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Mel Gravely

Free Stuff is Not (the Only) Answer: Getting Parents Involved in Your Head Start program

parent-engagementThere are many barriers to parental involvement (employment, homelessness, drugs); however, ask any parent that gets involved with their child’s Head Start program, and the majority will say that they are glad they did.

Parent participation has at its root “What’s In It for Me?” and “What’s In It For My Child?” To kickstart the process of getting parents involved in your Head Start program, begin by asking parents what they need.  For example, they may need nutrition information, financial guidance and planning, understanding the Head Start standards, reading with their child, etc.

Then, think about how can you help them gain access to that information and important needed social services. Use your community connections to bring in relevant service providers and experts.

Lastly, make sure you ask them how they’d like to receive that information and when.  While in-person meetings are important, explore other options such as social media to promote engagement.

Just giving away free stuff is not the only option, or sometimes even the best option, for parent involvement. Sure that may get them there, but that may not get them engaged.  Here are a few more to suggestions to help make engagement more appealing to parents:

  1. Provide a lot of advance notice about the meetings.
  2. Offer dinner for the family through a pot luck.
  3. Provide child care.
  4. Tantalize the parents with advance notice about the controversial problems or topics you will discuss. If you tell them about something that is of a lot of interest, they will be more likely to come.
  5. If you have cell phone numbers or email addresses for parents, send them reminders. Don’t expect one backpack flier and signs in the center to do the trick.
  6. Involve the kids: Tell them to remind their parents. Have a sing-along or other event that involves the children before the meeting starts and then send the children to be cared for in another room.
  7. Have an art show, photo display, photo slide show or video to show of the children or their work prior to the meeting and let parents know their child will be featured. Parents love that stuff.
  8. Hold a “Parent Appreciation Day” – Invite local businesses to rent a table and share what they have for parents of the children served by your organization.


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