Cover: Families, Powered On

Families, Powered On

Improving Family Engagement in Early Childhood Education Through Technology

Published Nov 17, 2014

by Lindsay Daugherty, Rafiq Dossani, Erin-Elizabeth Johnson, Cameron Wright

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Research Questions

  1. How can parents and other family members play a role in the use of technology in early childhood education?
  2. What are the barriers to family involvement?
  3. How can technology overcome these barriers?

Family engagement in the education of young children is associated with numerous positive outcomes for those children, and parents and other family members play an important role as "teachers" during the time children spend outside the classroom. Home-based involvement (e.g., a parent-led educational activity), school-based involvement (e.g., volunteering in the classroom), and school-home conferencing (e.g., speaking to a teacher about a child's progress) are the key components of family engagement, but there are barriers to all three. In this policy brief, we describe both the barriers that hinder family engagement and the ways in which technology may afford new opportunities to improve early childhood education outcomes — empowering families to become better educators at home, and strengthening connection and communication between school and home.

Key Findings

Why Engage Families in ECE?

  • Parents and other family members play an important role as "teachers" during the time children spend outside the classroom.
  • How parents engage with children during at-home technology use appears to be important in building children's technology literacy.
  • Parental involvement inside the classroom has also been shown to have important impacts on the academic and social skills of the student.

There Are Three Mechanisms of Family Involvement with Early Childhood Education

  • Home-based involvement focuses on how parents use technology and engage with their children's technology use at home.
  • School-based involvement refers to how engaged a caregiver is with what is going on in a child's classroom.
  • School-home conferencing refers to the relationships and communication between educators and parents.

Barriers to These Mechanisms Affect Engagement

  • Busy schedules: The time constraints of families and providers alike limit the hours available for school-home conferencing.
  • School-centric approaches: How schools and teachers go about forming the relationships necessary to encourage increased school-based involvement can sometimes be counterproductive.
  • Suboptimal channels of communication: ECE providers reported that they struggle to keep families informed of events and opportunities to engage at the school through traditional means.
  • Language barriers: Language barriers can adversely affect both school-home conferencing and school-based involvement.
  • Parental attitudes: Parents' perceptions about their role in their child's education and their own skills and knowledge — their assessment of their own efficacy — can influence their decision to become involved in their child's education.
  • Lack of information: When children and providers do not supply information about classroom activities or curriculum, families may find it difficult to build on those activities in providing additional learning opportunities at home.


  • ECE providers need to learn how to use — and embrace the use of — all of the "new" communications channels through which parents can be reached. These include email, text messages, and web-based communications tools. These tools provide opportunities for asynchronous communication between ECE providers and families that can be squeezed in whenever busy schedules allow.
  • New online translation tools allow schools to translate written communications into a large number of languages fairly easily, thus overcoming language barriers between providers and families.
  • Use of online portals, social media, and automatic reminders of events via text message or email can help improve communication about opportunities for school-based involvement.
  • Young children can communicate with their families about their daytime activities using cameras, microphones, email, and other technology to record and transmit their experiences while they are in ECE settings, rather than trying to remember and talk about events after they occur.
  • Online videos, content-based apps that give ideas for at-home activities, and other resources — many of which are used by ECE providers themselves — model effective teaching practices and deliver other types of information that families could use to improve their skills or increase their self-confidence.

This project was conducted within RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation.

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