A child, his parent and Early Years staff sit at a table and share a learning activity together.

What are the Parental Engagement Challenges faced by Early Years Practitioners?

May 17, 2023

Parental engagement is a crucial aspect of early years education. As an Early Years educator, you must provide opportunities for parents to be involved in what is being explored and taught in your setting. However, it can be frustrating when you are trying to create a collaborative learning environment and encounter a lack of engagement from parents.

One of the main challenges Early Years staff face is the limited knowledge and understanding of the importance of the home learning environment of some parents. 

Some parents may not see the value of involvement in their child's education or may not have the time or resources to do so. Families and settings have competing priorities; busy parents and time constraints can be an issue even for the most engaged families, e.g., work, appointments etc. Parents' own school experiences also greatly influence how they interact with educational settings. And all of these factors impact how parents and families model attitudes to and engagement in learning to their children.

School staff, by and large, are people who enjoyed their educational journey, so you may find it challenging to step into the shoes of someone who finds school anxiety-inducing and adequately understand how confidence, shyness, mental health, home situation, fear of judgement and self-esteem are issues that can affect parents to engage in the way educational settings expect them to.

Another challenge is cultural and language differences. Communicating with families who speak a different language or have different expectations of Early Years education can lead to misunderstandings and a lack of engagement, as parents may not fully understand what you expect of them. Be mindful of unconscious bias, which can also affect relationship building.

The best starting point is to assume that all parents want to be involved and engaged in their child's learning. Be an 'open-door' setting with 'open-heart' staff. Work to create an inclusive approach to parental engagement with a universal offer of appropriate engagement activities. Then, identify the families still not engaging and work more specifically to bring them into your community and connect with learning.

When you get to know your parents and include them in school life, find out what they can offer and what you can offer them. Think 'life-long-learning' and make all events and workshops family-friendly so parents with younger or older children can attend.

Be realistic about what you can achieve with the resources you have. Make a long-term plan and review it regularly. Set short-term objectives; plan and review them well. Measure progress as you go and celebrate small wins. Be prepared for change to take time and accept that there will initially be some resistance, but don't assume where that resistance will come from. Do you know what is important to your parents? Ask them to determine their expectations; don't assume you already know.

Engaging families – what works well to build trusting relationships

  • Be present in your community.
  • Use home visits or hold drop-ins in community locations.
  • Listen to parents using eye contact and positive body language. Be enthusiastic, relatable and honest.
  • Ask parents how they are. Chatting about everyday life (what's on TV etc.) is ok to break the ice.
  • Get to know the family and tune into parents' needs. Be empathetic and relatable.
  • When good relationships are established, ask those parents to bring less confident or less trusting families into the school.
  • Link one staff member to each family; choose them based on your knowledge of who will work best together. It might not be you, and that's ok!
  • Facilitate positive moments for parents to see what their child has done and encourage the child to show their successes to their families.
  • Regularly ask parents what they think/ would like and use their feedback (e.g., you said…, we did…)
  • Show parents what they can do at home to support the learning at school. Have a stay-and-play event or a workshop and model the learning activities. Make it fun and let parents have a go.

If you're looking for an affordable and sustainable set of resources that you can use to engage parents in the early years. Take a look at PEN's Mouse Club Project

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