Elusive Family Engagement

My daughter just started preschool at a public elementary school, and less than a week into the school year we received an invitation to a family literacy night promising fun and excitement with literacy games and workshops for parents.  My first thought was, “Already?” Marking out an evening during the work week for this event seemed, initially, like an inconvenience, and I know how important family engagement in school is.  Now that I am parent as well as an educator, I am finally finding out why it is so difficult for schools to get busy families involved.

The average American worker puts in over 47 hours a week at his/her job, and almost half of two-parent families have both parents working full time jobs, an increase of nearly 20 percent since the 1970s (Fisher, 2015).  Add to this the time it takes to commute, go grocery shopping, run additional errands, and maybe (time permitting) exercise, no wonder family engagement in schools is sometimes as rare as a purple flying unicorn, with only 20% of parents saying they are fully engaged in their child’s school (Yu & Hodges, 2015).

As hard as it is for educators to get families to engage in their child’s education, it is worth the hard work.  As stated in chapter 5 of our book, Success for Every Student, family involvement makes a difference in increasing student achievement and grade point averages.   Behaviorally, students also benefit from increased class attendance, social skills, and improved behavior (Garcia & Thornton, 2014).

Family engagement doesn’t have to be limited to parents attending functions at the school, although family fun nights, community dinners, and other face-to-face activities are incredibly beneficial.  Family engagement can also include what happens within the home, and educators can encourage family members to ask their child about his/her day, make sure a quiet place and time are available for homework, schedule a healthy bed time, or remind the child about the benefits of getting an education.

To show my daughter and her teachers how committed we are to her education, we are blocking off that evening on our calendar for family literacy night.  I can’t wait, and I’ll be sure post afterward to share with you any great ideas and lessons learned from the event.

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