Supporting Family Engagement through Music
By Lauren Guilmartin, Director of Early Learning, Music Together Worldwide
And Anne Sailer, Teacher Trainer, Music Together Worldwide
The following article was provided by Music Together Worldwide. Music Together is an early childhood music and movement program for children from birth through age eight – and the grownups who love them! First offered in 1987, their music classes help little ones develop their innate musicality — and much, much more!
Head Start educators wholeheartedly agree on the importance of family engagement—and have seen its positive effects firsthand. A cycle of learning that moves from school to home, and back again, deeply supports children’s growth in key early learning domains that are critical for school and life success. Children with engaged families have improved academic achievement, a greater motivation to learn, and improved behavior and social skills.[i]
Yet while educators agree that family engagement is essential, and while it is a core component of the Head Start Program Performance Standards, it can also be challenging! Busy parents and primary caregivers may not realize that their participation in school life can significantly impact their child’s learning. They may also feel unable or unqualified to participate, or they just simply feel like they don’t have the time! Teachers need enjoyable, accessible activities that make it easy for parents to engage in their child’s learning.
Music can help make family engagement easier (and more fun!) for both teachers and families. Many songs and music activities are holistic, developmentally appropriate teaching tools that can also be playful, portable tools for at-home learning.
Anywhere, Anytime Learning
The Harvard Family Research Project (HRFP) classifies parent-child interactions such as singing songs and sharing stories as fundamental “anywhere, anytime learning” activities. “Families are important in helping children uncover and expand [their] interests and in encouraging them to try out new paths to learning…These parent-child activities need not take place only at home or school, but can occur at the grocery store, the laundromat, or anywhere and anytime children and families are together.”
As music is inherently portable, it is an ideal anywhere, anytime learning tool:
- Families don’t need anything but their voices and bodies to sing a song. Unlike worksheets, when teachers give parents songs to try at home, learning can happen at the dining room table, on the drive to school, or at the grocery store. Songs about counting or colors can help pass the time during a traffic jam or make running errands more enjoyable (in addition to supporting learning in other school subjects!).
- Every new song or rhythmic chant can deepen the home-school connection. A teacher can send home one song for a counting unit, another for seasons, a third to explore emotion knowledge, and so on. The novelty of each song can refresh a parent’s school engagement, provide a time to bond and have fun with their child, and serve as a playful way to do “homework.”
- Songs also give parents and caregivers a growing toolset for managing behavior in a playful, low-stress way. Families can adapt a song like “Clap Your Hands” to support self-care (“Wash, wash, wash our hands, let’s wash our hands together”), process daily routines (“Brush, brush, brush our teeth, let’s brush our teeth before bed”), and facilitate activity transitions (“Clean, clean, clean up now, let’s clean up now together”). What’s more, the heightened connection that comes from singing and playing together supports sensitive-responsive adult-child interactions, helping parents tune into and meet children’s needs more effectively.[iii]
Music’s inherent anywhere, anytime qualities make it a powerful tool for teachers both in creating high-quality, holistic educational experiences during the school day and in fostering playful, accessible at-home learning activities. While family engagement can be a bit of a challenge, many teachers find that sending home songs to reinforce classroom learning is a less stressful, more enjoyable way to create a school-home connection.
Tips for Engaging Families Through Music
- When possible, adapt songs and chants that families likely already know or can learn easily. This also allows you to easily share video links for those who need to learn it for the first time.
- Sing songs at drop-off and pick-up to informally teach parents and caregivers the music. Most children spontaneously sing school songs at home, but family members who don’t know the songs tend not to sing along. By exposing parents and caregivers to classroom songs at the beginning and end of the school day, teachers increase the likelihood that families will more readily sing them at home.
- Give families the songs you are singing in class, with clear instructions. Ask parents and caregivers to do the same musical learning activities you are doing in class at home, too. Increase the likelihood that they can do so by giving short, specific action steps. It’s also important to tell parents and caregivers the ways in which the song you are using is supporting their child’s learning – give them the “why”, “what”, and “how”!
- Invite parents and caregivers to share their favorite songs they like to sing at home or from their own childhood. This helps to foster shared responsibility among families and educators and builds the necessary mutual respect at the core of family engagement.
- Host a class or school community event that includes singing songs used in the classroom. To avoid the event becoming a “concert” (which can limit participation from parents and caregivers), make sure there’s no stage/elevated platform or microphones. Instead, just invite teachers and families to sing their favorite songs together, sharing with each other and with the school.
- Use music apps to encourage even more “anytime, anywhere” family music-making. Apps like Hello, Everybody! include high-quality free music and a built-in karaoke function to make singing songs at home even easier. Sometimes parents who are less musically-confident appreciate this kind of additional support.
[i] McWayne, C. M., Hampton, V., Fantuzzo, J., Cohen, H. L. & Sekino, Y. (2004). A multivariate examination of parent involvement and the social and academic competencies of urban kindergarten children. Psychology in the Schools, 41(3).
[ii] Lopez, M.E. and Caspe, M. (June 2014). “Family Engagement in Anywhere, Anytime Learning.” Harvard Family Research Project.
[iii] Ginsburg, K.R., The Committee on Communications, and The Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1). 182-191.