There’s an old adage: It takes a village to raise a child.
If it takes a village, wouldn’t it be great to have the village well informed of the plan?
But sometimes getting parents (the villagers) to pay attention and get on board with the plan is a challenge.
Unfortunately, the solution to parent involvement isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. You have to meet parents where they are.
Some parents are e-mail readers, some like text messages. Some parents spend four hours a night with their children, some barely get 30 minutes. Some have unlimited resources, some, only a pencil.
Here are various things to consider and how to easily meet the needs of all your parents.
1. Find out how they communicate.
Send out a “preferred method of communication” survey form to all your parents. Ask them to share the contact information of only their preferred methods of communication.
Tell them you understand that some people never check email, while other people don’t have a text messaging plan on their phone. And let them know you’re willing to work with either.
Also ask them if they have regular access to the Internet at home, at a local library or at the school’s Parent Center. You’ll want to do less online if they only use the computers at a public locations.
If many of them accept text messages, there are numerous services, both free and paid, that allow you to do text blasts.
You can set up a school blog to contain detailed information, and then text blast or email the link of the site to parents.
2. Suggest activities for the whole family.
Instead of just informing the parents of what’s going on, give them something to do with their child. When possible, include things that will involve the rest of the family.
When suggesting math discussion topics, include questions for the little ones, as well as the older ones. They don’t have to include answers or be very fancy – just things to ponder.
Recommend that parents and children read out loud to one another, and the whole family.
When doing scientific experiments or observations at home, include questions that all family members can get excited about.
3. Make weekday activities plug into daily life.
Most parents work full-time, so evening family time is often maxed out with cooking dinner, doing laundry and managing the household.
Suggest activities that parents can do with minimal prep time and during normal household chores.
Spelling words and math facts can be practiced while folding laundry. Cooking dinner provides a great opportunity for a casual discussion of chemistry and math.
4. Send home weekend activities, when you can.
Get a feel from the students as to what their weekend activities include. If your students tend to go on outings over the weekends, structure activities that include outside observations.
If you’re studying shapes, have them seek out triangles or squares.
If you’re studying bugs, ask them to look for, and even take pictures of the bugs they find.
If your class is focused on verbs, ask them to keep their eyes peeled for verbs on signs.
5. Make sure they have what they need.
Your families may have everything they need to do the activities you suggest. But if you work in a low income system, your families might not be as well-stocked with even some of the more basic materials.
Even if you’re not in a low income school system, with kids in the house, things often go missing.
Send home parent involvement activities that contain all the supplies needed. Or suggest activities that require only pencil and paper.
You can even offer a three-tiered activity that includes different versions.
One is for limited time and materials. One version is perfect if parents have a moderate amount of time and materials. And one version is if parents want to spend a couple of hours on it and have lots of supplies and materials at home to use.
6. Consider parents’ comfort with the subject area.
On your communication survey, include a “Subject Area Comfort Level” question. Like this:
How do you feel about math?
a. I’ll take on anything you give me!
b. I’m okay if you keep it basic.
c. I’m scared to death of it!
If any of your parents indicate that they have low comfort area with your subject – which is common with subjects like science, math and English – keep your communication gentle and nurturing.
Communication with an authoritarian tone may frighten them and have them shut down all parent involvement activities for your subject.
Also, structure activities so the instructions are clear and the parent feels confident about the endeavor.
When you communicate with your parents, let them know what you’re studying, and what they can do at home to support it.
Use their preferred method of communication. Share with them casual activities as well as detailed, structured activities that they can do with the whole family.
Pretty soon, the whole village will be on board with the plan!
What did I miss? Are there other things to consider when communicating with parents and encouraging them to participate actively in the children’s learning? Share your thoughts in the comments below.