15 Sep Engaging families during the pre-K to kindergarten transition
Children’s early school experiences shape their learning in future years. The transition from pre-kindergarten, or pre-K, to kindergarten is particularly important. This critical time builds the foundation for children’s academic, behavioral and social-emotional skills, as well as families’ relationships with their child’s teachers for years to come.
During times of uncertainty, such as those we’re experiencing now with the pandemic, strong family-school connections can support young learners and ease their anxiety.
In a recent Early Learning Network study, with findings published in the Early Childhood Education Journal, researchers explored the impact of time and geographic context on family engagement through the pre-K to kindergarten transition.
A practice guide based on this paper is now available to help educators and families work together to successfully navigate this transition.
Download the practice guide: Engaging families during the pre-K to kindergarten transition.
Below is a summary of the study findings and their implications for practice.
Findings: In a nutshell
1. The way parents support their child’s early learning as they transition to kindergarten changes over time.
2. There are significant differences in parent engagement practices in rural versus urban communities.
- Family engagement at home is strong and increases as children progress from pre-K through kindergarten.
- Parents’ engagement at school and communication with teachers increases during pre-K, but then tends to decrease through the end of kindergarten.
- Parents from urban communities tend to have higher engagement levels than families in rural communities.
- Parents living in rural communities tend to engage in home learning experiences at lower rates than parents in urban areas, and there is less communication with teachers among rural families than urban families.
- Rural communities may face unique challenges that contribute to the overall differences in family engagement, such as:
- Fewer opportunities to build family-school partnerships due to the distance between home and school, and
- Lack of reliable and efficient internet to access web-based communication.
While there are factors we are unable to change, such as the physical distance between home and school that affects families living in rural communities, there are several things that can be done to boost family engagement at school during the crucial period between pre-K and kindergarten.
Try these school-based engagement practices:
- Make efforts to involve parents in decision-making regarding their child’s learning goals.
- Create opportunities for personal contact and regular communication with parents.
- If local health advisories permit, encourage parents to visit school and provide opportunities for face-to-face contact and communication, such as attending conferences and volunteering in the classroom.
- When appropriate, use socially-distant forms of communication, such as emailing and having Zoom chats with parents to keep them engaged with what’s happening at school. If home internet is a concern, use text messages to share updates or ask for their help.
- Maintain strong home-school communication with parents whose children are participating in remote learning and may feel less connected to school. Ask for their ideas and input about what works for them to be engaged.
- Be proactive and communicate frequently with parents.
- Send welcoming messages, share school information and practices, offer policy guidelines on parent engagement, and exchange notes between home and school with ideas or concerns about the child’s progress at school.
- Help parents increase their knowledge of upcoming events at school.
- If possible, consider holding events where parents already are, such as housing complexes, churches and local businesses.
- Partner with local employers and other community-based organizations to involve parents in the school.
- Make sure all parents have access to support and resources from school, particularly rural families.
- Bring school home!
- Send home information with photos and examples in multiple languages about school happenings.
- Simplify ways for parents to return information and photos from home.
While high-quality experiences in the classroom are important, our research is finding that providing positive learning opportunities at home is key to setting a child on a positive trajectory. Educators can empower parents to take an active role in their child’s education and provide effective strategies to support their learning and development at home.
Encourage parents to use these home-based engagement practices:
- Read books with their child frequently and carve out time to learn new skills at home.
- Teachers can offer parents suggestions on how to encourage learning at home, as well as online or local resources to support their child’s learning.
- Be available to monitor their child with homework.
- Teachers can make efforts to assign homework that connects home to school, make homework materials available in the language spoken at home and offer suggestions on structuring and supporting homework time, which is different than “helping.”
- Talk to their child about school and ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation.
- Teachers can suggest specific ways parents can talk about school with their child.
1. Download the educator practice guide: Engaging families during the pre-K to kindergarten transition.
2. Read the network’s research paper to learn more.