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Overcoming Barriers: Tips for Engaging All Families

By Anna Marrs | October 21, 2019

Families are an integral part of the early childhood community. Strong partnerships between schools and families have been shown repeatedly to improve child outcomes, and this relationship is especially critical when children as young. However, families can face barriers to engaging with schools that can make it more challenging to foster these partnerships.

Barriers for Families:

  1. Schedules and Transportation: Attending school events, either during the day or after hours, can be challenging for families depending on work schedules and availability of transportation.
  2. Language: Families whose primary language is different from their child’s teacher may not feel comfortable conversing with their child’s teacher. And depending on the language used in information sent home, families may also be unaware of events at school.
  3. Immigration status: Immigrant families may be less familiar with U.S. educational institutions. Furthermore, depending on immigration status, they may also be wary of public agencies and hesitant to attend events (Barrueco et. al, 2015).
  4. Previous Experiences: Past negative experiences at or with school, either during families’ own schooling or with older children, can impact families’ level of comfort with teachers and school events. 

Strategies for Engagement:

  1. Take a strengths-based approach: Approaching all families with a strengths-based mindset is important for building partnerships. Just because a family does not attend events at school does not mean that the family does not want to better support their child’s development. It is important to critically examine the specific barriers a family may be facing. Educators and families are on the same team, working towards a common goal. 
  2. Value the strength of diversity: View the linguistic and cultural diversity of your families as an asset, not a deficit. Studies have shown that children from non-English speaking families are more likely to have routines at home that promote child development, such as regularly eating meals together or storytelling (Barrueco et. al, 2015). Moreover, each of the cultures that children represent can enrich your program as a whole.
  3. Identify families’ preferred means of communication: Families in the U.S. overwhelmingly have access to mobile phones. However, digital divides remain in data plans and access to smartphones, largely along socio-economic lines. Ask families about their preferred means of communication – text, email, push notification, or in-person conversations during pick-up and drop-off times (Halgunseth, 2009).
  4. Foster adult social networks: Encouraging relationships between families can increase involvement at school, particularly among non-English speaking families. These positive peer relationships for families with young children has also been shown to have lasting effects (Barrueco et. al, 2015). 
  5. Welcome all languages: Ensure any suggested at-home learning activities or resources are translated into family’s preferred language of communication. In addition, translate classroom and school signs to help families feel welcome in the building (Halgunseth, 2009).
  6. Create an inclusive and supportive environment: Ensure children’s home cultures are reflected in your classroom library, songs, dances, poems, and other daily activities. Use children’s home languages during instructional times in the classroom, not just to give directions. And bring in role models from a variety of cultures into your classroom, either from the community or members of children’s families. By welcoming cultures into the classroom, you create an environment that welcomes families too (Chang, 2006)!


Barrueco, S., S. Smith, and S. Stephens (2015). Supporting Parent Engagement in Linguistically Diverse Families to Promote Young Children’s Learning: Implications for Early Care and Education Policy. Child Care and Early Education Research Connections.

Chang, H. (r. 2006). Are We Supporting Diversity? A Tool for Reflection and Dialogue Work/Family Directions, Inc. and California Tomorrow.

Halgunseth, L. (2009) Family Engagement, Diverse Families and an Integrated Review of the Literature. NAEYC.

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In partnership with HighScope Educational Research Foundation, the Exploring Early Childhood Newsletter is a twice a month collection of topical research articles, tips for educators, and unique ways COR Advantage can support the documentation and communication of child development.

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About COR Advantage

COR Advantage is HighScope’s flagship observation-based assessment. COR Advantage is the leading research-backed assessment for all children from birth to kindergarten. From comprehensive planning tools to dynamic family engagement, COR Advantage offers a complete picture of child growth for schools and families.

About Anna Marrs

Anna Marrs is a former early childhood and elementary literacy curriculum developer for Bridge International Academies and a former 1st grade teacher in North Carolina. She holds a Master in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and now works on the Partnerships team at COR Advantage.