question or need another swaddling demo… No?”

And even now, 12 years and three kids later, I still have those desperate moments, at least once a week. Sometimes once an hour.  Moments where I could REALLY use some scaffolding.

Educators Are Scaffolding Pros

In education we rely on scaffolding. It’s a technique we use every day in the classroom to help children learn new things and stretch beyond what they can already do. Just like the scaffold that gets temporarily erected at a construction site, it provides a light framework of support that helps kids reach new heights, heights they might not be able to reach all on their own. 

In education scaffolding can take the form of modeling. It can mean breaking a task into smaller steps so it becomes more doable. Scaffolding can mean adding visual aids, peer support, props and manipulatives.

It makes total sense. When learning something new, who would not benefit from support? 

But try googling “scaffolding for parents” or “parental scaffolding” or “I’m a really overwhelmed parent can someone please scaffold this experience for me?” and you will come up empty. To repeat: parenting has a distinct lack of scaffolding!

Week of literacy messages for PK student

I believe I am raising my kids in a much better way than my parents raised me since I am so easily connected to a parenting knowledge reservoir.”

Ready4K Parent

Reaching for New Parenting Heights

Now more than ever parents are being asked to stretch beyond their abilities. They’re taking on new roles as at home educators. They’re navigating new technologies like Google Classroom, Seesaw and Zoom. They’re quickly trying to figure out all the tricks of keeping kids engaged as active learners (tricks we, as teachers, spent years studying and practicing).  

Now more than ever, parents need scaffolding to help them achieve new heights in at-home learning. 

When we survey Ready4K parents and caregivers we hear again and again that our messages are doable. We hear that they help parents to develop new skills, in a way that isn’t stressful. In a way that feels supported. 

They tell us: 

“Kids don’t come with a manual – this is like a little bit of a manual.”

“I am more aware on how my child is growing, I am more knowledgeable on how to deal with my child’s growing personality, I also feel confident that I practice active parenting and not just being passive, I believe I am raising my kids in a much better way than my parents raised me since I am so easily connected to a parenting knowledge reservoir.”

In our most recent survey 97% of parents say that it’s EASY or VERY EASY to read and understand Ready4K texts and 95% of parents said that Ready4K increased their confidence in their ability to support their child’s learning.

We attribute much of this feedback and positive engagement to parental scaffolding. 

So How Do You Scaffold Parenting?

In each of our programs we take numerous steps to ensure that parents have just the right amount of support. As an educator, you do this All.The.Time. We’ve learned from scaffolding in the classroom and applied essential strategies to support parents as at-home learning partners.

Sequence the Skills 

In the classroom you build skills in a very specific order, ensuring kids have all the prerequisite skills to learn the thing you want them to learn.

In our messages we carefully order skills too. At the start of our program we build more foundational parenting skills. Things like following your child’s lead as they learn, reading your child’s emotional cues and engaging in back and forth conversations and language rich exchanges. We know that having these skills in place will set families up for success with at home learning. 

Build on the Familiar

In the classroom you help kids draw on their existing knowledge and skills. When you teach something new you tap into what kids already know about the subject. You root “the new” in “the known.” 

In our messages we build everything around families’ familiar routines and daily moments. Things families are already comfortable doing. For example, we might ask families to count their steps as they walk down the hall.  Walking is something they do everyday. Adding a little bit of math into this existing moment feels totally doable. It makes a new learning routine feel comfortable and familiar. 

Use Visual Aids 

In the classroom you demonstrate with pictures, you show examples, you make the learning visible. 

In our messages we start off each new week of messages with an image to contextualize the experience and make it salient. It serves as a visual reminder and models the moment.

Parents also benefit from visual cues. In fact, research shows that when families received multimedia content in parental engagement text messages they were more likely to recall the content. They also practiced the behaviors shown in the image more frequently with their children.

Check for Understanding

In the classroom you pause, ask questions and assess kids’ understanding in order to know if you need to add in more support. 

As providers of a virtual parent engagement tool, we do everything we can to ensure that our messages are clear, understandable and accessible for all parents. We write everything in 160 characters and at a 3rd grade reading level. And we offer parenting support in multiple languages.  So all the information we give is easy to digest. 

We take this another step when we’re working with families impacted by trauma. In Ready4K Trauma-Informed we add in a whole secondary messaging stream linking parents to local support, people and services they can get help from if they are struggling or just have questions. And we make sure those supports DON’T feel overwhelming. 

And we survey parents to ask what’s working and to find out where they want more support. 

3 Questions to Help You Scaffold

As an educator, you know how to scaffold for kids. Now it’s time to put those skills into action for their adults! 

When sending home your next request or activity for parents and caregivers, ask yourself these three questions to help ensure that you’ve set them up with the right level of support.

  1. Do parents and caregivers have all the necessary skills, information, and materials to do the thing I’m asking them to do? 
  1. What supports can I add in to make this more accessible and doable for ALL my families?
  1. Will the language I’m using be clear to every family?

And after you’ve done it, pass what you’ve learned along! Write about it. Share how it works. Make parental scaffolding a part of your culture of family engagement. Together, let’s make parental scaffolding part of every family’s experience.


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