Action Step and Orientation

E6. Empower families to provide a language- and literacy-rich environment at home.

In this lesson, you and your site/campus-based leadership team will learn about planning and establishing an ongoing system for supporting families so they can extend their children's early language and literacy skills at home.

Part 1 suggests ideas for building trusting relationships between your site/campus staff and families to encourage families’ involvement in your program.

Part 2 includes suggestions for developing a plan to provide various types and topics of support to families to increase their knowledge of early literacy.

Part 3 provides ideas and suggestions for delivering support to parents and families.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.

Part 1—Building Relationships Between Staff and Families

During this lesson, you will focus on what you can do to help families learn about early literacy and language development. You will also find ideas for practical and helpful topics related to early literacy to include in parent sessions. These topics can extend families’ literacy knowledge and help you establish relationships and increase communication with families. Providing this support to families is a critical goal and an important task for leaders.

A good relationship between early childhood staff and families is critical for your plan’s success. As leaders, you set the tone of appropriate and respectful interaction with families. You can help teaching staff learn the expectations for family engagement. Because caregivers and classroom teachers have regular interactions with parents and families, you can think of your staff as the “face” of your site or campus. Staff represent the vision “in action” of your site or campus, and they are the primary communicators of your school's philosophy. When parents and families feel they are treated respectfully, they are more likely to collaborate with your staff. If, however, your staff's interactions with parents and families come across as disrespectful or uncaring, they will disengage and not want to be involved in school activities. Leaders need to follow up with their staff and make sure that all of them are aware of the importance of building trusting, respectful, and responsive partnerships with families.

As leaders, you will need to consider what professional development will help staff build successful relationships with families. You may plan for formal professional development as well as informal discussions at staff meetings. The SEDL National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools has toolkits that may be helpful for staff development. You want your staff to know how to make families feel empowered so they are a valuable and respected part of your site or campus. You also need to observe classrooms regularly to see how your staff and families are interacting.

“Parents do not feel like partners in the relationship when staff members see themselves as having all the knowledge and insight about children and view parents as lacking such knowledge” (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2009, p. 23).

As you start creating your system to empower parents and families, you should share your vision and plan with your staff and other important stakeholders in your program or community. Staff can provide suggestions and collaborate with leaders based on what they know about families and any needs families have shared with staff. Also, it is important for staff and other stakeholders to know the details about any events you are considering and what their responsibilities will be for those events. Ideally, staff will be closely involved and provide input for these events during the planning stages. Your staff will also need to know your expectations for all newsletters, home visits, and other home and school instruction connections you want them to make, as well as how they should share information about community resources available for families.

You should also keep in mind that families are children's first teachers and have a strong influence on all aspects of their children's early development, including their early language and literacy development. New research from North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University, and the University of California, Irvine, finds that parental involvement is a more significant factor in a child's academic performance than the qualities of the school itself. Thus, parents and families need to be aware of how important they are and how influential they are when it comes to helping their children understand the importance of school (Dufur, Parcel, & Troutman, 2012). While this research focuses on adolescent students, it shows that when parents and families are encouraged to become involved in early childhood settings, they are likely to have positive expectations about participating in their children's education in future academic settings.

Your families will have varying levels of literacy and different understandings of how literacy develops. Consequently, one of your site/campus-based leadership team's first tasks is to become familiar with the language and literacy practices and beliefs of your families. This way, you can build on what parents and families already know and provide the background teachers need to work well with the families they serve. You may gather this information through family surveys or face-to-face meetings with families.

Be careful about how you word questions you ask parents and families. Many will not have enough background knowledge to list “language and literacy development activities” on a questionnaire or survey. By asking specific questions such as “Do you talk to your child about what is happening during daily routines?” you can determine the kinds of practices already in place in the home.

These surveys might also have a place for you to list possible topics for family literacy events (such as those listed in Part 2). You could ask families which topics they are interested in, what type of events they prefer, and what times work best for them. Spending time gathering and studying information will help you create plans that are specific to the needs of your families and community. Also, when you request input from families and involve them in planning events, you demonstrate respect for them.

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TO LEARN MORE: To learn more about how to collaborate with parents and families, access the following resources:

Part 2—Selecting Topics and Planning for Family Literacy Activities

As you create your plan, you need to determine what you want families to know about early language and literacy development. You may have received valuable information from family surveys. You can use that information to determine the skills and knowledge families already have and identify what you want to help them learn.

Staff and other important stakeholders may also provide valuable information about language and literacy topics. Having ideas and feedback from different members of your team can strengthen your plan. Staff members may have information about families that leaders do not, and they can contribute ideas leaders may not have considered. For example, staff members may have attended a great presentation or read an article about early literacy that would be good to share with families.

These are some specific topics you might consider for supporting early literacy:

For families with infants, toddlers, or two-year-olds

  • Understanding early language development and milestones
  • Using songs, rhymes, and simple finger plays during the day
  • Talking to children while doing routine activities, such as diaper changing and feeding
  • Showing and naming the pictures in simple board books or posters and learning to do interactive book reading
  • Pointing out and discussing things in their children's environment
  • Discussing colors, shapes, sizes, and the function of things
  • Learning components and objectives of the curriculum
  • Implementing checklists to track their children's progress and plan activities to support their development

For families with preschool children

  • All of the above ideas
  • Reading simple books and pointing to the text and to letters of the alphabet as families learn to be interactive with children
  • Introducing new vocabulary words from books and giving simple definitions of the newly introduced words
  • Discussing pictures in books and asking questions such as “What is it?,” “What does it do?,” “How do we use it?,” and “What can you tell me about it?”
  • Showing children how writing is used when making grocery lists, writing checks, writing invitations or notes to friends, and then discussing print concepts
  • Playing rhyming games or other games that focus on the beginning or ending sounds of words
  • Using informal and formal assessments to plan for their children's instruction

All of these strategies are relevant, effective, and essential to learning about early language and literacy. You and your team will need to decide which strategies are most needed at your site or campus. This is where the use of family surveys, questionnaires, and staff input will be invaluable.

After gathering information from staff, families, and other stakeholders, and then identifying topics for family literacy development, you will be ready to take the next steps in formulating and implementing your plan. At this point, it may be helpful to organize a special family literacy committee to assist you in making decisions about (1) which topics or issues to prioritize and (2) how you will engage parents and families in learning about those topics or issues. Your committee may include caregivers, staff, site leaders, curriculum specialists, ELL teachers, a local librarian, and interested parents.

After meeting to select the topics and issues you will focus on, you and your committee should identify the best ways to communicate with families. For some communities, a blog, emails, social networking sites, or electronic bulletin boards (e.g., on the site/campus or district website) are helpful. For others, newsletters sent home, posted in community centers, or emailed to families are effective communication tools. Because families regularly drop off and pick up children at your center, you may also want to designate a communication board where they can find up-to-date information. Keep in mind that some parents and families may have limited literacy skills. You can support these parents and families by presenting information orally, through pictures and videos, and through live demonstrations, rather than only in writing.

The next step is to set a schedule for events. Getting parent input on scheduling events will ensure you are choosing times and dates when attendance is likely to be high. You may decide to have quarterly formal evening presentations on language- and literacy-related topics, or you may choose to have age-level discussions held informally during or after the school day. Another option might be to send regular language and pre-literacy tips home to families or to send these tips via email. Parents and families will need options on the types and times of support. This is another way you can empower your families and increase their engagement with your program and school. Your committee should have an open discussion about the pros and cons of each possibility to reach a collaborative decision.

Next, you and your committee will start working out the important details and logistics. You will need to discuss the following questions and decide on the best fit for your site/campus and your families:

  • Who is qualified and available to provide any training?
  • Who can locate training places that would accommodate families?
  • How long will the event last?
  • What language(s) will be used for the presentation?
  • Is a translator needed, and who can find one?
  • What materials and supplies will be needed?
  • What printed materials are needed, and who is responsible for them?
  • Who will get the information out to the site/campus and community?

As you and your committee continue making plans and decisions, you will begin to share upcoming events and information with parents and families. A good time to do this is during a back-to-school night, such as an “open house.” You can share how you plan to support all families with language and early literacy information and training throughout the year.

Again, your goal is to create a system that empowers families and provides easily accessible information that helps them support their children in building strong language and literacy skills at home. The goal is also to build an enduring system that will help your site/campus and district achieve a long-term and continuing plan to engage families as they learn about early language and literacy. This system should contain a menu of options so that parents and families can find the best type of support to meet their needs.

As you create this system, remember that working families with very young children face big challenges. Consider how you can support families’ engagement and involvement in your plan. For example, you might call for parent volunteers who can help plan activities and coordinate with other parents they know to encourage them to attend. Perhaps your site or campus can assist with transportation or provide childcare during events. Parents and families will also be more likely to attend if they know information will be available in their native language or if there will be a translator present.

Finally, plan for something specific that families can take away from each event, such as a book, handout, or game that supports what they have learned in the session. Families will become more and more engaged if your events cover topics that are interesting and meaningful to them; provide concrete, useful strategies; and encourage them to voice ideas and beliefs and provide input on their children's learning.

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TO LEARN MORE: Click on the links below to find resources that empower parents and families to participate in their children's language and literacy development.

Part 3—Implementing Your Plan

As you move forward with your family engagement plan, there are several important considerations that will help you succeed. Consider the following strategies for each event you have scheduled:

Plan and prepare. Planning a specific outreach event involves many steps and decisions. The first step is to create an agenda and identify the necessary resources for the evening. Materials may need to be purchased or ordered. Speakers, guests, or partners may need to be invited to participate. Finally, publicizing the event with invitations and announcements will help to ensure families attend.

Welcome and orient participants. Welcome families to the event and congratulate them on their investment in their children's education. Tell them about the planned activities and what they'll gain. Be well prepared with agendas, directions for any activities, handouts, and evaluations. Explain all of these forms and documents to families.

Include examples and models. Incorporate concrete examples parents and families can see and then use at home. At a family literacy training event, you might teach and model the activities described in this handout. Such an event can include a short oral presentation about early literacy development. Equally important, though, are demonstrations of effective practices that families can try with their own children.

Incorporate guided practice opportunities. Allow participants to practice new skills or strategies with support, guidance, and encouragement during the event or activity. For example, if the presentation is about helping children learn the alphabet, families may participate in an activity using environmental print such as cereal boxes. The presenter might guide the families in learning how to use the print to help children look at the characteristics of different letters or find the first letter of their name.

Evaluate. Reflecting and evaluating after your events or outreach activities is an important step. Consider what type of system you will use for evaluation and who will be part of the evaluation process. Follow up and make improvements or adjustments based on the evaluation. This will help you plan for the future and consider what will be included in future activities for families.

Maintain effective records. Creating a systematic outreach program takes place over many months and even years, one step at a time. However, your leadership team won't need to start over every year if you maintain files with documentation of all your outreach activities and resources. Include your calendar of events, copies of agendas and handouts, attendance sheets, and other relevant documents as part of this documentation. These materials will help guide future planning and will give leaders a valuable head start as they continue to revise and develop their outreach programs and services, and build a sustainable plan to empower families.

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NEXT STEPS: Depending on your progress on Action Step E6, you may want to consider some of the following next steps:

  • Brainstorm with your staff, committee, local partners, and other stakeholders and create a list of community and school resources that are available for families in your community.
  • Identify topics that will support family language and literacy development, and begin to prioritize topics you will address throughout the year.
  • Brainstorm methods for engaging parents and families in your school's plan for home language and literacy development (e.g., a message board, email, face-to-face events, back-to-school nights).
  • Identify areas in which staff need additional professional development (e.g., communicating with culturally and linguistically diverse families, effective strategies for empowering families to participate in literacy development, etc.).


E6. Empower families to provide a language- and literacy-rich environment at home.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step E6 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings 0-SE

In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:

  • Refer to Part 1 for an overview of how to start creating a plan to build respectful relationships with families.
  • Refer to Part 2 for information about empowering families through various types of events or communications that support language and literacy development at home.
  • Refer to Part 3 for considerations as you move into implementation.

Next Steps also contains suggestions that your site or campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.


Follow instructions provided by your school or district.


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Dufur, M. J., Parcel, T. L., & Troutman, K. P. (2013). Does capital at home matter more than capital at school? Social capital effects on academic achievement. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 31, 1–21.

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